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Do Cats Miss Their Kittens? Feline Maternity Explained

domestics kittens playing
Image Credit: Piqsels
Last Updated on November 16, 2023 by Lindsey Lawson

Mother cats are very protective of their kittens and are very devoted mothers up until the kittens are weaned and ready to go to their new homes. The raising of young is different for species all over the animal kingdom. After seeing a cat navigate through motherhood, it may leave you wondering if she misses her kittens once they have gone.

Surprisingly, cats have a very different approach to motherhood than humans. So as a general answer, once their kittens are grown, healthy and independent mother cats let them go. 

divider-catclaw1Do Mother Cats Miss Their Kittens?

You’ve probably heard the term “empty nest syndrome,” which refers to the emptiness left behind when our kids grow up and move out of the house. Cats function much differently than humans when it comes to motherhood and do not hold the same emotional bond to their offspring that we do. Once her kittens are weaned and independent, she is no longer obligated to the litter. This is a perfectly natural behavior that is observed throughout the animal kingdom.

It’s important to note that if a mother cat were to have her kittens removed from her before the weaning process is complete, it could cause her noticeable distress. It is her instinct to rear her offspring until they can care for themselves.

5 Ragdoll kittens on cream sofa couch
Image Credit: Linn Currie, Shutterstock

Birth to Weaning

Motherhood for a cat is short-lived for each litter. Kittens start off fully reliant on their mother but typically by 8 weeks of age, and sometimes up to 12 weeks, they will be ready for life on their own.


At birth, kittens typically only weigh about 3 ounces. They cannot see or hear and are fully dependent on their mother. Humans should handle them minimally and only if necessary. They will sleep about 90 percent of the time and nurse from mom. The umbilical cord will fall off and they usually begin within the first few days. The mother cat will clean their waste.

Newborn red kittens suck milk_NataVilman_shutterstock
Credit: NataVilman, Shutterstock

1–3 Weeks of Age

Between 1 and 3 weeks of age, the kittens will change drastically. They will put on weight, become more mobile, their eyes will be open, and they will be able to hear. They will still be nursing full-time from their mother for their nutrition. Their teeth will begin to erupt, and owners can start getting them used to handle. Mom will still be very protective during this stage.

4–6 Weeks of Age

Kittens will start to come into their own during this stage and the weaning process will begin. They will be very social, playful, and active. They will begin eating soft cat food and will not rely nearly as much on mom. It’s still too early to leave mom but they are well on their way to independence.

grey mother cat nursing kittens
Image Credit: Rashid Valitov, Shutterstock

 7–12 Weeks of Age

It is recommended that kittens stay with their mother until at least 8 weeks of age, even if they are no longer nursing. During this stage of life, they are becoming fully weaned and reliant totally on cat food. Some breeders will prefer keeping their kitten with mom up to 12 weeks of age. This is the stage where mom will detach from the kittens, as her job raising them is done.

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Reasons a Mother May Reject Her Kitten(s)

There are unfortunate circumstances where a mother cat will reject her kittens. This can happen with a full litter or select individuals.

The Mother is Too Young or Lacks Motherly Instinct

Female cats will typically reach sexual maturity by 4 months of age and will begin experiencing heat cycles. Cats are not considered fully grown until 10 to 12 months of age and should not be bred until at least 12 to 18 months of age.  If a female cat is very young and immature, she may lack the ability to care for her young, causing her to reject the litter. At a young age, she may also lack experience and could injure or even kill the kittens by accident.

The Mother is Ill

Cats typically do not have trouble giving birth but that doesn’t mean that problems can’t arise. If the mother had fallen ill before the birth or is experiencing birthing difficulties, this could very well result in her rejecting her offspring.

Ill Kitten(s)

Another reason why cats reject a kitten is due to illness or deformity. A mother cat will be able to identify illness, birth defects, or weakness and may choose to reject certain kittens entirely because of this reason and will put all her focus on the healthy, viable kittens. Female cats will commonly reject those she does not feel have a high chance of survival.

vet giving kitten vaccine
Image Credit: Ilike, Shutterstock

The Kittens Have Become Independent

You will notice a mother cat begins to distance herself from her kittens when they start becoming more independent. Rather than being nurturing and motherly, she may start to treat them like any other cat when it comes to interactions.

The wearing process usually begins between 4 and 5 weeks, though kittens typically shouldn’t leave their mothers they reach at least 12 weeks of age. Some mother cats may reject their kittens as soon as they feel they’ve gained enough independence.

If the kittens are still too young to leave mom, you need to contact your vet for guidance on how to properly care for them during the time gap.

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Can Cats Recognize Their Grown Offspring?

Even though a mother cat may not miss her kittens due to instinct, is it possible for her to recognize her grown offspring and vice versa? The answer is no, cats are not able to recognize their relatives if they have been separated then reunited after time. They do not have the concept of understanding what family is.

That being said, kittens that end up residing in the household with their mothers will keep that recognition since they would have no separation period, but they will end up just being typical housemates. In these cases, some mother cats may show extended motherly behavior to their older kittens.


Mother cats may not miss their kittens after they are weaned and leave the home, but they are still devoted and caring mothers during the time their kittens need them. This is just part of the natural order of the animal kingdom, as cats are unable to process the concept of family in the way that humans do.

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Featured Image Credit: Piqsels

About the Author

Lindsey Lawson
Lindsey Lawson
Lindsey and her husband enjoy traveling the US with their kids and photographing wildlife. Her passion is to educate others on the importance of proper animal care, with an emphasis on reptiles and exotics since their care requirements can be much more complex. She is also a huge advocate for bully breeds. She feels most at home in the forest either on horseback or in hiking boots.

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