Reading that a cat can have kittens as young as 4 months -- that seems like the cat is still someone I would consider a kitten herself -- it strikes me that such a young cat would not have had the life experience to be a good mother.

I realize that much of being a mother for a cat is instinctive but I also know that there is teaching -- I have seen videos where a mother cat is clearly teaching her kittens things like how to drink water (even tapping the kitten on the shoulder to get her attention) or how to fight.

I wonder if even though teaching does occur, perhaps that only hastens instinctive behavior or if the mother fails to teach a kitten certain things, then the kitten might never learn them. Is it possible that kittens learn how to be mothers from their own time being taken care of.

1 Answer 1


At 4 months old, a young cat has learned everything she can learn from her own mother. She will not get any better at being a mother herself by simply living a longer life. However, her smaller body will probably produce less kittens than an older cat would.

In nature, there's a high risk that the very first pregnancy won't be much of an success, regardless of how old the animal is at that time. Giving birth is painful, so the mother might not accept the young that have caused her this pain. She is inexperienced in how to care for them and help them nurse and she might not find a safe place for them while they are still helpless.

With each subsequent pregnancy, the mother gets more experienced and the chances of survival increase for the young. But this is all based on experiences of the mother cat that she cannot learn from her own mother, because cats chase away their juvenile young before they get pregnant again.

The situation is a little different for more social animals like lions, wolves or elephants, where several generations of females live together in groups. There a young female has opportunities to learn motherly behavior before becoming a mother herself and other members of the group can take care if the mother isn't experienced enough.

  • This is entirely true. Although can it be considered that overall "life experience" makes a creature a somewhat better mother?
    – ahron
    Mar 25, 2022 at 7:39
  • @Yogesch Of course life experience can have an effect on the survival chances of the offspring, but that mostly includes where to find food, water and safe hiding places. Cats do teach some of that to their children, but it's impossible to teach all of it in 4 months. You could say: the longer time (months or years) a child spends with their mother, the more life experience they learn directly from their mother as opposed to making their own experiences. Cats only spend a short time with their mothers, elephants years, so the young learn where the hidden water holes are from their grandmothers
    – Elmy
    Mar 25, 2022 at 7:50

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