Sunday, 14 December 2008


Cats are like people. And oftentimes, they think like people.

It is simply amazing to see how mother cats act just like human mothers. I’ve observed my cats for 10 years now and I have seen that each female has her own ideas about mothering. But the unique ways with which they prepare for motherhood, give birth and raise their kittens really remind me of different women with children.

Here’s is a list of the various kinds of feline female behavior I have observed through the years:


This cat is the ideal mama. No one, neither elder cats nor concerned humans, teaches her how to take care of the babies yet she does it like a real pro. She gives birth alone, without any fuss or sound, and instinctively knows that she has to eat the umbilical cord and sack like her cousins do in the wild (no Lamaze lessons, no nurses, wet nurses nor doctors to assist at the moment of birth). She then grooms the newborns, lets them suckle and never leaves them for the first 24 hours.

cheira and toy
Like human teenage moms, cats less than a year old usually make bad mamas. They just aren’t mentally and emotionally prepared to be mothers. My white Persian cat Cheira got pregnant when she was just 7 months old. When she gave birth, she did not know what to do. She left the kittens in a corner and refused to nurse them despite my repeated attempts to force her to lie down and let them suckle. Needless to say, the babies lived for just a day. But when she gave birth again a year later, she knew exactly how to care for her babies.


Mama cats are very protective of their offspring. Like their wild cousins the lions, tigers, cheetahs, etc., they feel the need to protect the babies against predator species or, as in the case of my cats, from the other adult cats at home. In the wild, male lions kill cubs to eliminate competitors for food and females. So the mother lion keeps on changing dens to make sure her pups will not be found. My cats still follow this instinct. A few weeks after giving birth, they always move their kittens to a different area or room.


These mothers are so proud of their kittens that instead of sticking to their maternal instincts and hiding the babies, they bring out the litter and place them in an open area for all to see. It worries me when they do this a day or more after giving birth. My cat Mignonne is guilty of this. She enjoys the attention when the rest of the family come to check out her babies.


Kidnapping – or in this case, kittennapping - occurs when a cat is either about to give birth or has just given birth. Strangely, the mothers of the kidnapped kittens do not raise a fuss except for another white Persian, Xerea, who scolded her kitten and refused to let him suckle for a day when he (the kitten) agreed to stay with his aunt Bast and did not try to escape. When they are kidnapped, the reluctant and often screaming little victims are taken by the scruff of the neck by the expectant or new mother and brought to her chosen den. Perhaps the expecting mom is so excited about her coming babies that she gets impatient and decides to mother someone else’s kitten. The kidnapped kittens are then expected to babysit or teach the newborns a few things.


Ishtar, a pewter-colored Persian, trains her daughters to care for the babies. She makes them stay and watch over the kittens while she socializes with the other cats or inspects the house. The daughters usually don’t mind as long as they, too, get to suckle even if they are already six months old or more.


I first noticed this apparent agreement between feline mothers to cooperate and share responsibilities some seven years ago when sisters Mau and Bast gave birth at the same time to a litter of 3 kittens each. The sisters took turns eating so that one of them would always be with the kittens. They groomed and nursed each other’s babies.

Last year, the phenomenon was repeated when Filipino (or American Shorthair) cats Spider and Pouncival gave birth weeks apart. I had rescued Spider two years ago from under the back tire of a Pajero parked along Times Street in Quezon City. Pouncival, on the other hand, just walked into my garden one day and refused to leave. I gave her away to a neighbor but every morning I would find her back in my garage in time for breakfast. Like Bast and Mau, Spider and Pouncival care for each other’s litter, groom each other’s babies and watch over them.


Not all cats become attached to people. Some keep an independent attitude and do not wish to be petted nor stroked. But Barbie is quite the opposite. She always wants to be near me and makes sure that her babies become close to me. In fact, she moved her babies from under the bed to under the bedside table so they would always have easy access to me. Thus her three babies Aslan, Simba and Pocahontas grew up climbing in and out of my bed and even sleeping with me. But not all my female felines teach their kittens to be close to me.


ARTEMIS and her kittens
Some cats even go further by literally asking for help when they need it. Eleven-year-old Artemis always experiences a delay in kitten delivery. Her stomach gets so big and heavy that sometimes she doesn’t want to stand anymore. When it’s time to give birth yet her babies won’t come out yet, she comes to me for a healing. So I place my hands on her stomach and give it Reiki energy. Or I gently stroke and massage it. She loves it and usually wants to stay all day on the bed. The babies come out usually a day or two later.
BAST and her kitty

Her sister Bast also had the same idea. She usually keeps her babies hidden and well-protected. But one day, when a good friend who happens to be a doctor came to do acupuncture on our cat, Sam, Bast brought out her three babies and laid them out in front of him. It was the first and only time any of the cats did that to a visitor. We thought it was rather cute and we didn’t know what it meant at the time. It was only after the babies died two days later that we realized she was asking for medical or acupuncture help.


ISHTAR with Mau and Bast
This type of cat gives up whatever little food she has to her kittens. Not all mothers do this. But I’ve seen this admirable trait among some of my cats. When the kittens want more food or milk, Ishtar, Spider and Pouncival give them their share. It’s very much the same for human mothers. My mom does it for me. She buys clothes for herself and then gives them to me if I like them. Now that’s what I call the ultimate mother.

Motherhood, I am told, changes many women. I had the chance to observe this first hand with Xerea who used to be a timid cat who feared all the other cats. Xerea made her home in my bathroom perhaps thinking that the closed-in walls would provide her better protection from her siblings who just loved to tease and harass her. She often stayed on top of a tiled wall dividing the shower from the toilet area. For several years, none of our Prince Charming cats could lay their paws on Xerea, our “wall tower princess”. After giving birth to two kittens, Xerea first nursed them inside the bathroom cabinet and later moved them out to my room. More than a month later, she began making excursions to the dining room and kitchen. She must have liked it there because she brought her babies there. Now, Xerea goes all over the house. She has lost her fear of the other cats and she now fights back when they try to boss her around.
Animal behavior indeed mirrors human behavior. Or is it the other way around? And when it comes to mothering, humans do not have a monopoly on love for their babies. Mother cats and other species give the same attention and sacrifice to their offspring. Scientists may refer to it as the instinct to ensure “survival of the species”. But anyone who has the opportunity to observe animals up close will know that this is too simplistic an explanation. Animals are intelligent and they have a way of knowing which we do not completely comprehend. And mothering, for them, generally seems to be a special experience. (end)
Published in Mr. & Ms. magazine (May-June 2008) under my column: ANIMAL TOTEMS

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