Cats cannot count & strangers are scary

By | September 21, 2021

Day 75

Wow. Day 75 in the life of the kittens and what a life it has been for them up to now! We are almost at the 3 month age-mark!

Good food, good shelter, lots of siblings and loving human interaction… all THEY had to do was grow. And that they did! And are still doing…

They are just at the right stage in their young lives to get to know more people and expand their trusted circle. Nevertheless, surrendering even the 4 most resilient and mature kittens to Ninth Life and placing them in the Oakville Place Pet Smart Adoption centre* weighs heavily on my heart, but it will be in their best interest.

I think Mitsy will thank us for the move as well. She is slightly overwhelmed with these six rambunctious little ones, that jump on and over her like there is no tomorrow and then demand milk… Right now, this is just luxury food, because they are all on solids. But who can turn away from such a good snack, right?

Six kittens is a lot

Six kittens really is a pretty big litter, even in the cat world. I remember how, on their very first day in life, I decided to help 2 of them get back into their birthing shelter: they were sleeping on the pet heating pad that was under their blankie in front of the shelter. The other 4 were nursing and napping at mom’s side, inside the shelter. Mom was aware of the other two, but did not pay attention to them. For one hour. Then 2 hours. Then 4. And just at that time I had been reading in a book that heating pads can mislead kittens into thinking they are sleeping with mom. But nobody is prompting them to wake up and ‘eat’. So they keep sleeping. And before long this can lead to their sudden death. I could not let that happen on day 1 and I successfully manipulated the back to momma (see my earlier post “We have 6 babies”).

No rest for the weary… When one finds mom, the others quickly follow and Mitsy gives us a pleading look that seems to say: “Help! Get them away from me!”

This is nature’s selection method: if, in the wild, kittens do not have a strong trigger to get to the dining table, so to speak, they will not thrive and ultimately perish. And probably be eaten by a predator, if they were born outside. And we have predators galore. Not in the least… big birds.

Cats and birds

Many people consider cats the biggest threat to the bird population, when they live outside. But the success rate of cats catching birds is very low, because, well: they cannot fly and follow them when they take wing!

But birds are actually a pretty big threat to cats too, especially kittens.
We have a lot of birds of prey here. Kites, falcons and more than anything: seagulls from Lake Ontario and Turkey Vultures. The latter are an impressive lot. Very big, with an impeccable sense of scent and sight. All of them will grab a motionless kitten that either went walkabout, or slept outside of the birthing area. I think that one of the reasons so many cats move their litter around 3 weeks is that by then, the little ones are able and curious enough to start moving around. And the birthing place, that was originally very safe, now becomes too easy to exit. A new, bigger space with better natural protection is needed. And just as a by the way: it seems Mitsy has had some prior confrontations with birds, because she is quite afraid of our stick toy with feathers… her kittens have no such hang-ups and love it!

New people are scary! (Apparently…)

Mitsy never had to worry about that with this litter, that will be her last in this life. All she had to do was eat her fill, drink enough water and feed the babies. Sounds easy enough, right? I have to say: she is an excellent mother. She is not as protective over them as in the early days and we are now part of her inner circle of trust. But anyone unknown is met with great alertness and distrust. I have once read that one of the differences between cats and dogs is how they recognise their owners. It was said that cats go by scent and voice, primarily, and dogs go by faces. I have also read it the other way around. That explains why, when our neighbourette came over with her young daughter to take a quick peak at the kittens, they were met with wide-open eyes and frightful hissing. Wearing a mask did not help either, I think.

Looks like a lovely scene, but all kittens were hissing at the masked visitors! I don’t think they would like a Halloween party!

So much for bragging about how sweet our kittens are!

The reaction helped us realise how important it is to expose the kittens to multiple people. The are completely domesticated by now, but, like 2-4 year old children, they are not keen on meeting strangers. Especially not in their own territory. I expect that they will soon adjust to seeing other people after a couple of days in the Adoption Centre. But it will be alien to them in the beginning. However, cats, like all animals, have two character traits that will be helpful with the adjustment process: they live in today’s day only; and they can sleep to completely tune out their surroundings.

In that respect they have a lot to teach me, the professional worrier!

The ‘beauty’ and ‘the beast’

A story comes to mind…
When we still had our cats Dixie and Sammy, we regularly had to move them to a cat hotel for the weekend because some of our friends were allergic to cats. In that particular period of time, my house was never so clean, so often! We would pack up the cats and drop them off at the hotel and then steam clean the house so make sure it has as little cat-particles as possible. Quite the task!

Anyway… in the hotel we expected ‘poor little Dixie’ to feel really bad and Sammy to do well. It turned out to be the other way around. Dixie stepped out of her ‘bed-room’ as soon as permitted, to join the other cats in the dayroom. She was very social and respectful to the other cats. Sammy, on the other hand, always remained a complete monster (that was the nickname she earned in that hotel!) and did not want to get out of her bedroom for the full 2 days. She put up a fight each time her litter box had to be cleaned. When we came to pick the up, we always, without fail, got the claw from her after putting her in her carrier. We tried to close the latch with a towel or even gloves, but she always found a way to hook her nails in our fingers… She was determined to let us know she was not pleased to have to be there!


It was the owner of that cat hotel that told us: “When cats are in a new environment that is not their own, they are all equal. That is why most of them do not fight or assert themselves and can get along with everybody else in the day room”. Makes sense to me. Sammy was the exception to that rule, I guess. She was happy the moment she was back home though, in my husband’s lap.

Cats cannot count

My favourite book about kittens growing into adult cats can be found on Amazonq. It is an older book but it is packed with information and beautiful visuals. One of the points it makes is that cats cannot count… Therefore, if you need to reduce the size of your litter, the mother will not notice as long as you leave a couple of the kittens with her. They probably only distinguish between no kittens and some kittens. The other side of that coin is that when you return her kittens to her after only a week or so, she will no longer recognise them as her own. This is because they will now smell differently… 

Which is why it is so important that adoptive families really make sure that the cat they think they like resonates strongly with them. That will give the cat ‘maximum credit’ when it takes a while to get used to new surroundings.

* Oakville Place Adoption Center address: Pet Smart store at 240 Leighland Ave M7, Oakville