How Do Ringtail Cats Take Care of Their Young?

Ringtail cats are, for the most part, nocturnal animals.
Ringtail cats are, for the most part, nocturnal animals. (Image: Jupiterimages/ Images)

Ringtail cats aren't cats, they're raccoon family members. But you knew that. Ringtails are, however, occasionally found in homes as exotic pets. Similarly to domestic cats, female ringtail cats handle the bulk of their child-rearing activities on their own.

Ringtail Cats Background

Ringtail cats come from North America; they live in Mexico and in southern and western parts of the United States. Although ringtails don't look anything like domestic cats, they are about the same size. These lithe, big-eyed creatures grow to lengths of 10 to 14 inches, and they usually weigh between 2 and 2.5 pounds. Females are generally just a tad smaller than males. Ringtail cats mostly have gray fur, although their fluffy and conspicuous tails are made up of a combination of black and white stripes. Their ears are noticeably big and circular in form. They have short limbs. In captive environments, ringtail cats usually survive for a little over 14 years.


The reproductive season for the species begins in February and ends in May each year. Heightened reproductive activity takes place from March to April. After mating, the females are usually pregnant for between 51 and 54 days. Ringtail cat litters, which come into the world either in May or June, can consist of as many as five babies or as few as one.

Birth and Development

Before giving birth, female ringtail cats seek out cozy, appropriate spots in which to do so -- usually holes in trees, amid heaps of large rocks or in openings of rocks. Straight after birth, the altricial offspring are completely defenseless and unable to care for themselves in any way, as they lack both hearing and vision. Newborn ringtail cats' bodies are covered with pale, sparse fur. The tails of newborns do not feature striping at this point. They usually weigh just slightly over 1 ounce. It usually takes about 30 days for the babies' eyes to finally open up. The ears open up slightly faster than the eyes -- usually after approximately three weeks. They can walk efficiently once they're 6 weeks old. Climbing skills take slightly longer, and usually are strong by 8 weeks.

Caring for the Youngsters

Although female ringtail cats are the primary caretakers for the little ones, the fathers occasionally provide the familial units with company. The mothers nurse the young. The youngsters usually begin eating "real" foods when they're only about a month old, but they're not fully weaned until around 10 weeks or so. Female ringtail cats show their offspring how to search for food when they're about 8 weeks in age. Fathers are not especially involved in upbringing, but occasionally engage in playtime with the juveniles.


When youthful ringtail cats reach about 4 months in age, their body coloring appears the same as that of fully mature adults. Full physical growth comes later, at around 30 weeks. Reproductive capability usually develops when they're approaching 10 months old.

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