Pet Talk
Columns, Pet Talk

Pet Talk

May 20, 2020

In this week’s Pet Talk, Maneka talks about the minimum duration a kitten has to stay with its mother and what happens if separated too soon.

By Maneka Gandhi

How long should a kitten stay with its mother?

Mother cats will typically start to wean their kittens off their milk at one month of age. This does not mean that kittens can be adopted. The weaning process usually continues for about another month until the kittens are fully weaned between eight and 10 weeks of age. During this time, the kittens will still occasionally nurse on their mother, but they will also start to eat liquid kitten food. The liquid kitten food should gradually get thicker until it is a watered-down canned kitten food or a moistened kitten kibble. Over the four to six week weaning period, the kitten will consume less and less milk from its mother. Getting a kitten used to eating dry food can take some time, so it should not be forced or rushed. Kittens should be kept with the mother at least until the age of 8 weeks and ideally until they’re about 12 weeks old.

What happens when a kitten is removed from its mother too soon?

If a kitten is taken from its mother and sent to a new home too soon, there can be some serious health consequences. The first few weeks of a kitten’s life are essential for its health and body development. The nutrients in the mother’s milk are responsible for strong bone development, eye health, and full organ development, so if a kitten is weaned too soon, you could be increasing the risk of your cat developing more health issues later on. A kitten removed from its mother too soon may need nutritional supplementation and other veterinary care. Kittens who left their mothers too soon may have trouble grooming themselves, not know how to bury their waste in the litter box, play too rough, not know how to hunt for food, or have other behavioural problems. A kitten that is removed from its mother too soon may also have trouble adjusting to its new home and you.

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 Why does a cat carry its kitten by the neck?

Scruffing is a general term for a variety of holds on the skin of the cat’s neck. Mother cats grab kittens by their scruff only in the first few weeks of life to transport them. They do not do this to discipline them. It’s important to remember that we, as humans, are not cats: A mother cat knows the precise pressure to place on the skin at the back of the neck and cats have pressure sensors on their teeth, which explains why they can carry a mouse in their mouths without making a scratch. Cats are only grabbed by the scruff of their neck in limited circumstances: by their mother during the first few weeks of life, during mating, during fighting, and when they are being attacked by a predator.

Can a cat give birth to different colour kittens?*

Yes. Kittens can have widely varying coat colours. All it takes are certain combinations of the parents’ base colours and/or a few recessive genes.

Why do male cats kill the kittens after they are born?

Male cats have been known to kill kittens, usually kittens that they didn’t father. This behaviour is a throwback to instincts from wilder days when killing a rival’s young would keep the rival from spreading his genes about the countryside and giving the killer a better chance of advancing his own genetic agenda.

Is it normal for male cats to take care of kittens?

Not all male cats kill kittens and some have even been known to participate a little in caring for their own young by cleaning and playing with them. People have even reported having their tom cats turn up with litters of kittens in tow, as if to inform their humans that they were living up to the responsibilities of fatherhood.

Why does my cat hunt if he is well-fed at home?

Your cat’s motivation to hunt is not influenced by whether or not he is hungry. The only thing that might change is the intensity and duration of the hunting; cats that are not hungry will still catch prey but may not kill or eat it.

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At what age do cats stop having kittens?

Cats don’t stop having kittens. Cats go on heat till the end of their lives. However, old cats have fewer heats so the chances of mating and reproducing  lessen.

Why does my cat hunt?

All cats are hunters, and this applies to your cat too, even if they are kept indoors or they choose not to go outside very often. Your cat’s motivation to pounce on small things that move is always there, so providing them with plenty of opportunity for ‘predatory play’, rather than the real thing, can help fulfill this natural instinct as well as helping them keep mentally and physically fit and healthy.

Is it normal for my cats not to meow?

If a normally vocal cat suddenly falls quiet for extended periods of time, some concern might be warranted. Especially if your pet seems lethargic or depressed. If your pet has always been on the quiet side but otherwise seems happy and healthy, then it’s probably the cat’s nature and is perfectly normal. Cat vocalisation also tends to be breed-specific. Siamese cats are notoriously loud and harsh in their plentiful meows, while a Birman is quiet by nature. When a loud breed suddenly falls quiet, it’s more likely to be cause for concern.

Cats usually aren’t very vocal with each other, except for a female cat and her kittens. Many scientists believe that house cats verbalise with their humans in the same way that they do with their kittens. Meowing directed at humans is a trait of domestication and a way for cats to communicate with their owners. Because adult cats don’t meow at each other, it’s not uncommon for your cat to gradually get quieter as it ages. This is not something you need to worry about.

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