Do cats abandon their kittens if you touch them?

No, domestic or feral cats do not abandon their pre-weaned kittens if you touch them. Although they will probably become anxious. A feral cat mother might move her kittens to a new den if you touch them. A domestic cat, in a nice warm home, might become anxious if you touch kittens. It is best to leave them alone but watch. Noise and activities near them might also make them anxious. They need quiet dens.

Yes, newborn kittens do not have teeth but rarely they might have. Incisors are the first teeth to appear and about 2 to 3 weeks of age.
Yes, newborn kittens do not have teeth but rarely they might have. Incisors are the first teeth to appear and about 2 to 3 weeks of age. Photo in public domain and words added by MikeB.

However, I think that you will see cat breeders touching newborn and young kittens quite often in order to check for their health. The mother probably finds this acceptable because she will be a full-time breeding mother and used to the whole process. On a grizzly note, I feel too that some breeders will kill newborn kittens if they are not up to scratch on appearance. Appearance is all for breeders.

An important point needs to be made, though, about socialisation. You could turn the question in the title on its head by arguing that a person or persons must touch kittens at a certain point in time in order to domesticate them. Newborn kittens are entirely un-domesticated until socialised. In those early first weeks of life, it is the time during which kittens are socialised. Perhaps between about 3 weeks and 9 weeks they should be handled and socialised.

Single newborn kitten cuddling up to mother. Photo in public domain.
Single newborn kitten cuddling up to mother. Photo in public domain.

The early life of a cat is also an ideal time to get them habituated to certain activities which they will reject when they are older unless you acclimatise them to certain activities such as teeth cleaning or nail clipping. If you had the foresight (and I didn't) to clip your kitten's nails when they are young, they will accept it readily when they are older and perhaps even enjoy it. Elderly cats need their nails clipped as they can be ingrowing causing injury to the paw pads.

And we know how bad oral health e.g. gingivitis (gum disease) can get for adult cats particularly in old age and therefore there is an argument that cat owners should clean their cats' teeth. You can't do this unless you have done it in a staged process of habituation when they are young kittens. It is said that you can put some cat toothpaste on a piece of gauze and rub it gently against the carnassial teeth and gums and from that point you gradually build up using a child's toothbrush.

When they become adults they will lie back, belly up, look up at you and ask "Can you please clean my teeth!" - dreaming again.

I've seen community cats in countries such as Turkey bring their kittens into mosques where they find a quiet place for their den. These cats are actively getting people involved in their mothering activities. And I'm sure that volunteers all over the world engaged in TNR programs touch feral cat kittens who are part of a colony and at the right age socialise them so that they can be adopted.

Mother takes her kitten to mosque for safety
Mother takes her kitten to mosque for safety. Screenshot.

It is obviously far better for a feral kitten to be socialised and to live their life in a warm and comfortable home then be part of a feral cat colony in the urban environment or in the wild. They require handling to achieve this.

For me, it seems that the complication is at what point do you handle kittens; at what point do you start socialising them? I have stated about 3 weeks above because it has to be done in the first 7 weeks. They say that if you don't socialise a kitten in the first 7 weeks, they are much harder to socialise. You can, though, domesticate a feral cat but it takes a lot longer. In fact, it can take 12 months or even longer of gentle human interaction to socialise a fully adult feral cat. And even then, they probably won't be the same as they would have been if there were socialised when they were kittens.

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