Kittens Separated From Mother Too Early

kitten rubbing teeth

Are kittens separated from mother too early at a disadvantage? Generally speaking, they are but they may be able to go on and live good lives provided they are given a decent upbringing. The interaction with their mother is critical and leaving their mother too early can have a huge effect on their behavior and understanding of the world and ability to independently navigate the world – essentially, if they leave their mother too early they can miss out on learning to be a cat!

Read on to learn more. 

Kittens Separated From Mother Too Early – Potential Issues

When can kittens leave their mom? What is too early? Basically anytime before they become independent! A cat will wean her kittens between weeks four and eight. This means the kitten will move onto a solid diet, develop hunting skills and by week eight effectively be able to live alone. However, even after week 8, your young kitten is still developing basic cat skills. Many rescue centers believe kittens should be kept with mothers until weeks 9-12 to ensure they fully develop and learn how to be a cat.

three kittens in straw

What happens if they leave their mamma cat before they are weaned? Here are some of the most likely problems.

Prone to illness

Without mother’s milk and the immunity, it confers on the kitten your kitten may become more susceptible to illness. 

The kitten is entirely dependent on the mother’s milk for nutrients until week 4. If these nutrients are missing from the kitten’s diet because they have been orphaned or abandoned then the nutrient loss can lead to big problems. 

They cannot just suddenly eat solids or be fed milk from other animals. A kitten replacement formula will be needed for survival at a minimum! Even then, some of the health benefits and immunological benefits of mothers’ milk may be missed.

Behavioral Issues 

When do mother cats leave their kittens in the wild? Usually after they are weaned. A kitten that is separated from its mother before being weaned is likely to suffer from a range of behavioral issues. 

If they are separated in the first four weeks before they are weaned they are likely to initially suffer from anxiety and display strange behaviors like suckling on random items, calling out and crying, and attaching to individuals or other pets and animals. 

The development they get from a mother cat and interaction with their siblings in the first eight weeks of life is critical to their understanding of how they interact with the world, the dangers within the world, and how they should effectively operate in the world.

A kitten separated from their siblings will fail to learn when to use claws and how to approach and communicate with other cats. 

two weaned kittens play fighting together
learning…

A kitten separated from their mother before fully weaned will not learn from its mother what solid food is, or how to catch and eat prey

The mother’s behavior around the kitten at these early stages will teach the kitten what type of interactions in the world are safe and what situations are dangerous. 

Basically, the mother will teach a kitten how to be a fully independent cat – without this interaction, they are likely unable to hunt, interact with other cats and animals, judge risk and danger, or form associations that will be useful in life. 

A kitten that has developed away from its mother is unlikely to be able to interact with other animals showing fear and aggression at the wrong times and may have no understanding of how to play, use litter boxes, hunt, and eat correctly.

In these circumstances, the adopting human has to find a way to provide this learning if the kitten is to develop properly. Often, a home with an older cat may be useful so some cat skills can be imparted to the kitten!

five weaned feral kittens on a street in a gang
weaned and socializing…

What To Do If  Kitten Was Weaned Too Early

If you have a kitten that was orphaned before fully weaned you are probably going to have to bottle feed the kitten with a kitten formula milk if they are to have any chance of survival. 

Once the kitten has developed teeth and claws at around the four-week-old mark you are going to have to introduce solid food into the kitten’s diet gradually whilst reducing the dependence on milk formula.

It may be necessary to stimulate the kitten to use the toilet, but this will be dependent on the age of the kitten.

Unfortunately, teaching such a kitten how to be a cat will be beyond the abilities of a cat guardian but the kitten can be socialized with people and other pets. 

At this stage, an additional, accommodating cat in the household may prove useful with regards to teaching or leading the kitten to an understanding of cat behavior, what is good cat manners and what is beyond the pale. They may also learn physical abilities and boundaries from other cats by watching and learning.

white kitten lying down
you’ll have to be my mom!

Do Kittens Miss Their Mom When Separated

A kitten will miss their mom and siblings in the immediacy of being orphaned or abandoned. Their behavior will be notably anxious. However, given a cat guardian, they overcome the loss very quickly, sometimes within hours, and latch on to the food giver or bottle feeder quickly.

Do Mom Cats Get Sad When Separated From Kittens

This depends on the mother, the circumstances, and the number of kittens that have been separated or not.

With kittens that have not been weaned the mother cat may become anxious if separated for any period of time. If one kitten from several takes ill and fades the mother may not even show anxiety as the other kittens take her attention and time. 

When the kittens are weaned, beyond week eight, they are essentially fully independent and the mother cat is even less likely to feel anxiety or loss if a kitten or all the kittens move on. 

It is entirely natural in some circumstances for a kitten to disappear from the mother’s orbit so less harrowing as an event dependent on the stage of development and circumstances surrounding the disappearance.

three stray cats hanging out together
learning to be cats…

Why Should You Wait 8 Weeks For A Kitten

Really, waiting even longer – potentially 9-12 weeks would be preferable. This would give the kittens time to learn fully from the mother cat and other mature cats that may be in the vicinity. They will also learn from their siblings. 

A kitten that has been with the gang for 12 weeks will have a good understanding of their individual abilities, what to fear and be curious about, how to communicate with other cats and animals, what to eat, how to play, and how to use a litter tray. They may also re-home with less anxiety.

A kitten taken before 8 weeks will lack life skills. From week 4 to 8 they are the equivalent of a toddler and will lack the necessary development. They may be clingy, anxious, and aggressive cats – or not. May struggle with house training and show fear and inability to socialize around other animals, cats, and people.

A kitten that has been separated from the mother before 4 weeks of age will require intense care to survive and even then may be mentally, socially, and physically undeveloped from the world. A kitten that survives is going to need to learn from other cats in the neighborhood by witnessing their behavior which may take additional time to become skilled.

Final Thoughts

A kitten separated from their mother too early is going to suffer from a developmental point of view early on and may display behavioral characteristics that are unusual compared to cats brought up in a litter for the full term – but that is not to say a kitten separated from it mother before 8 weeks cannot go on to have a full and enjoyable life!