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What are Maternal Behavior Problems?

When a mother cat has kittens, normally nature takes its course and the mother will instinctively and naturally care for her young. Maternal behavior problems is a wide category of issues that all refer to some abnormality in this normal process. The most common maternal behavior problems in cats involve a lack of maternal behavior in the mother cat when it comes to her kittens and excessive maternal behavior when a mother cat does not have kittens.

Symptoms of Maternal Behavior Problems in Cats

Symptoms for the two common maternal behavior problems in cats are very distinct. These may include:

Lack of Maternal Behavior Symptoms

  • Mother refuses to care for her kittens
  • Mother refuses to nurse kittens
  • Mother does not bring wandering kittens back to box or nest area
  • Aggression towards kittens or killing of kittens
  • Excessive carrying of kittens from place to place

Excessive Maternal Behavior

These symptoms occur even though the cat is not pregnant or has not recently given birth.

  • Developing milk or enlarged nipples
  • Attempting to nurse or guard kitten-sized inanimate objects
  • Stealing of kittens from another mother cat 

Causes of Maternal Behavior Problems in Cats

There are many distinct causes of maternal behavior problems in cats. Recently, researchers have determined that certain genes control some types of mothering behavior in cats. In the absence or presence of a defective mothering associated gene, mother cats may not have the natural instinct necessary to mother her litter.

Hormonal changes are also responsible for maternal behavior problems. Hormonal imbalance may cause a cat to experience a false pregnancy in which she will display symptoms of having kittens, including symptoms of childbirth like contractions, but will not be pregnant.

Stress can also be a cause of issues. If a mother cat is threatened by other cats, people, excessive noise or other stressful situations she may abandon her kittens or develop aggressive tendencies towards them. First-time mothers may also be more prone to behavior problems.

Diagnosis of Maternal Behavior Problems in Cats

Identifying the presence of material behavior problems in your cat will be an easy observational task. When it comes to diagnosis, the veterinarian’s main focus will be in determining the underlying cause of the unnatural behavior.

As with most conditions, diagnosis will begin with a thorough physical exam at your veterinarian’s office. You should bring the mother cat and her kittens, if there are any, for this visit. It will be important to provide a complete history of your cat’s behavior, including any escalation or changes. You will also want to provide as much detail as possible regarding any outside stress or other relevant facts about your cat’s living conditions.

Your vet will examine your cat for any obvious physical issues. Next, your veterinarian will order a complete blood panel in order to rule out infection or hormonal problems that are causing the issues. Your vet may also order a urinalysis to check for the presence of hormones typically released post-pregnancy.

Treatment of Maternal Behavior Problems in Cats

Depending on the severity of your cat’s behavior, and the presence of underlying conditions, treatment of maternal behavior problems in cats will range from management to medicinal. Management is the most common form of treatment. This can include separating mother cats with aggression issues from their kittens and hand nursing or finding a surrogate mother for the kittens.

In the case of excessive maternal behavior, the symptoms will typically pass on their own after several days. In severe cases, your veterinarian may prescribe certain hormonal therapies that will mitigate or eliminate symptoms such as nursing or uterine contractions. Spaying may be recommended for cats with excessive maternal behavior. The removal of the reproductive organs has been shown to eliminate this condition for most animals.

Recovery of Maternal Behavior Problems in Cats

Effective management of your cat’s maternal behavior problems will be essential to a full recovery for your cat and healthy development of any kittens. Management of aggression or inattentiveness issues with your cat toward her kittens can be handled by owner supervision. You may need to muzzle or otherwise restrain your cat in order to allow the kittens to nurse until they are old enough to be moved to other sources of nutrition. In the case of inattentive mothers without aggression, it may be enough for you to monitor and be present with the mother cat and her kittens in order to facilitate feedings and cleanings.

Your mother cat should also be provided with a calm, quiet space for her nest. This will allow the mother to feel relaxed and will potentially reduce or eliminate any anxious behavior such as abandonment or excessively moving the kittens. Other cats or animals should also be kept separate from the mother cat.

With proper management, recovery of cats with maternal behavior problems is very good. The symptoms will often subside on their own after the kittens have grown. You should consider spaying cats that exhibit maternal behavior problems as the issues are likely to recur during subsequent pregnancies.