Practical feline behaviour understanding cat behaviour and improving welfare

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64 Chapter 5

Pre-weaning period

Immediately after the kittens are born the mother will usually lie on her side, encir-
cling the kittens, providing them with warmth and allowing them access to her nip-
ples, occasionally adjusting her position as necessary to suit them. She is likely to
remain in this position, frequently grooming and nuzzling the kittens for the first 24
hours or so. Later she may assume other nursing positions such as a half-sitting pos-
ture. At this stage it is estimated that she will spend around 70% of her time with her
kittens (Bradshaw et al., 2012).
It is important that mother and kittens are disturbed as little as possible during
the first week or so after birth. Severe or frequent disturbance may result in the
mother abandoning or even attacking the kittens. Other reasons for abandonment or
killing of newborn kittens can include:

● Immature mother. A queen that becomes pregnant while she is still very young
may not have the physical or behavioural maturity to cope with motherhood.
● Unwell mother. If the mother cat is unwell or undernourished this might affect her
behaviour and she might also be unable to feed the kittens. Mastitis can also make
it very painful for the mother cat to nurse her kittens.
● Sickness or deformity of the kittens. A queen might abandon kittens that are
unhealthy or have physical deformities.

It is normal, however, for the mother to move the kittens to a new nest site at least
once during the pre-weaning period (Fig. 5.1). There have been a few hypotheses put
forward to explain this behaviour, including the need to find a clean site if the nest
has become dirty or infected by parasites (Corbett, 1979; Deag et al., 2000); however,

Fig. 5.1. It is normal for the mother to move the kittens to a new nest site at least once
during the pre-weaning period.

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