Mother cat suddenly picky eater after kittens adopted/spaying

lunch

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Hello all! This is my first post here.

My foster cat has not been eating well since returning to my house. Here's the backstory:

For about a month and a half I fostered a mother cat and her three kittens. The mother was trapped by my colleague on a Sunday night and brought inside. Monday morning she gave birth indoors at my colleague's rescue! I began fostering the group of four when the kittens were about five weeks old, and the whole group was brought into the shelter for adoption a little less than two months later.

During the time the kittens and mom lived with me everyone ate a combination of kitten wet and kitten dry food. They all had good appetites with a slight preference for kibble over the wet. Mom was still nursing for a few weeks. They had free range of my office, with lots of toys, two cat trees, and many nooks to explore. The kittens were automatically very friendly with me, while mom was shy. Mom never got aggressive, she didn't mind me picking up the kittens, but she never let me get to close to her.

When everyone went to the shelter, it was quickly determined momma cat needed more socialization work before adoption would be realistic and it was going to be best done back in foster care. So she stayed only so long as to get spayed and now she's back to living with me. She's been back with me for about a week, primarily stationed in my office with a view into the kitchen, and we've been slowly working on building trust and her confidence with exploring more and more of my apartment. I had thought food was going to be a major asset to me in the trust building but she is not nearly as food motivated as when she was a new mom! Before she would loom at the gate at feeding times, her fear of me temptorarily overcome by excitement for chicken pate. And the bowl of kibble would get refilled multiple times of day! Now is much more indifferent to the wet food I give her, eating only a few bites right when I put the bowl down and walk back a few paces. Then she ignores it. The dry food she has been consuming inconsistently, some days more, some less. I worry if she's getting enough calories/nutrients.

This is my first time witnessing a cat transition through motherhood and back into independent living. Is it normal for a cat's appetite to change so much after their parental duties are over? Is it something I'm doing that's impacting her interest in food? In an attempt to stoke her appetite I've tried mixing tuna water into her canned food but that's had minimal effect. How else can I make her food more appealing? Should I explore more food brands and flavors? Could she be stressed from the transition from the shelter and spaying? Am I giving her too many treats in my attempts to socialize her?

Any advice would be greatly appreciated! Apart from the small appetite she seems like she's adjusting very well. She plays a lot every day, loves her cat tree in front of the window, and has been making progress in approaching me with curiosity. She doesn't seem to me like a cat that was every truly feral, but I know very little about her backstory other than that she gave birth right after begin trapped, and that she's on the young side.

Thank you so much for reading <3
Trying to do the best I can for this little gal!
 

Kflowers

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There is a very good chance that your cat is grieving. She has no idea what has happened to her kittens. Someone came in and took her away from them. She never saw them again. If cats weren't attached/bonded to their kittens, they wouldn't bother to take care of them beyond nursing when milk build up became uncomfortable. So, if she paid any attention to her babies beyond feeding them, she's grieving. Grief takes time in cats, just like in people.
 

FeebysOwner

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She was going to be eating much more during pregnancy and after when nursing. So, there is some reason to believe her eating is less than before due to the fact she doesn't need the same level of nutrients now.

As long as she was able to wean her kittens before being separated, and is doing well otherwise, this may be nothing more than her just eating what is more appropriate for a non-pregnant, non-nursing cat. Just watch her intake and see if it becomes consistent, or even picks up a bit as she acclimates to her new life.
 
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Alldara

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I was going to let you know of the two scenarios above. It could be either or both!

She'll need to eat less now, plus cats eat less after getting fixed because their bodies are doing less. But she also might be grieving the separation. I was told when our late cat passed that it can take about 6 months for cats to recover from loss of companions.
 

catsknowme

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If she is eating enough for a cat her size, it's most likely that she is grieving. Cats can have incredible maternal bonds. I have had ferals grieve who got spay/abortions. The mama kitty often will become extra affectionate to her older children (these are ferals and the trap-savvy ones - they learn fast by observing other cats get trapped - usually have at least several litters). I have had success by using kittens as bait - that is how strong is the maternal bond. (not to worry about the kittens - they are in a soft, comfy nest with a warming pad and are only out of the house for a few minutes) that's how fast a dedicated feral mom will throw fears aside and go to a little one.
I talk to the grieving cats and try to reassure them that the kittens are okay. I have taken "kidnapped " kittens back to the colony to show the cats that the baby is now healthy and happy in my arms. This helps stop aggression from cats who are furious with me.
In your situation, I would try using teaser toys to pique her interest. Perhaps fostering some kittens would give her some comfort.
 
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lunch

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Thanks so much everyone for sharing your thoughts and expertise! It makes so much sense that she is grieving, and that going through a big life and body change would alter her appetite. She's still been having days with less interest in food than others and I'm going to keep an eye on it to see what she might be telling me. Hopefully I can find a way to support her in her grieving process.
 
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