Celebrating marvellous pet mothers

How much do you know about animal mothers and the way they look after their babies? Mother’s Day falls on the fourth Sunday of Lent, which this year is 19 March. Just as with human babies, animal mothers nurture and care for their offspring in those all-important first few weeks. Animal mums also pass on some essential life skills and
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16th March 2023

How much do you know about animal mothers and the way they look after their babies?

Mother’s Day falls on the fourth Sunday of Lent, which this year is 19 March. Just as with human babies, animal mothers nurture and care for their offspring in those all-important first few weeks.

Animal mums also pass on some essential life skills and lessons, to give their youngsters the very best start in life.

Cats and their kittens

  • Mother cats, known as ‘queens’ are dedicated to teaching their kittens everything about what it means to be a cat – from how to hunt without scaring off the prey, to always being cautious when faced with new situations.
  • Young kittens tend to approach everyone and everything boldly until their mother shows them otherwise. She gives them valuable life lessons – such as being wary around strangers or dogs and giving themselves space to run away if the other party poses a threat!
  • And, while eight weeks is the very earliest time that you can bring your kitten home, many feline experts, including the Governing Council of the Cat Fancy, recommend waiting until your kitten is 12 to 13 weeks old.  
  • It’s really important that your baby cat stays with their mum and brothers and sisters until they’re three months old to ensure they gain all the nutritional benefit from mum’s milk, which primes them with antibodies to protect them against a range of infections.
  • This time is also when kittens develop important behaviours such as grooming, playing and socialising. Leaving home too early can impact on a cat’s behaviours and wellbeing for the rest of their life.

Find out more about early learning for kittens, training and nutrition advice >>

Dogs and their puppies

  • The first eight weeks of a new puppy’s life is jam-packed with many new things. In fact, over these first few weeks, they will grow and develop at a faster rate than at any other time in their lives.
  • As puppies are born unable to see, hear or regulate their body temperature, they rely on their mum for all their needs and a place to snuggle into for warmth. All their energy is devoted to sleeping and feeding so that they gain weight and become strong and healthy.
  • When puppies are very small, the mother dog will spend a lot of one-to-one time with each of her babies, grooming them, feeding them and taking care of them.
  • As soon as their eyes open (at around two weeks) and they begin to hear clearly and unsteadily find their paws (at around three weeks), puppies start playing and investigating with their brothers and sisters – and learn about competition for resources and attention.
  • The mother dog is quite a strict parent and puts her puppies in their place when they get carried away, telling them off and moving them about if they are getting in the way or straying too far from her side.
  • Puppies should be at least eight weeks old before they’re ready to leave their mother.

Find out more with our puppy checklist, training tips and expert nutrition advice >>

Rabbits and their kits

  • Mother rabbits (known as does) are sometimes considered to be rather aloof with their babies. In fact, it’s all about protecting them. Although kits are born blind, deaf and bald, it will only take a few days for some fur to grow and, by 10 days, their ears and eyes will be open, and they’ll be moving around.
  • Bunny mummies instinctively leave their young alone for long periods of time, but this is so her presence doesn’t attract predators to the nest. The kits will instinctively burrow into the nest to keep warm and remain out of sight.
  • Baby rabbits need to have been weaned before they leave their mother, which is when they’re around eight weeks old.

Find out more about bunny behaviour, creating an ideal rabbit environment and rabbit nutrition >>

Guinea pigs and their pups

Find out more about understanding the needs of guinea pigs, creating an ideal guinea pig environment and guinea pig nutrition >>

Hamsters and their pups

  • Baby hamsters are born hairless and pink and rely on their mum to feed them and their siblings for warmth. At around three weeks, with fur and functioning hearing and eyesight, the hamster babies will begin exploring and finding food on their own.
  • Hamster babies are carefully cared for by their hamster mother (known as a sow) until they reach about four weeks. After this time, she’s had quite enough of motherhood and is likely to try and drive her offspring away, just as she would in the wild.
  • This is why hamster babies need to be moved to a separate cage when they are just four to five weeks old for their own safety!

Find out more about understanding hamster behaviour, creating an ideal hamster habitat and hamster nutrition >>

Chinchillas and their kits

  • Chinchillas are born with all their fur and teeth, their eyes open and, within hours, can move around on their own. One of the main jobs for a mother chinchilla (known as a doe) is to keep her babies cosy. Right after they are born, chinchilla kits will crawl under their mother’s body for warmth.
  • Chinchilla mums are highly defensive of their babies. If they sense danger, they can behave fiercely, often spitting straight at offending parties as a way of saying ‘back off’!
  • Chinchilla babies need to be fully weaned before leaving their mother at between 12 to 14 weeks.

Find out more about understanding chinchilla behaviour, creating an ideal chinchilla habitat and chinchilla nutrition >>

Rats and their kittens

  • When rats have a litter, the new-borns may suckle for up to 18 hours a day – which means the mother rat (known as a dam) has to spend quite a bit of time in the nest for the first few weeks after birth.
  • Rats are highly intelligent creatures and, if a mother has a particularly large litter, she will split the babies into two piles and nurse them separately, giving all her offspring a chance to feed.
  • Rat babies need to be fully weaned before leaving their mother at around six weeks.

Find out more about understanding rat behaviour, creating an ideal pet rat habitat and pet rat nutrition >>

Ferrets and their kits

  • For the first three weeks of life, ferret kits, which are born blind, deaf and without teeth, are totally dependent on their ferret mother, who will nurse them, see that they are safe and warm and gently carry them around by the scruff of the neck.
  • Unlike many animals, a female ferret, or jill, will not refuse her kits after they’ve been handled by humans, and most will accept another jill’s kits easily. Some ferret fans believe that a mother ferret knows exactly how many kits she has and will do a quick count-up when one is not there, refusing to settle until her missing baby is handed back!
  • Ferret kits are not ready to leave their mum until they are at least eight weeks old, although some experts prefer for kits to stay with their mothers for as long as possible (up to 11 weeks), because they are still learning lots of essential things from her during this early stage of their life.

Find out more about understanding ferret behaviour, creating an ideal ferret environment   and ferret nutrition  >>

Is your dog a Burgess dog? Your cat a Burgess cat? Your small pets Burgess small pets? Join the Burgess Pet Club for exclusive offers and rewards.

CARE MORE Find lots of useful advice on caring for all your pets from Burgess, the pet experts. Training, nutrition, grooming and general care. It's all here >>

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