Do Cats Adopt Kittens?

Many people who have had a female cat have seen it nurturing a nearby kitten. Cat owners often wonder if that is common among all cats since they are thinking about bringing a new kitten into the home. 

Our boy Coco 2
Our boy Coco 2

Is it possible for cats to adopt kittens? Yes, the females certainly will take in kittens of other cats most of the time. It depends on the cat’s personality and some on age. Male cats aren’t warm and friendly to new kittens as they are more territorial but some will accept them. 

Read on further to find out more about cats’ reactions to a new kitten. 

Cats Accept Kittens

The Animal Humane Society states that it is easier to get an adult cat to accept a kitten than it is to get an adult cat to accept a new adult cat into the home. Cats are territorial so another adult cat is an intruder. 

Gender doesn’t play a large role in accepting a kitten. Age and temperament play a more significant role.  Female cats tend to be more accepting of kittens because of maternal instinct but males, particularly young cats, will accept a kitten too. 

Older cats of either sex will find acceptance of a kitten more challenging. 

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Why Females Adopt Kittens?

Veterinarians say there are many reasons why female cats will take on another cat’s kittens. It boils down to one thing: it’s their nature. 

Katherine A. Houpt, VMD Ph.D., of the James Law Pressor of Animal Behavior at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine said female cats just know what they’re doing. Materinal instinct is innate.

One interesting fact is not only will a female cat adopt kittens but a cat that has never given birth, including those that are spayed, will nurse adopted kittens 

Houpt said a cat’s hormones decline after spaying and that’s similar to a hormone decrease after pregnancy. 

A kitten that begins suckling will stimulate lactation. It’s not enough milk to keep the kitten alive and well over a long period but it does help those that need immediate milk.

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Cats Adopting Another Species

Another fascinating fact is that a mother cat will sometimes adopt an animal from another species. Some have adopted puppies and even squirrels. 

Some may think a mother cat may do this out of grief for her own kittens but animal experts say the answer goes back to a cat’s ancestors living in the wild. 

In the wild, two mother cats called queens will nest together. This type of roommate situation is convenient because one will hunt while the other protects and feeds all the kittens. 

They take turns hunting and feeding. One will stay behind with the group while the other moves all the kittens to a new location. 

This “babysitting” instinct is one reason female cats are so accepting even when it’s the baby of another species. Another fact is kittens raised with something like a squirrel or a rabbit won’t see that animal as prey after both are grown. 

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Father Cats Aren’t the Same

Male cats, called toms, have no paternal instinct. Their nature is to leave the queen and kittens to roam. There are instances where the male attacked the mother after birth because she had a different smell. 

There are also cases where a strange tomcat will kill kittens if he can. The reason is to provoke the queen to go into heat again quickly. Domesticated male cats don’t tend to have that behavior, especially if they are neutered.

How Long Does Acceptance Take?

A female cat will accept a new kitten fairly quickly. It may be immediately or can take a day or so. Personality and age plays a role. Some female cats just won’t do it at all. 

There could be another reason why the female won’t accept the kitten. Some cats instinctively know when a baby is sick. That may be why the kitten was abandoned by its birth mother. 

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How to Make Introductions?

The first step is to pick a kitten that will fit into the household. Don’t pick one that growls, hisses, or seems to fight with other kittens. 

The initial meeting is incredibly important because cats pushed too far too soon won’t ever be able to co-exist with another pet. It’s best to gradually allow both to move at a comfortable pace. 

Create a space for your new cat where he is confined with his litterbox, food, water, and bed for about a week. Make sure a vet sees him during that time to make sure he’s healthy. 

Next, feed the cat and the kitten on opposite sides of the same door. Eventually, after doing this routine for a few days, you’ll open the door a little so they can see each other. 

When all goes well, let the new kitten start to explore the house while the mature cat is contained. A wired cage is best so they can see each other. 

You can also trade out bedding so they can sniff each other’s scent. Over a few days, you can slowly introduce one to the other without constraints. 

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FAQs

Is it best to adopt kittens together?

Yes, animal experts say kittens adopted together view each other as littermates even if they are from different litters. 

How do I get a kitten to suckle from a different mother cat?

You can’t force the kitten to suckle and can’t force a female cat to accept it. It’s something that happens naturally as the kitten approaches the mother cat. 

What should I do if the mother cat won’t accept the kitten?

You can nurture the kitten yourself but it will be a 24-7 job until the cat is old enough to eat on its own. See a vet for the right type of formula and advice. 

How old should kittens be when they can leave the mother cat?

Kittens should remain with their mother until they are 12 to 14 weeks old.

How will I know if my cat won’t accept a kitten?

Most cats will tell you pretty clearly with extreme aggression that doesn’t go away. They will hiss at the spot where the kitten is and resent you for taking time with the kitten.