What makes mother cats move kittens?

Written by nadelee biondi
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What makes mother cats move kittens?
Mother cats move their kittens for a variety of reasons, mostly for safety. (John Foxx/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

Animal behaviour is something pet owners might never fully understand. Cats are excellent mothers, especially because theirs are usually multiple births. Mother cats sometimes confuse cat owners by moving their kittens to new locations, sometimes more than once, but there are perfectly understandable reasons for the moves.

How the Mother Cat Moves Her Kittens

When a mother moves her kittens, anyone who doesn't realise what is happening is afraid for the health of the kitten .The mother holds the kitten in her mouth, hanging onto it by the scruff of its neck. The mother is not harming the kitten, even if the kitten is making a grimace as the mother moves it. The mother is not using her teeth; she is using her mouth, with her teeth kept in check by the lips, to keep the kitten from harm. It is hard work for her -- she is able to move only one kitten at a time. Newborns do not fight as their mothers move them, and they usually fall limp once picked up. However, older and larger kittens might wriggle and fight as they are being moved, sometimes being nipped accidentally by the exhausted mother.

Why Feral Cats Move Their Kittens

Although domesticated move their kittens for a variety of reasons, feral cats have more reasons for doing so. Feral cats move their kittens when they feel unsafe, or if the kittens are likely to be harmed by a predator.

Temperature is another reason feral cats move kittens. It is only the mother's body that keeps the kittens warm. If she gives birth in a spot that isn't protected from the elements, she will carry them to better protected location.

Feral cats also move kittens when food for the mother is scarce. Once the mother and litter are in a place where food is more abundant, she does not have to roam as far from her kittens to get it.

Why Domestic Cats Move Kittens

Domestic cats do not face the same threats as feral cats. But mother cats, especially younger and first-time ones, can become nervous or spook easily. Even though the mother loves and trusts her human family, too much attention can cause her to move her brood to a quieter place where she feels safer.

A domestic cat will also move her litter if drafts or cold air are hitting the kittens. Kittens cannot adjust their own body temperature; they depend on the mother to keep them warm. However, the mother also needs to be to able get away to use the litter box and to eat.

Minimising the Amount of Kitten Moving

The less the mother cat moves the kittens, the better off they are. There are ways to reduce the risk of the mother cat moving her kittens. Make sure that before birth, she is given and shown a box in a safe place to have her babies. This could be a darkened closet, a corner of an unused room, or underneath a bed that nobody is occupying.

Keep bright light to a minimum, and limit loud noises as much as possible. Make sure the temperature where she has given birth is at least 21.1 degrees Celsius, and that no cold draft can reach the kitty family.

Keep kitten handling to a minimum at least for the first week, allowing the mother's anxiety to dissipate.

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