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Why Do Cats Abandon Their Kittens: Unveiling the Complex Reasons

From time to time mother cats may abandon their kittens

Cats, known for their nurturing and protective instincts, are generally seen as attentive mothers. However, there are situations where a mother cat might choose to abandon her kittens. This seemingly heart-wrenching behavior is influenced by a variety of factors, many of which are rooted in instinctual, environmental, or health-related circumstances. In this article, we’ll delve into the intricate reasons why cats might abandon their kittens.Let’s see why do cats abandon their kittens.

1. Health Issues

Perhaps the most common reason for a mother cat to abandon her kittens is a health problem. If the mother cat is suffering from a severe illness, parasites, or infections, she may not have the energy or capability to care for her offspring. In such cases, her instinct to survive may override her maternal instincts.

2. Stress and Fear

Cats are sensitive creatures, and they can be easily stressed or frightened. External disturbances, such as loud noises, human interference, or the presence of other animals, can trigger a mother cat’s stress response. In an attempt to protect herself, she may leave her kittens.

3. Birth Complications

If the birth process is difficult or complicated, the mother cat may reject her kittens. She might associate her kittens with pain or danger, making her more likely to abandon them.

4. Maternal Instinct Variations

Not all mother cats have strong maternal instincts. Some cats may lack the natural instinct to care for their kittens and may choose to leave them shortly after birth.

5. Inadequate Resources

If a mother cat perceives that she cannot provide enough food or a safe environment for her kittens, she may leave them to fend for themselves. This can occur if she is in a resource-poor environment.

6. Environmental Changes

Changes in the cat’s environment can be distressing. Moving to a new location, exposure to unfamiliar scents, or changes in the household dynamics can lead to a mother cat abandoning her kittens.

7. Infection Risk

If the mother cat senses that her kittens are unhealthy or at risk of infection, she may abandon them to protect herself and ensure her own survival.

8. Emotional Bonding Issues

Although rare, some mother cats may not form a strong emotional bond with their kittens. This lack of attachment can lead to abandonment.

9. Infanticide Prevention

In some cases, a mother cat may abandon one or more kittens to protect the rest of the litter from perceived threats, including a sick or weak kitten.

10. Lack of Maternal Experience

First-time mother cats may lack the experience and understanding of maternal responsibilities. They might not know how to care for their kittens or become overwhelmed by the demands of motherhood.

11. Human Intervention

Well-meaning humans who handle kittens too early or too often can disrupt the mother-infant bond. The mother may reject her kittens due to the human scent left on them.

12. Abundance of Kittens

If a mother cat gives birth to a large litter, she may not be able to care for all of them. In such cases, she may select a few kittens to abandon to ensure the survival of the rest.

13. Weaning Process

As kittens grow, they begin to explore the world and may become more interested in solid food. This shift in their behavior can lead to decreased interest in nursing. In response, some mother cats may interpret this as a sign that their kittens are ready to be independent and choose to leave them.

14. Neglected Kittens

If a mother cat perceives that one or more of her kittens are being neglected or pushed away by their siblings, she may choose to intervene by abandoning the neglected kittens. This behavior might be an instinctual response to ensure the survival of the majority of her litter.

Mother cat nursing her kittens

Mother cat nursing her kittens, image source: Unsplash

15. Presence of Predators

In the wild, the presence of predators or threats can cause a mother cat to abandon her kittens as a survival strategy. This action reduces the risk of attracting predators to her nest and increases the chances of her own survival.

16. Hormonal Changes

Hormonal imbalances or changes can impact a mother cat’s behavior. Variations in hormone levels can affect her maternal instincts and lead to abandonment.

17. Birth Timing

Kittens born prematurely or with developmental issues may be less likely to survive. In such cases, a mother cat might abandon these kittens as a way to conserve her resources and focus on the healthier ones.

18. Inherited Behavior

Abandonment behavior can sometimes be passed down from one generation to the next. If a mother cat was abandoned by her own mother or experienced early abandonment herself, she may be more likely to abandon her own kittens.

19. Mother’s Age

Very young or very old mother cats may be more prone to abandoning their kittens due to their limited physical and emotional capabilities.

20. Individual Variation

Each cat is unique, and their responses to motherhood can vary widely. Some mother cats may choose to abandon their kittens for reasons known only to them, making it a highly individualized behavior.

21. Relocation

In some cases, a mother cat may abandon her kittens if she perceives a threat or disturbance in her nest area. This could be due to the presence of humans, other animals, or environmental changes. Her instinct to protect herself might lead to leaving her kittens to find a safer location.

22. Disturbed Nest

If a mother cat feels that her nesting area has been tampered with, she may abandon her kittens. Cats are highly sensitive to changes in their environment, and disruptions to the nest can trigger a fear response.

23. Trauma

Mother cats who have experienced a traumatic event, such as an accident or attack, may be more likely to abandon their kittens. Trauma can alter their behavior and their ability to care for their young.

24. Inadequate Shelter

If the mother cat has chosen an inadequate or exposed location for her nest, she may leave her kittens behind in search of a safer place. A secure and sheltered nesting spot is crucial for her to feel comfortable caring for her litter.

25. Survival Instinct

Cats are hardwired for survival, and this instinct can sometimes override their maternal instincts. If the mother cat believes that her own survival is at risk, she may prioritize herself over her kittens.

26. Previous Negative Experience

A mother cat who had a negative experience with a previous litter, such as losing all her kittens or struggling to care for them, may be more likely to abandon her current litter out of fear or anxiety.

27. Social Stress

In multi-cat households, social dynamics can play a role in a mother cat’s decision to abandon her kittens. Dominant cats or stressors related to other feline members can impact her behavior.

Mother cat taking care of her kitten

Mother cat taking care of her kitten, image source: Unsplash

28. Intervention by Humans

Well-intentioned human intervention, such as attempting to handle or move the kittens too soon, can lead to the mother cat’s rejection of her young. The scent left by humans on the kittens can disrupt the mother-infant bond.

29. Infanticide Prevention

Paradoxically, some mother cats may abandon one or more kittens to protect the rest of the litter from perceived threats, including a sick or weak kitten. This behavior aims to ensure the survival of the majority.

30. Weaning Process (Continued)

As kittens continue to grow, they become more demanding, and the weaning process intensifies. The mother cat may choose to abandon her kittens as a way to encourage their independence.


Cats abandoning their kittens is a complex and often heart-wrenching phenomenon, rooted in various factors including health, stress, environmental changes, and maternal instincts. Understanding these underlying reasons can help humans take appropriate measures to protect and care for abandoned kittens when necessary. If you come across abandoned kittens, it’s essential to provide them with the care they need, including feeding, warmth, and, if possible, reuniting them with their mother under safe circumstances.

Article written by:

Darius Savin is a lifelong animal lover and protector and the chief editor of Checkmember. He writes and edits articles and is also the creator of the distribution maps for all the creatures featured here.