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Do Cats Remember Their Mothers? (and Vice Versa)

Nicole Cosgrove

Cats are very attentive mothers. They groom their kittens, teach them to hunt, and show them the ways of the feline world. They will continue to do this as long as the kittens remain part of the same community. However, if mothers are separated from their kittens, they will forget their scent quite quickly: effectively becoming strangers. Cats use scent, rather than vision, to identify one another, and the scent of a cat can change quickly once it is taken to a new house or moves elsewhere.

divider-catCats & Their Litters

Cats can have kittens from the age of around 6 months, although this is very young for a cat to be a mother. Once a female cat reaches sexual maturity, it will go into heat roughly every two weeks throughout the season, which runs from spring to early fall.

The cat’s gestation period is 64 days and although a litter can consist of between one and 12 kittens, the average size is four kittens. The largest recorded litter was 19 kittens.

Once a cat gives birth, she becomes a “queen” and will actually go into heat while she is still nursing her previous litter.

sphynx kittens_mjlovesmm_Pixabay
Image Credit: mjlovesmm, Pixabay

How Long Does a Mother Cat Remember Her Kittens?

The length of time a mother cat remembers her kittens depends on their communal or familial status. If the group continues to live together, the female cat will always remember her offspring and will usually continue to treat them like a mother. She may continue to bring treats and groom her offspring.

However, if the offspring are removed from the mother, she will usually forget their scent within a few weeks. This has been observed by owners that have reintroduced kittens to their mothers at a later date, as well as in situations where the kittens continue to live close to the mother, but not in the same house.

Do Cats Think You’re Their Mother?

Cats show their humans a level of love and affection that they otherwise only show their mother. For this reason, a lot of owners believe that their cat thinks of them as their mother.

Behaviorists and vets believe that, while cats do not think we are their mother, they do treat us with the same reverence and love as their mothers do. They treat us in a similar way to how they would treat their mother cats, they recognize our potential as caregivers and loving family members.

kitten with mom
Image Credit: JACLOU-DL, Pixabay

Do Father Cats Know Their Kittens?

Cats are quite remarkable, and not least in their mating habits. A litter of kittens can have multiple dads, with each one potentially having a different dad. This is what makes it possible for every kitten in a litter to look different. It also means that male cats are unlikely to be able to recognize exactly which kitten in a litter belongs to them.

Male cats that remain with their kittens may protect and try to look after the kittens. But they are equally likely to ignore the kittens.

Do Cats Get Sad When You Give Away Their Kittens?

Kittens usually leave their mothers when they reach about 12 weeks of age. By this time, the kitten should be weaned onto solid foods. In most cases, they will also have started to learn to use a litter tray and may have picked up some other habits from mum.

It is also common for the mother cat to be a little upset when her kittens first leave. This will manifest in her searching the house looking for her kittens. She may meow and make other noises in the hope that her kittens respond.

This response may seem upsetting but will only usually last for two or three days. It is natural for the mother to move on quickly because it means that the young kittens are better able to lead their own lives and raise their own kittens.

siberian kittens_Lubava_Shutterstock
Image Credit: Lubava, Shutterstock

Tips To Help A New Kitten Settle In

Although a mother cat may only miss her kittens for two or three days, the kittens themselves can be depressed for a few days after the separation. Try the following tips to help settle a new kitten in and prevent them from becoming too upset for too long:

  • Mom’s Smell – Cats recognize one another by smell, rather than sight. If possible, bring a blanket or item of clothing that has the smell of your kitten’s mum on it. They will be able to smell their mum and may treat the bed or other item as a surrogate. They will eventually let go of the blanket.
  • Provide a Quiet Place – The whole experience can be very overwhelming for a kitten. Not only are they separated from their mum and littermates, but they are taken to a new house and introduced to a lot of new people, animals, sights, sounds, and smells. Give them a quiet place to retreat to, like a warm blanket or a bed.
  • Adopt Littermates – Adopting two or more littermates can help to ease the separation. Siblings will usually get along, and they will recognize one another when you first take them home. You should try to ensure that the two do not develop such a strong bond that they suffer separation anxiety, and be prepared for the fact that they may not get along when they get older.
  • Be Understanding – Above all, be understanding. Your new kitten is dealing with a lot including separation from its family and a whole new world to contend with. Ensure that they eat and are hydrated, provide somewhere to sleep and stay comfortable, and provide smells and even littermates that they recognize to help facilitate the transition.

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Summary

Cats remember their mothers as long as they remain in the same house or community. However, evidence suggests that within a few weeks of being removed from one another, a cat and its mum will no longer be able to recognize the smell of the other.


Feature Image Credit: Lifesummerlin, Shutterstock

Nicole Cosgrove

Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts' knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.