Wikijunior:Big Cats/Raising young
Cats can have anywhere from one to eight cubs or kittens in a litter, but most of them only have about two or three. Some of the smaller cats may have more, from four to seven. Cub is usually what you call young big cats, and kitten what you call young small cats. Cubs or kittens born in the same litter are called siblings.
Because most cats live in tropical locations, it doesn’t matter what time of the year they have their young, because food will usually be plentiful. However, for cats that live in places that get cold in the winter, they will usually have their young in the spring.
The father almost never has any part in raising the young. Male lions take the job of protecting the pride instead of taking care of the young, but most fathers will leave completely. This may sound selfish, but it is not. In the animal world, often the responsibility for finding food and for the young rests upon the female. As carnivores, most would be too noisy hunting in pairs, so they would have less of a chance to catch their prey.
When the young are born, they are blind and keep their eyes closed. They will open their eyes in about 10 days to 14 days after birth. Most young also have different markings from their parents when they are born. Lion and puma cubs have spots or splotches that disappear as they get older. Clouded leopard cubs have dark spots that eventually change into the shape of the adult spots. Cheetahs are one kind of cat in which the cubs have the same spots as the adults.
It can be very dangerous for the young of many big cats. Many cheetah cubs are killed by a lack of food or their natural enemies (lions and hyenas). Lion cubs may be killed if a new male lion takes over a pride.
The young are not able to eat meat right away; they usually must drink their mother’s milk anywhere from one to two months for the smaller cats and up to seven months in bigger cats. When they reach an age of about two to three months, the mother can start taking the young out and teaching them how to hunt.
At a few months of age, cubs and kittens become very playful. They chase one another and pounce on anything that moves. This play teaches them basic hunting techniques, which helps them to become successful hunters as adults.
Most cats will leave their mother after one or two years. Smaller types of cats may leave earlier, as soon as four or five months in the case of the wild cat. Sometimes the mother will chase her cubs or kittens away so that they can become independent. Often, the siblings will usually stay together for a few more months or years and work together before completely splitting up. Rogue lions and male cheetahs are especially known for staying together after leaving the mothers.