Behavior of a Mother Cat Who Just Gave Birth

If you think about cats in the wild and the number of feral cats that are out there, it can be easy to think that cats don't need human intervention when they are preparing to give birth or have just given birth. While it's true that mother nature usually takes over and cats are fine on their own, if you have a pet cat who has given birth, monitor the mother cat behavior towards her kittens and her general health, to make sure that everything is fine as it should be.

Mother cat nursing baby kittens
Pay attention to how a mother cat takes care of her kittens.
credit: bozhdb/iStock/GettyImages

Most of the time, the mother cat will instinctively care for her kittens. Cats are mammals and the urge to care for young is very strong in most mammals, and instinct takes over in this normal process. However, there are some nutritional issues that can lead to a mother cat acting weird after giving birth.

Mother cat behavior towards kittens

One common thread among mother cats is that they are likely to move their kittens around quite a bit in the immediate days after birth. The Kitten Care website says that mother cats will move their kittens if there is too much light where they are located, or if the mother cat does not feel safe for whatever reason. Temperature is also a concern for mother cats. The website also says that first-time mother cats are more anxious than more experienced cat mothers and young mothers may move their kittens more often.

If you have a mother cat, consider giving her and her kittens a spot where there is not much noise or distractions of people coming and going, doors opening and shutting, drafty air, etc. Perhaps a cupboard or closet that is cleared out, or a box in an out of the way corner would be a good spot to prepare for the mother cat before she gives birth, and to keep the kittens afterward. That would also give you a good vantage point to observe the mother cat behavior towards kittens after giving birth.

Let the mother cat choose to move her kittens or not. Kitten Care says you do not have to move the kittens for her. It is natural for her to move them and she may move them several times. One idea behind her doing this is that she is trying to hide the scent of the kittens from any predators that may be out there.

Cat sick after giving birth

Most of the time, cats are healthy after giving birth, but occasionally something does go wrong. Vet Info provides some reasons why you might find a mother cat sick after giving birth. One reason might be something called galactostasis, which is characterized by full and swollen mammary glands. This is uncomfortable for the mother cat and can lead her to not care for her kittens and let them nurse the way they should.

A related and similar issue is mastitis, which is an infection of the mammary glands. In this case, the mother's milk may be brown or reddish and you may observe her refusing to nurse. She may also not want to eat and may appear listless as her body is trying to fight off an infection.

Sometimes, the placenta may not be delivered after birth. This can result in a bacterial infection in the mother cat. It is important to treat the mother cat in this case. In all these cases of seeing a mother cat sick after giving birth, if the condition is left untreated, the kittens' health may suffer.

Pet MD says that there is sometimes an issue of low blood calcium in mother cats after giving birth. This can lead to poor maternal behavior, meaning that many of the typical behaviors of grooming and nursing that a mother cat does after birth may not happen. If this is the case, you may also see other signs of something being wrong with the mother, such as her acting disoriented, panting, whining, or muscle rigidity.

Cats after giving birth: behavior

Wag Walking says there are some problems that can affect the behavior of cats after giving birth. Sometimes, a mother cat will simply not exhibit the maternal care that cats normally do towards their kittens. For instance, a mother cat may refuse to clean or nurse her kittens.

One cause of a failure to show maternal instincts may be stress. If the environment the cat is in is excessively loud, active, or seemingly unsafe, the mother cat may abandon her kittens. While this may seem like it endangers the life of the kittens, and truthfully, in the wild it does, it's also a way for the mother cat to preserve her own life, which gives her the ability to go on to have more litters in the future.

Mother cat leaves her kittens

You may be worried about whether or not your kittens are getting the attention they need from their mother. It might seem like your cat might not be a good mother if she leaves her kittens alone a lot. But how much alone time is acceptable and how much is too much? The website Feral Change, which is focused on sharing information about feral cats that you might find in the wild, says it is normal for a mother cat to leave her kittens in the wild for hours at a time.

If you do observe a nest of kittens that seem as if they are abandoned, this website recommends not hovering nearby, because the mother cat will not return to her kittens if there are people present. It is a natural behavior for the mother cat to not want people around her kittens. If she returns to the nest while people are observing, that means she will have given away the location of her kittens.

If you must watch, observe from a distance and trust that the mother cat instinctively knows what to do. If the kittens seem to be in danger, such as they are in a field that is going to be mowed or a neighborhood dog is sniffing around, remove the kittens and try to reunite them with their mother.

Mother cat not cleaning kittens

Most of the time, as Vet Info says, a mother cat will aggressively lick her newborn kittens right after birth. The purpose of this is to remove the birthing fluid and membrane from around the kitten so it can breathe. The strong licking also helps stimulate the kitten's circulation. The mother will also chew off each kitten's umbilical cord.

Sometimes, though, this instinctive behavior doesn't happen and you may need to help. If the amniotic sac doesn't come off or the cat is not licking her kitten well enough to remove it, go ahead and intervene. However, Vet Info says it is generally best to let the mother cat do this herself on her own time.

In the Oconee Humane Society's Kitten Foster Manual, it says that if you see a mother cat not cleaning her kittens after birth, it could be because of stress. The mother may also know that one of the kittens may have a defect, and ignoring the kitten is her way of focusing on the kittens that are the most likely to survive. Make sure she is getting enough to eat and drink. You may want to call your veterinarian if you notice that she is neglecting all of her kittens, or is spending what seems like a large amount of time away from the kittens.