Kittens with their Momma
When you rescue a stray litter with its mom you are likely to have a happy ending. If you rescue a female cat who is pregnant you are likely to have a happy ending. As long as they are healthy, mother cats are amazing. Like any rescues, a pregnant mom or a nursing cat mom with kittens should be taken to the vet immediately.
Newborn kittens are entirely helpless. They can't see - their eyes are closed. They can't hear - their ears are folded over. They can smell and find the mother partly by smell and partly by sensing her warmth. They can't walk and can barely crawl. Wikepedia says: in mammals, altricial species are those whose newly-hatched or -born young are relatively immobile, lack hair, not able to obtain food on their own, and must be cared for by adults. From the start, the kittens can makes sounds of distress and Mother Cat can rescue a kitten who has wandered a bit far. The biggest danger to newborn kittens are getting chilled or dehydrated from diarrhea.
Nursing Cat: Mom and four babies
Nursing Cat Mom Being Protective
Mother cats keep a close eye on things, making sure the babies eat and are cleaned. People may not realize that newborn kittens so underdeveloped that they even need help urinating and defecating. The mother cat must lick the nether regions to get them to eliminate all the waste and then for the first few weeks the mother eats the waste, keeping the nest clean. I found every mom different. Some mommas really like a box with blanket.. Other momma's preferred the most distant part of floor under a bed away from humans. The house was warm so I wasn't too concerned. Eventually every momma kitten ended up using the clean fleece and blankets I provided even if they stayed under the bed. I changed bedding often after the first week. I didn't like to disturb the mother the first week. Only the occasional mother came out for a pet from me the first two weeks, but after that house pet type moms acted pretty normal with me.
Nursing Cat with 2 Day Old Kittens
Handling Nursing Kittens
I never handled kittens in the first two week of life. They can die from overhandling. I had only one situation like this I would go in and find one kitten pushed out of the huddle. I would put him back in the group. But one morning, I found him to the side dead. According to Ask the Cat Doctor: some kittens do not do well and do not live long. Mother cats are generally very attentive to their litter of kittens. However, in spite of that maternal loving care, it is estimated that 1/4 of newborn kittens die within the first weeks of life.
This mother knew early on there was something wrong with the baby and pushed him aside to die. I was experienced enough that I knew I could not save a 3 day old kitten and sadly buried the kitten.
Will Nursing Cat Accept an Orphan
My third unusual experience was with an older mother whose kittens were born at my house and were 5 weeks old when Zeke came to me. at almost three weeks of age. I knew it would help his socialization and immunity if she would nurse him and he could relate to the other kittens. I would put him up to her teats and sometimes he would nurse and other times she moved away. After all she was beginning to wean the older kittens. But I would leave him in the room and if I checked back in he was often curled up with one or two of the girl kittens. If he was alone, I would bring him with me and cuddle him in my lap and offer him a bottle. After awhile I stopped trying to get him to connect to that mother and litter. I just kept him with me. My two adults cats loved him....they always accepted kittens....and the Chihuahuas even let him cuddle up. But mostly he was with me cause I worked at home.
I had talked to other rescuers who said it is hard to get a mother to nurse a kitten if her litter is several weeks older. In my opinion, I think it is a tricky and risky thing to do. In my case, the mother cat had tested negative for all diseases. But you never know really...however I do know there have been successes.
I believe Zeke learned how to be a cat from the time spent with his stepbrother and sisters. But he is also very unusual because of all his time with me. He is like a human child sometimes.
Nursing Cat: Some Variations
My last example is a success story but till a cautionary tale. A lady with no money had kept a mother cat and let her have litter after litter. She finally called the rescue when the female was pregnant again plus her teenaged daughter cat was pregnant. She wanted us to take the cats but give the two mothers back after they had their kittens. They both had kittens at my house about the same time. The younger cat had three and the mother had five. Unlike other rescues, my rule of thumb was to keep litters separate because of disease. However in this mother daughter situation, I broke the rule. After all they had been living together anyhow. I let the litters be born in the same room. It worked out well. The older mother often nursed and cleaned all the kittens because she was more experienced and knew what to do. The teenaged mother stayed involved and nursed some and I believe learned but it was a blended family for sure. The kittens thrived. You may think this is hardhearted, but I talked the woman into giving both cats up and the kittens. She was very elderly had no resources nor hardly the physical capacity to care for any cats. Also they were outdoor cats who so far had been very fortunate to not contract any diseases. It was hard but the woman decided to do what was best for the cats.
Early on in the rescue I had a bad experience. We tried out a poorly conceived idea from a rescue who told us we could combine an orphan with a nursing mother and her kittens. So they sent a nursing mother and kittens to me. I brought them to my house and not only did she reject my orphan, the nursing cat mother and kittens all had diarrhea and were sick. It ended up costing my rescue a lot of money and I had to keep them separated and bottle fed my baby in another room. At least the orphan didn't get sick. The mother and kittens became healthy and were adopted.