The Sad Reality of Why a Mother Cat Would Abandon a Kitten

Why Would a Mother Cat Abandon Only One Kitten

Mother cats may abandon one kitten due to health issues, genetic defects, or feeling overwhelmed with a large litter. This behavior is also common in first-time mothers or cats who have experienced previous traumatic experiences.

In such cases, the mother cat may reject the weakest or smaller kitten and focus her efforts on caring for the remaining ones, which she has a better chance of raising successfully. It’s crucial to intervene and provide proper care to the abandoned kitten promptly to prevent it from getting sick or dying.

Kittens who survive abandonment by their mothers can still grow up healthy with proper care and attention. Cats are excellent caregivers, and they maintain a great relationship with their litters. However, sometimes, a mother cat may abandon one of her kittens, which leaves us wondering – why? Cats may leave one kitten for different reasons, such as poor health, genetic problems, feeling overwhelmed, or sometimes even by accident. When this happens, it’s essential to understand the causes and consider intervening to ensure the abandoned kitten receives proper care. In this article, we explore the reasons why a mother cat may abandon one kitten and what you can do to help.

Unviable Kitten

Factors That Make A Kitten Unviable

Unviable kittens refer to newborn kittens that are either sickly or born with defects that make it impossible for them to thrive. There are several factors that contribute to a kitten being unviable.

  • Genetic abnormalities that cause defects in organs such as the heart, lungs, and liver.
  • Lack of proper nutrition from the mother cat leads to a weak immune system.
  • Infections and diseases that the kitten may have contracted in the womb or from the environment.
  • Trauma or injury sustained during birth can lead to internal bleeding or brain damage.

Causes Of Unviability

Kittens can be born unviable for various reasons. Here are some of the causes of unavailability.

  • Genetic abnormality: Mutations or defects can occur during the kitten’s development in the womb.
  • Infections and diseases: Kittens can acquire infections in the placenta or during birth.
  • Birth trauma: Difficult birth or prolonged labor can cause internal injuries, leading to unavailability.
  • Lack of nutrition: Malnutrition can lead to a weak immune system and leave the kitten susceptible to various infections and diseases.

Kitten’S Physical Appearance

A kitten’s physical characteristics can also influence a mother’s decision to abandon it. Mother cats have instinctual nurturing behavior towards kittens that look healthy and strong. Here are some physical appearances that may cause a mother cat to abandon a kitten:

  • Small size and frail body composition.
  • Weak or lethargic behavior.
  • Deformities or abnormalities in appearance such as cleft palate.
  • Lack of body heat or slow growth development.

Mother cats rely on their survival instincts to protect themselves and their offspring. Abandoning unviable kittens is their way of ensuring they can allocate their limited resources toward healthy and surviving newborns.

Environmental Factors

Environmental Factors

Why Would A Mother Cat Abandon Only One Kitten

It is heart-wrenching to see a lone kitten crying, abandoned by its mother. You might feel at a loss as to why the mother cat would abandon only one kitten. One reason for this could be environmental factors. Inadequate shelter, scarcity of resources, the presence of danger, fear of predation, and interference with other cats can all cause a mother cat to abandon one of her kittens.

Inadequate Shelter

A mother cat needs a safe and secure place for her kittens to grow and thrive. If she feels that the shelter is inadequate or not secure enough, she may decide to abandon one kitten that she perceives as weaker or less likely to survive.

Kittens that are not warm and comfortable may also fail to thrive, causing the mother to leave them behind.

Scarcity Of Resources

A mother cat may not be able to provide enough resources for all her kittens, especially if she is a first-time mother or has a large litter. In this case, she may abandon one kitten that she perceives as weaker, to ensure the survival of the rest of the litter.

Kittens that are not getting enough milk can also be left behind.

Presence Of Danger

The presence of predators or other dangers can cause a mother cat to abandon a kitten. If she senses that one of her kittens is in danger due to the presence of a predator or other threat, she may leave it behind to protect the rest of the litter.

Fear Of Predation

A mother cat may abandon one kitten if she feels that it is more vulnerable or weaker than the rest and more likely to attract predators. In this case, leaving the weaker kitten behind is an act of protection for the rest of the litter.

Interference With Other Cats

Mother cats can be very protective of their kittens. If they feel that another cat in the area is a threat, they may leave one kitten behind to divert the attention of the other cat. This can be a risky strategy, and it is not uncommon for the abandoned kitten to struggle to survive without the mother’s care.

A mother cat may abandon one kitten due to several environmental factors. These reasons can be heartbreaking, but it is important to understand that the mother cat is trying to ensure the survival of the rest of the litter. If you come across an abandoned kitten, contact a local rescue organization or an animal shelter immediately to provide assistance and ensure the kitten gets the care it needs.

Human Involvement

Why Would a Mother Cat Abandon Only One Kitten?

Witnessing a mother cat abandon a single kitten can be a distressing sight, and it’s natural to wonder why this happens. Several factors may lead to feline mothers leaving behind one of their offspring. In this section, we will discuss the various reasons why this can occur due to human involvement.

Human Scent On The Kitten

Sometimes, the mother cat may reject a kitten simply because it carries an unfamiliar scent. Human involvement is often the culprit in this situation, as touching, handling, or even accidentally stepping on a newborn kitten may mask its natural scent.

A mother cat relies heavily on her sense of smell to identify her kittens and may abandon any that have been contaminated with the scent of humans.

Human Interference With The Litter

An over-eager human can cause harm by interfering with a litter of kittens. While it’s natural to want to check on a cat and her newborns, it’s essential to allow the mother cat to adjust to her new role without intervention for at least the first few weeks after birth.

Humans may unintentionally create stress by overhandling the kittens, which can cause the mother to feel threatened and result in abandonment.

Removing A Kitten From A Feral Mother

In some cases, a mother cat may be feral, and humans may take one or more of her kittens away from her. Removing a kitten could cause the mother to become fearful and abandon the entire litter. Similarly, removing the kitten may cause the mother to reject it when returning to the nest.

Making Contact With A Newborn Kitten

Humans who come into contact with newborn kittens can inadvertently create a situation where a mother cat will abandon one kitten. It’s essential to avoid disturbing the kittens or the mother, even if it’s to make sure they’re okay. Handling a newborn kitten is not only dangerous to the kitten, but it could also lead to the entire litter being rejected.

It’s vital to understand the importance of allowing mother cats to bond with their kittens without interference. Human involvement must be kept to a bare minimum to avoid unwanted abandonment.

Medical Concerns

Mother cats usually take care of all of their kittens until they are old enough to take care of themselves. However, in some cases, a mother cat may abandon only one of her kittens. This can be a cause for concern for pet owners and requires investigation to understand the root cause of abandonment.

One common reason for abandonment is medical concern. In this section, we’ll go over some of the medical reasons why a mother cat might abandon only one kitten.

Illnesses And Diseases

It’s important to ensure that all kittens are born healthy. A sick or weak kitten may require more care, attention, and feeding than a healthy one, and a mother cat may not have the capacity to provide that care. If a kitten is ill and requires medical attention, it may smell and act differently from its siblings, and the mother cat might abandon it due to the change in smell or behavior.

Some common illnesses and diseases that can cause abandonment include:

  • Feline leukemia virus
  • Feline immunodeficiency virus
  • Upper respiratory infections
  • Parasitic infections
  • Intestinal problems

Lack Of Proper Nutrition

When a mother cat gives birth to a litter of kittens, she needs to eat more food to provide the nutrition required to sustain both herself and her kittens. If the mother cat does not have enough food to feed all of her kittens, she may abandon the weaker one.

Additionally, if a kitten is born with a birth defect, it may not be able to suckle and receive the nutrition it needs. Signs of inadequate nutrition might include:

  • Weak or lethargic behavior
  • Little appetite for food
  • Slow weight gain

Birth Defects

Kittens can be born with a wide range of birth defects. These can include anything from congenital disabilities to physical deformities. If a kitten is born with a birth defect, it may be weaker or less able to function properly than its siblings.

This can cause the mother cat to abandon it, as she will not have the capacity to provide the care required for the kitten to survive on its own.


Kittens can be born with various infections, including viral, bacterial, and fungal infections. These infections can cause the kitten to smell and behave differently from its siblings. If the mother cat senses that one of her kittens is sick, she may abandon it to protect the rest of her litter from getting infected.

Common signs of infection include:

  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lethargy


Parasitic infections are a common problem for kittens. They can be contracted from the mother cat during the birthing process or from the kitten’s environment. Parasites, such as fleas, ticks, and worms, can make the kitten itchy, uncomfortable, and weak.

They can also cause vomiting or diarrhea, leading the mother cat to abandon the affected kitten.

There are various medical reasons why a mother cat may abandon only one kitten. This behavior is usually due to the mother cat’s instinct to protect the rest of her litter from potential harm. Pet owners must understand the reasons behind abandonment and provide appropriate care for the abandoned kitten.

If you notice any signs of illness or disease in your kitten, please consult with a veterinarian immediately.

Litter Dynamics

As an animal lover, the act of a mother cat abandoning one of her kittens can be quite distressing. The question that arises here is, why would a mother cat abandon only one kitten when she bore them together just a short while ago?

Too Many Kittens In The Litter

It is common for mother cats with larger litter to leave one or two kittens behind. When there are too many kittens in the litter, the mother may not produce enough milk to support them all. She can struggle to meet their demands for nourishment and neglect one of her kittens.

  • When there are many young ones to feed, she may feel that the chances of survival for the rest will increase if she abandons one kitten.
  • The mother cat may feel emotionally or physically exhausted and may leave one kitten behind as a survival tactic.
  • In some cases, the mother cat may simply lack the maternal instinct or abandon one of her kittens due to instinctual depletion.

Limited Nursing Positions

Another reason for a mother cat abandoning only one kitten is a lack of nursing positions. When nursing, kittens push and shove to find a comfortable spot to feed, resulting in minor injuries to the mother cat’s nipples. As a result, some kittens could be denied access to these nipples, causing them to be weaned early or abandoned by the mother cat.

  • The mother cat may also have certain preferences or may favor particular kittens, making it challenging for the weaker ones to find a nursing spot.

Competition For Resources

Kittens born in the wild have to struggle to find resources. For instance, finding food, water, and a safe place to rest or nest during bad weather conditions. When there is a scarcity of resources, it can cause the mother cat to abandon one kitten.

  • The mother cat will most likely abandon the weaker one in the litter, which has a lower chance of survival.
  • The stronger kitten’s survival is prioritized in this scenario as it is viewed as the one who is more likely to thrive.
  • The mother cat may choose the most able-bodied of the litter to increase the likelihood of its survival and ultimately the survival chances of the whole litter.

Dominant Kitten Behaviour

In some cases, one kitten exhibits dominant characteristics, making it challenging for the mother cat to care for the others. In such cases, she may abandon the weaker and less assertive kitten.

  • The dominant kitten may hog all the mother’s attention and milk, leaving the rest of the litter to suffer.
  • By acting in a dominant manner, the mother cat might become stressed out and abandon the younger, weaker kitten.
  • The mother cat may view the dominant kitten as a predator and believe that keeping it close can increase everyone’s chances of survival.


Finally, mother cats are known to abandon kittens as they start weaning. Kittens begin to show signs of independence, and their mother’s nurturing efforts become less necessary.

  • The mother cat may feel that the kitten is mature enough to fend for itself and leave it behind.
  • The mother cat may see the readiness for independence in the little one and begin to focus on the remaining litter.
  • The mother cat may abandon the kitten if she feels that her parenting efforts have served their purpose.

Age Of Kitten

Early Abandonment

It is not uncommon for a mother cat to abandon one kitten after giving birth, leaving it helpless and alone. Early abandonment is a common behavior in cats, especially among first-time mothers who may not understand their maternal instincts. When a mother cat decides to abandon one of her kittens, it is often due to several reasons, like:

  • Health Concerns: Kittens with physical abnormalities or genetic disorders may experience mother abandonment.
  • Overcrowding: If a litter is too large and the mother feels overwhelmed, she may abandon one or more of her kittens.
  • Stress: Mother cats are instinctually wired to protect their kittens. However, if they feel threatened or uneasy, they may abandon their children.

Kitten Developmental Milestones

When a kitten is born, they are helpless and entirely dependent on their mother for survival. As they grow, they reach important developmental milestones, such as:

  • Eyes opening: Kittens open their eyes after 7-10 days of birth.
  • Walking and exploring: After 2-3 weeks, kittens start to walk, play, and explore their surroundings.
  • Weaning: At 3-4 weeks, the kittens start to wean, which is the process of transitioning from milk to solid food.
  • Socialization: By 6-8 weeks, kittens start to play with their littermates, learn socialization skills and engage in interactive play.

Kitten’S Ability To Survive

The struggle for survival is particularly difficult for a kitten whose mother has abandoned it. Without a mother to provide food, warmth, and protection, the kitten’s life depends on external factors like:

  • Temperature: Kittens are vulnerable to temperature changes, and it is crucial to keep them warm to prevent hypothermia.
  • Feeding: A mother’s milk contains essential nutrients and antibodies that help protect the kitten from disease and stimulate their growth. Hand-rearing abandoned kittens is extremely time-intensive and requires a round-the-clock commitment.
  • Hygiene: Abandoned kittens are prone to infection and require frequent cleaning to maintain hygiene.

Mother’s Instinct To Abandon

Although it may seem cruel, a mother cat abandoning one of her kittens is often a survival mechanism. Instinctually, she knows that she does not have the resources to provide for all of her offspring. To ensure the survival of the majority of her kittens, she may abandon the weakest ones.

Overall, the healthiest offspring have a better chance of surviving and passing on their genetic traits.

While it may be heartbreaking to see an abandoned kitten, it is essential to understand that it is not always a sign of neglect. Cats have evolved as opportunistic hunters and are hardwired to do what is best for their survival and the success of their species.

If you come across an abandoned kitten, it is imperative to provide them with the necessary care or, if absolutely necessary, seek help from rescue organizations or a veterinary professional.

Maternal Instinct

As humans, we often associate a mother’s love with being unconditional. However, maternal instincts in animals differ significantly from their human counterparts. In the case of mother cats, the abandonment of kittens is a common occurrence. But why would a mother cat abandon only one kitten?

Understanding the different types of maternal instincts can provide some insight.

Types Of Maternal Instincts

Shared Care

Some animal mothers, including cats, have shared care instincts. This means that the mother cat will care for all of her kittens to some extent, but will not prioritize one over the others. However, if one kitten appears weaker or less healthy than the others, the mother cat may devote more attention and resources to the stronger kittens.

Recognition Of Offspring

Recognition of offspring is another type of maternal instinct. This instinct enables a mother cat to distinguish between her own offspring and other kittens. If a mother cat is unable to recognize one of her kittens, she may abandon it.

Factors That Affect Maternal Instinct


The health of the mother cat is a significant factor that can affect her maternal instincts. A mother cat that is sick or malnourished may not have the energy or resources to care for all her kittens. In this case, the mother cat may abandon one or more kittens to ensure the survival of the rest.


External factors like changes in the environment can cause a mother cat to abandon a kitten. Loud noises, for example, can stress out a mother cat, leading her to leave one or more of her kittens.

Human Intervention

Human intervention can also affect a mother cat’s maternal instincts. Overhandling or moving her kittens can cause a mother cat to become stressed and abandon her kittens. It is crucial to let the mother cat care for her kittens unless their lives are in danger.

Maternal instincts in cats are complex and influenced by many factors. While it may be hard to understand why a mother cat would abandon one of her kittens, knowing the different types of maternal instincts and the factors that affect them can provide some insight.

Kitten Cries And Scents

The Purpose Of Kitten Cries And Scents

Kitten cries and scents are crucial communicative signals between mother cats and their kittens. The mother cat needs to know when her kitten is hungry or in distress, and the kittens need to know where to find their mother and their food.

Here are a few key points to explain the role of kitten cries and scents:

  • Mother cats recognize their kittens by their scent: Kittens have special scent glands on their faces that produce pheromones, which are unique to each individual kitten. This allows the mother cat to recognize and identify her kittens, even if they look similar.
  • Kitten cries signal hunger and distress: Newborn kittens are completely dependent on their mother for food, so they need to cry to signal their need for milk. They also cry if they are cold, uncomfortable, or in pain, which alerts the mother to potential problems.
  • The mother cat responds to her kittens’ cries: Mother cats are attentive and responsive to their kittens’ cries, and will quickly come to their aid when they sense that something is wrong. They will also clean and groom their kittens to keep them healthy and comfortable.

Intensity And Frequency Of Kittens Cries

Kitten cries can be surprisingly loud and intense, despite their small size. Here are a few key points to explain the intensity and frequency of kittens’ cries:

  • Newborn kittens cry frequently: Newborn kittens cry every few hours, or whenever they are hungry or uncomfortable. Their cries are often high-pitched and piercing, which helps them get the attention of their mother.
  • The intensity of their cries can depend on their health: If a kitten is sick or in pain, their cries may be louder and more persistent than usual. This can alert the mother cat to the kitten’s distress and prompt her to investigate.
  • As kittens grow, their cries become less frequent: As kittens get older, they gradually outgrow their need to cry for food and attention and become more independent. However, they may still make occasional noises to signal their needs or interests.

The Mother’s Response To Kitten Cries

Mother cats are highly responsive to their kittens’ cries, and use a variety of signals to communicate with them. Here are a few key points to explain the mother’s response to kitten cries:

  • Mother cats recognize different types of cries: Mother cats are able to interpret their kittens’ cries and respond appropriately. For example, they can tell the difference between a cry of hunger, a cry of distress, and a cry of pain.
  • The mother cat will quickly come to her kittens’ aid: Mother cats are highly protective of their young, and will quickly come to their aid if they sense that something is wrong. They will also provide comfort and reassurance to their kittens to help them feel safe and secure.
  • The mother cat will stimulate her kittens to urinate and defecate: Newborn kittens are not able to eliminate waste on their own, so the mother cat will use her tongue to stimulate their genital area and prompt them to urinate and defecate. This helps keep the nest clean and prevents infections.

Importance Of Kitten Scent

Kitten scent is a crucial part of how mother cats identify and care for their kittens. Here are a few key points to explain why kitten scent is so important:

  • Scent helps the mother cat identify her kittens: Each kitten has a unique scent that allows the mother cat to recognize and identify them, even if they look similar. This helps the mother keep track of her kittens and makes it easier for her to provide individual care.
  • Kitten scent can be comforting: Kitten scent can also be comforting and familiar to the mother cat. The scent of her kittens helps her feel relaxed and calm, which in turn helps promote bonding and nurturing behaviors.
  • Scent can help kittens find their mother: Kittens also use scent to locate their mother and their siblings. They have a strong instinct to follow their mother’s scent trail, which helps keep them together and safe.

Rescuing Abandoned Kittens

Why would a mother cat abandon only one kitten: rescuing abandoned kittens

It can be devastating to see a kitten all alone without its mother. While it’s not uncommon for mother cats to leave their kittens behind, it’s still crucial to understand why this happens and how to rescue those feline cuties.

This section will discuss the proper steps to take when rescuing abandoned kittens.

Assessing The Kitten’S Viability

Before you begin to rescue an abandoned kitten, it’s essential to assess its viability. Here are some key points to consider:

  • Check that the kitten is fully weaned, generally four to six weeks old.
  • Examine the kitten and ensure that it’s active and responsive.
  • Look carefully for any signs of injury or illness, such as diarrhea or eye discharge.
  • Check for any visible fleas or ticks.

Steps To Follow When Rescuing A Lone Kitten

Rescuing a lone kitten requires a specific set of steps to ensure its safety and well-being. Here is what you should do:

  • Wear gloves and wrap the kitten in a thick, warm towel to prevent it from getting cold or injured.
  • Take the kitten to a warm and quiet place away from other pets or loud noises.
  • Contact your local animal control or rescue center for advice and help with further care.
  • Try and identify the mother cat and siblings, if possible, and leave the kitten in a nearby location in case the mother cat comes back.

Feeding Abandoned Kittens

Abandoned kittens need proper nutrition to grow and thrive. Here are some essential feeding guidelines:

  • Feed the kitten a kitten milk replacement formula, which can be found at local pet stores.
  • Use a dropper or syringe to feed the kitten every two to three hours until it’s eight weeks old.
  • Gradually introduce solid food after the kitten is four weeks old.

Providing The Right Environment

Kittens require a specific environment to feel safe and comfortable. Here are some key points to keep in mind:

  • Provide a small, warm, and quiet space, such as a box or carrier, with soft bedding.
  • Place a heating pad, set on low, under half of the kitten’s bed so it can regulate its temperature.
  • Keep the litter box nearby and show the kitten how to use it.
  • Provide the kitten with toys to play with and enough space to move around and exercise.

Health Risks And Vaccinations

Lastly, abandoned kittens are more exposed to health risks and require essential vaccinations to ensure their well-being. Here are some crucial points to keep in mind:

  • Take the kitten to a veterinarian shortly after rescuing it for a full examination.
  • Make sure the kitten gets vaccinated against common feline diseases, including feline leukemia, rabies, and distemper.
  • Plan routine examinations and vaccinations in accordance with the veterinarian’s advice.

Rescuing an abandoned kitten can be a daunting task, but with these simple steps, you can make sure the kitten grows into a healthy and happy feline companion.

Prevention And Intervention

Cats are known for being affectionate, protective, and caring mothers to their young. However, sometimes mother cats abandon their kittens, leaving them vulnerable and helpless. Abandonment is a natural phenomenon, as animals can sometimes sense when they are unable to care for their young properly.

Unfortunately, a mother cat may only abandon one kitten, leaving it alone and vulnerable. This raises concerns about the welfare of the kitten. However, there are ways to prevent and intervene in such situations.

Supporting And Educating Feral Cat Colonies

Feral cat colonies are groups of cats that have adapted to living in the wild. These cats reproduce prolifically and can quickly overcrowd an area. To prevent abandonment, it is essential to support and educate feral cat colonies. This involves spaying and neutering, providing food and water, and ensuring that the cats have a safe environment to live in.

Implementing Trap-Neuter-Return Programmes

One of the most effective ways to reduce feral cat colonies’ size is by implementing trap-neuter-return programs. This program involves trapping feral cats, spaying or neutering them, and then returning them to their colony. This prevents overcrowding, reduces mating behaviors, and helps control the colony’s population.

Early Detection And Intervention

When it comes to abandoned kittens, early intervention can make all the difference. Look for signs of distress, malnourishment, or abandonment, like a kitten crying for hours with no mother in sight. Rescue organizations can provide the necessary care and support to ensure the kitten’s survival.

Foster Care And Adoption

Foster care and adoption are crucial to preventing kittens from being abandoned. Foster families can provide temporary care for kittens and help prepare them for adoption. Adoptive families can provide a permanent home for a kitten, ensuring that they are loved and cared for.

Proper Care For Mother Cats And Kittens

Mother cats need proper care to ensure that they can care for their kittens properly, which can prevent abandonment. Ensure that mother cats have access to food, water, and shelter. Regular vet checks can also provide early detection of illnesses or other health concerns, ensuring that kittens receive the care they need from their mother.


It is a heartbreaking situation when a mother cat abandons one of her kittens. While it may be hard to understand why this happens, some reasons might explain the behavior. Health issues, mating behavior, and stress are among the most common reasons why mother cats leave their offspring behind.

However, it is important to remember that humans can help. Taking in a lone kitten and providing the necessary care can be a life-changing experience for both the kitten and its new owner. Yet, it is crucial to understand that raising a kitten requires a lot of dedication and patience.

Kittens need round-the-clock care and attention, so it’s best to be prepared before taking one in. With love, care, and attention, abandoned kittens can grow up to be healthy, happy, and affectionate pets. Remember, every kitten deserves a loving home, regardless of how they came into the world.

Posted by
Ronald Maxwell

Through my blog, I aim to provide useful tips, advice, and information on pet care, training, nutrition, and health. To keep my readers informed and engaged, I also post uplifting tales, fascinating statistics, and pet-related news.

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