Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:
I am fostering a mother cat who just gave birth to five kittens. As I write this, the kittens are two days old, and my little girls are dying to pet and hold them. Is this a good idea? I don’t want to see Nala, the momma cat, become resentful toward her kittens if they’ve been touched and handled. Nala’s restless, but I’ve been keeping her in a warm room with the kittens. How much longer should Nala stay in the room without going out of the room to roam around the house? She’s has been a very kind and good mommy to her five kittens. Please give me some suggestions and tips. Thanks!
Siouxsie: Your instinct to keep your daughters from handling the newborn kittens is a good one, Adrienne. Mother cats can become quite anxious if their very young kittens are frequently handled — especially if they’re being handled by people they don’t know.
Thomas: It is okay, and actually a good idea, to socialize the kittens to people at an early age, though.
Dahlia: So we’re going to tell you how to go about socializing and petting the kittens without driving mama cat crazy or over-stressing the babies.
Siouxsie: First of all, the mother cat should always be present when the kittens are handled. Do not touch or hold them when she’s away, until they’re at least two weeks old.
Thomas: Did Nala meet your girls before she gave birth? If so, did she get comfortable with them? We ask because if Nala already had a good relationship with your daughters, their visits to the kittens are going to be less stressful for her.
Dahlia: If you do bring your girls in to pet the kittens, make sure they know it’s very important to be quiet and gentle. If they do the typical little-kid “squee and grab” thing, Nala’s going to absolutely freak out!
Siouxsie: We suggest that you bring the girls in one at a time. This will reduce the stress on mama-cat (and mama-human).
Thomas: Gentle petting is okay — stroking a kitten’s back with one finger, for example — but don’t pick the kittens up until their eyes open. Imagine how you’d feel if you were blind and suddenly something grabbed you and yanked you into the sky!
Dahlia: Whenever you’re visiting with Nala and petting her kittens, be very careful to monitor her body language for any signs of anxiety. If she demonstrates signs of tension or anxiety, it’s time to back off!
Siouxsie: This PDF is an excellent reference guide to the stages of cat body language from calm and relaxed to utterly terrified. We strongly suggest you print it and share it with your daughters. Bring it with you when you take them to visit Nala and the kittens and if she starts showing any signs of tension or anxiety, it’s time to leave.
Thomas: But we strongly recommend that even gentle, quiet handling by the children not be done more than twice a day.
Dahlia: Once the kittens’ eyes are open, you can start picking the kittens up and holding them a few times a day … as long as mama-cat approves, that is!
Siouxsie: When the kittens start crawling around and exploring on their own, it’s okay for the girls to handle them more often.
Thomas: Be sure when you pick the kittens up that you support their bodies well. If you hold them by their front legs and let their back ends hang in the air, they’ll get frightened and cry. This will, of course, make Nala anxious, too.
Dahlia: Now, on to your next question — when is it okay to let Nala leave the room?
Siouxsie: Mama says that when she’s raised kittens, she’s kept the mama and babies confined to one room for about a week. After that, it’s all right to let mama-cat out of the room so she can explore and get some respite.
Thomas: To minimize Nala’s anxiety, be sure to keep her bedding and litterbox clean. Also, make sure the litterbox is on the opposite side of the room from the kittens’ nest and food supply.
Dahlia: One more thing: while she’s nursing, Nala should be allowed to eat as much as she wants. She needs as much energy as she can get so she can provide enough milk for her babies to get big and strong.
Siouxsie: Good luck, Adrienne. And thank you for being willing to foster Nala and her kittens until they’re ready to find their forever homes. *purrrrrr*