How Does a Mother Cat Understand Time? Zoey Shares Her Story…

This was the happy couple, Zee and Zoey, in the early stages of their relationship when life was carefree and they did not have the responsibility of a family to take care of…

Last week I shared a very intriguing topic about cats and the concept of past, present, and future. As in, do cats have the capacity to think and remember in those terms, and the overwhelming response was, yes, they do. You all shared some great comments and stories about cats in your life which got me to thinking about the subject in greater depth, in particular with the behavior of my beloved, Zoey.

Zoey had a litter of kittens at a young age and when they were born she rejected them for a brief amount of time, not quite comprehending or caring that they were her responsibility. It was like in her mind she was still  a teenager – after she gave birth, she literally instantly remembered being young, carefree, and unencumbered by the weight of four babies growing in her belly.

Once the notion of parenting sunk in, Zoey was a warm, caring, loving, devoted, and fiercely protective Mama. Her happy, healthy, and content kittens were 6 weeks old in this picture.

She wanted to recapture that point in her life and it was that simple. I had to stay by her side to make certain she took care of her kittens and thankfully once the light bulb went off in her head and she connected the dots that these babies were not only hers, but it was her job to take care of them, she was a fiercely devoted, loyal, loving, and protective Mama.

Our normally calm, cool, collected, elegant, and beautiful Zoey looks completely frazzled and worn out due to the non-stop shenanigans of her high-energy kittens. The kittens were about 7 weeks here and it wears me out just looking at this picture, remembering just how much time and effort goes into raising kittens!

That is until week 10 when she had a parental meltdown. Somehow her internal clock told her that it was time for the kittens to pack their furry little bags and leave. As with animals in the wild who raise their offspring with the intention that they will be leaving the nest to survive on their own, that was what happened to her. In her mind, she had taught them how to groom themselves, play, eat solid foods, and use the litter box, so she had done her motherly duties. Not to mention, she had already weaned them and was none to pleased to have them latch on to her nipples for an occasional warm and comforting snack.

This sour puss was how Zee looked during the first 3 months after Zoey gave birth to the kittens. He now loves his babies unconditionally, but back then he resented their presence and the time Zoey spent with them instead of him.

Lets face it, they were nonstop bundles of 24/7 exhausting responsibility and she had enough. Time for kitty college and to find a job is what she was thinking. Zee was virtually nonexistent as a parent and it was her who took care of these high energy kittens while he stayed in the background sulking because he missed his svelte and high-spirited partner.

Prior to the point of her having her meltdown, we had given one of the four kittens away to a dear friend (the infamous Zeuss Catt) and I was truly worried how she would react when she found out one of them was missing. Zoey could absolutely count to four, she knew where her kittens were at ALL times, and I felt she would react in a very traumatic way searching for her “lost kitten.”

This is literally Zoey saying, “Seriously, you’re still here? I’ve done my part to raise you, now it’s time to pack your bags and go!” On a side note, don’t these precious kittens just melt your heart!?

Well, the surprise was on me. Not only did she not miss Zeuss or look for him, but she began to resent the other three kittens that we had decided to keep and growled at them any time they were within her eyesight to leave her alone. Being typical children, they of course ignored her growls and continued to love her and follow her all about the house. Zoey was their Mama and they remained blissfully ignorant of her resentment. (To follow is our classic video of Zoey growling at her babies which inspired Chapter 18 of  the book, The Chronicles of Zee & Zoey, aptly titled “The Queen has Spoken – Off With Their Heads!” )

As time went on, Zoey came to understand the kittens were staying and she now accepts that with a motherly pride. She does growl now and again at them, but it is typically reserved for those moments when she does not want them to share space on the couch with me. It should be known as well that her growls are completely harmless and merely a form of communication. She has NEVER, EVER hurt her babies and she still grooms them and lovingly plays with them and there is no question they know she is Mama and they ADORE her. Life had settled into a comfortable pattern for Zoey and all was well… until last November when Kizmet, a 4 month old bundle of energy and unfamiliar blood and fur appeared out of nowhere into our peaceful household.

Kizmet brought the maternal instinct out of Zoey just a few scant days after she met him. She continues to love him like one of her own and he absolutely considers her his Mama.


Zoey did not instantly like Kizmet, but a few short days later after meeting him, that light bulb went off in her head again and it was clear she remembered mothering her four kittens and she began to assume that role with Kizmet. I find this incredibly fascinating because not only does it signify to me that she has a memory, but it is amazing just how intuitive animals are in the scheme of the natural order of life.

As many of you know, the ideal age to adopt a kitten is around 10 weeks of age after it has been properly weaned by Mama cat and socialized to people. That a mother cat can understand that 10 weeks have gone by and it is time for her kittens to leave the nest is incredible. Even more incredible, once Zoey comprehended that they were indeed staying, she has accepted that change in nature and fully embraced them. She knows the difference between the love of her life, Zee, her babies, Kizmet, and the older cats, Harley and Jazz, and interacts with all of them in respectfully unique ways (as do they with her and each other). Animals do all this without the aid of books, doctors, the Internet, or anything else other than instinct to know how to properly interact, compromise, survive, and thrive. I guess the real test would be, how would Zoey have reacted if Kizmet were a full grown cat instead of a kitten, or if her long lost son, Zeuss, came to visit? Somehow I don’t think she would be quite as loving or gracious…

This photo of Zoey and her daughter Mia was taken yesterday. You can clearly see that she still assumes the role of Mama as she hugs Mia while grooming her. Looking on is Peanut and Zee.

So many of you have thanked me for bringing up topics about cat behavior that evokes deeper thought and I really enjoy the comments and conversation I get on the blog from you all. If you want to explore the mind of a cat further in depth, particularly the relationship between a mother cat and her kittens, I encourage you to pick up a copy of The Chronicles of Zee & Zoey if you have not already done so. Not only is the book filled with page after page of our trademark gorgeous photos, but the story really showcases the incredible relationship and communicative ability that cats have not only with one another, but with people. The story is warm, honest, humorous, touching, and very inspirational. So, if you have enjoyed reading about my family of cats through the blog, you will really enjoy reading about their very special love story. If you are interested, please click here for details.

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  1. When Tamir left for the Bridge we decided that a young kitty would be best for the girls. We didn’t want one too tiny and Raz was perfect! He was 6 months old but small for his age. Ellie and Allie took to him right away. Even though neither one of them ever had kittens they mother him! It’s great to watch the interaction!

    The Florida Furkids

    • Deb says:

      Florida Furkids – I love hearing about Raz… I feel that he and Kizmet would be the best of buddies and I am so glad your feline family has accepted him so well!

  2. meowmeowmans says:

    So fascinating! One of our angel cats, Lady Madonna, was very motherly to all of the younger kitties in her open room when she was at PAWS. When there was a mommy cat who wanted nothing to do with her babies, Lady Madonna stepped right in and cared for them as if they were her own.

  3. Penelope says:

    That is so wonderful to see. Alas Nellie does not have the mothering gene. I choose to believe it is because she was taken from her mother too young.
    Zoey is a great Mom.

    • Deb says:

      That’s okay, Nellie. Not all humans have the mothering gene either. We call our oldest cat, Harley, our spinster aunt cat. She has no interest in the kittens and never really did.

  4. jan clements says:

    i truly enjoyed your story about zoey and zee. i hope to see other stories soon.

  5. What a wonderful glimpse into the mind of sweet Zoey…really fascinating. I agree completely that cats have a memory. Un-kitten-related….I’m certain that Katie remembers her harrowing emergency surgery from a few years ago and this has contributed to a VERY severe reaction to any vet visits.

    And although Katie did not get the mommy-gene handed down to her before she was spayed, she still manages to show incredible patience and restraint with Waffles Too and his constant advances. Will she ever lay down with him and groom him? I doubt it. But there’s been no blood shed either!

    I’ve been amazed at her level of tolerance and how she seems clear on the fact that the orange boy is here to stay. I’m equally impressed with Waffles Too and his instinct to know when to give in and when to walk away.

    Most impressive is how Gloman has been able to train Waffles that Katie’s food is Katie’s food and not to be touched. He’s a regular cat whisperer.

    ; )

    • Deb says:

      Glogirly – that you so much for sharing this side of Katie and Waffles Too with us. I know that she and Waffles have their moments on your blog, but it is a privilege to get to hear about the deeper side of their relationship here. Gloman is a lot like Dan, they both seem to have a gift of communication and trust building when it comes to cats…

  6. da abbies o trout towne says:

    zee; iz it oh kay for uz ta let yur mom noe ewe gived zoey an IPAD for an earl lee mothers day present N ya both putted a “week ten” ree minder inta de calendar …

    ore due ewe think her wont bee leeve this….

    N we trooly enjoyed yur storee; we reeded it ta R food service purrson N her be laffin N cryin N doin lots oh rememburrin… all at de same kinda sorta all most…. time

    N book two shuld be called: All That Jazz 🙂