Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:
I have two 2-day-old kittens. The mom moved them to a plastic tub in a junk pile where tires and oil are. I found them and moved them back into a safe and clean place, which is where they were before she moved them. Will she come back and take care of them since it is by where she eats? I bottle feed them, but I would really like her to come back and take care of them. If she moves them again, should I just leave them alone?
Siouxsie: That’s a tough one, Hali. Usually the reason a mother cat moves her newborn kittens is because she doesn’t feel she or the kittens are safe where she gave birth to them. But we think we can give you a few tips on how to handle this situation.
Thomas: A long time ago, Mama had a cat, Iris, that had kittens and then moved them to the garage. Mama found the kittens and brought them back inside, but Iris moved them again, to a place that was even less safe–a nest in tall grass, just beyond the reach of the dog’s leash. Mama kept an eye on the kittens, and it became clear after a few days that they weren’t doing well. They were covered with fleas and just not thriving. Mama moved the kittens inside once again, and finally Iris decided that maybe it would be better to raise her kittens in the house after all.
Dahlia: Mama’s story has a happy ending: all the kittens grew big and strong and found good homes.
Siouxsie: Iris decided it would be OK to come back inside because she ultimately did feel safe with Mama’s family, and because she was a smart cat she realized her kittens wouldn’t make it if she insisted on keeping them in the field. But each cat makes that decision on her own.
Thomas: If you want your mama cat to keep her kittens nearby, you’re going to have to find a way to help her feel safe in that location.
Dahlia: Take a look at the differences between where your mama cat had her kittens and the place she moved them to. Is that place quieter? Is it away from dogs, other cats, or children? Does the storage tote have higher sides so the kittens won’t crawl away? Is it warmer? Is the tote on its side, providing a roof?
Siouxsie: More importantly, has this mother cat been a part of your family for a while, or is she people-shy or more or less feral? Feral mother cats definitely will not feel safe near people, so it wouldn’t be a surprise if she moved her kittens to a place farther away from you.
Thomas: It’s been several days since you wrote to us. If the mother cat hasn’t come back to her kittens by now, she may not return. If she has come back and moved them again, it would probably be better not to try to move them back. Just keep an eye on the mother and kittens and move Mama’s food closer to her den so she doesn’t have to go far from her babies in order to eat.
Dahlia: If, however, the mother has moved the kittens and they start looking sickly or get a lot of parasites, it would be better to collect the kittens and try to trap mama cat with a humane trap. Once you get them all back together, set them up in a quiet room where they won’t be disturbed.
Siouxsie: Make sure the kittens will be warm enough, either by keeping the room warm or putting a heat lamp nearby. Very young kittens can’t regulate their body temperature and they can get sick and die if they get too cold.
Thomas: If the mother cat has abandoned the kittens, you’re going to have to bottle feed them until they get old enough to eat regular cat food. Make sure to use kitten milk replacer, which is available at pet stores and veterinarians’ offices, because it has the vitamins and minerals, fat and protein they need to stay healthy.
Dahlia: KittenBaby.com has a wealth of detailed information on how to raise orphaned baby kittens, including instructions on how and what to bottle feed them. To see proper bottle-feeding in action, take a look at this video.
Siouxsie: The most important thing to note in this video is that the kitten is being fed on its belly. This is the proper way to feed a kitten, not on its back like we do with human babies.
Thomas: If Mama Cat does come back, be sure to give her and the kittens some space. You may want to limit how much you handle the kittens, because this may have been part of what made her want to move them in the first place.
Dahlia: Once the kittens’ eyes are open and Mama Cat doesn’t feel the need to be in the nest all the time, you can start doing some gentle petting and stroking — as long as Mama doesn’t start getting annoyed with you.
Siouxsie: If you want the kittens to be people-friendly, be sure to handle them and get them used to living with people. The crucial time for doing this socializing is between 2 and 7 weeks of age.
Thomas: Good luck, Hali. We hope all goes well for you and Mama Cat and the kittens.