Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:
My 2-year-old cat was due to have her second litter of kittens any day now, but about five days ago she came up missing. The night before she disappeared, she was trying very hard to get me to let her in the house. I have small children and by the time I got everyone settled for bed I forgot to let her in. The next morning, there was no sign of her. My husband and I have a looked for her for hours in every place we can think of. My question is, how long will a mother cat stay gone after giving birth? And it’s been extremely cold at night, would she be able to keep the kittens warm? It’s been around 30 degrees at night.
Siouxsie: Okay everyone, before the claws come out — please be helpful, not judgmental. We know lots of you humans have strong feelings about spaying and neutering, and with good reason. But sometimes stuff happens, so please do your best to leave constructive feedback. Don’t make me get my claws out!
Thomas: Trust me, you don’t want Siouxsie to get her claws out.
Bella: Yeah. I’m still smarting from my last swat. *sniffle*
Siouxsie: Okay, now that we’ve got that out of the way … a cat about to go into labor starts seeking a safe place to give birth a few days before the blessed event happens.
Thomas: If she can’t find an indoor space, she’ll look for the warmest, safest place within easy reach. What that means is she almost certainly hasn’t gone far.
Bella: Have you checked with your neighbors or local animal shelters? If someone found a heavily pregnant cat — or a mama cat with a newborn litter — they may have contacted area vets and rescue groups for help.
Siouxsie: That’s what happened to my kitty-mom: she was a stray, outside and almost ready to give birth to us, when a kind lady let my kitty-mom in and gave her a home where she could give birth to my brothers and sister and me.
Thomas: When you and your husband go looking for your cat again, look inside sheds and barns, under porches or trailer skirting (if you live in a place near mobile homes), inside truck campers and even in piles of hay like the kittens in the picture above.
Bella: When you do go looking for mom-cat, be ready to pick up the kittens too. Bring a cat carrier with you. And make sure you have a safe place ready for the little family, too!
Siouxsie: That would be a high-sided box lined with towels and newspapers so mom can get in and out but the kittens can’t get far, which would be in a room with a door that closes. In that room should also be a litter box, and bowls for food and water.
Thomas: If you don’t find her, the odds are good she won’t come back before the kittens are able to move on their own — and that could be a while.
Bella: Little kittens’ eyes and ears don’t even start opening before they’re a week old, and their sight and hearing aren’t fully functional until about 2 weeks. After that, it takes at least another two weeks before they’re steady enough on their feet to walk any distance.
Siouxsie: Mama cat isn’t going to go far from the kittens before this time. In fact, she probably won’t even leave the nest except to hunt, eat, pee and poop, so if you don’t find her before then, I wouldn’t expect her to show up on your doorstep for at least a month.
Thomas: As to whether she can keep the kittens warm, that depends on where she found shelter. If she found a dry place that’s out of the wind and reasonably sheltered from the cold, she should do all right.
Bella: Of course, how well the kittens do is going to depend on if she can find enough to eat to keep her milk flowing so she can feed them.
Siouxsie: Mother cats have huge nutritional needs because they’re eating for themselves and their kittens, so if you have a suspicion about where she might be, leave food for her. Trust me, she’ll find it and eat it!
Thomas: If you do find mom and kittens, check out Catster’s guide to kittens, which will tell you all about the kittens’ stages of development, nutritional needs, veterinary considerations and learning.
Bella: And if, heaven forbid, you find the kittens and no sign of Mama, or if you find that Mama’s been fatally injured, you should read up on raising orphaned kittens so you can give them the best shot at life.
Siouxsie: Once the kittens are weaned, you’ll want to get mom-cat spayed as soon as possible. Female cats can go into heat almost immediately after their kittens are weaned, so don’t delay!
Thomas: We know spaying is expensive, and we’re sure that with little kids and a busy family, it’s probably something you’ve meant to do but haven’t gotten around to it yet.
Bella: If finances are a factor, there are low-cost spay/neuter clinics all over the U.S., and some states even offer spay/neuter vouchers for people who meet certain income guidelines. The ASPCA and Humane Society of the United States have nationwide directories of low-cost spay/neuter programs, and a web search for low-cost spay/neuter resources in your area will probably yield a lot of results.
Siouxsie: Good luck, Layne. We hope you find momma and kittens, and everyone is doing well.