Pregnant cats are called Queens.
Cat pregnancy lasts an average of 65 days. Some cats can go longer than this, up to 70 days, which is fine as long as the queen is eating, acting normally and there is no sign of vaginal discharge. Cats don’t read rule books and she will get on with it in her own time. You may not know when she became pregnant so if you have any concerns take your queen to see a vet.
About four weeks into the pregnancy your queen will start to show some signs of a larger tummy and her nipples may become larger and appear pinker in colour. Her appetite will increase and she will need to be fed a good quality kitten food such as Purina as this is higher in calories and calcium. I would suggest leaving a bowl of dried food down at all times for her.
When the time comes you will need:
The box should be placed in a warm dry place where mom will not be disturbed. She should be allowed to get used to going in and out of the box whenever she wants.
- A box measuring 2ft by 2ft by 1ft high. A cardboard box will be fine with a circular hole cut in one end approx. 4 inches from the floor. (Draw round a side plate)
- A piece of carpet 2ft x 2ft to place in the bottom of the box on top of several newspapers.
- Several pieces of sheet type material to put on top of carpet – this should be stretched tightly over carpet and tucked in at the sides so that any kittens cannot get underneath it and become unable to get to mom for much needed warmth and food. Do not use fluffy sheets or towels as kittens’ claws can become trapped in these.
- A warm blanket to cover the box with leaving the hole at the end open for access.
- Several flannels to wipe down kittens
- Dental floss
- Pen and paper to write down how many placentas are delivered, there should be one per kitten, and to write down time of birth.
- Vets phone number
- Cat milk formula and bottles
Stages of Labour
It is not easy to spot the early signs of labour. Watch out for your queen becoming restless and making regular trips to her box. If she stays in the box, keeps changing position and licking at her rear end she may be in the early part of labour. You may be lucky enough to spot a slightly yellow tinged vaginal discharge that looks like egg whites. This is the uterine plug which is expelled during the active labour stage. It is not often that you see this as most queens are fastidious and constantly clean themselves. If a bloody, green, brown or black discharge is seen before any kittens are born you should take your queen to the vets.
Some non-clotting, bloody discharge accompanies all births. Your queen may have difficulty getting comfortable when she is experiencing contractions (This may look like a rippling effect down the length of her back). She will stand, then sit down, then move again and may even lie down trying to get comfortable.
Second Stage of Labour
The signs of the second stage of labour are fairly easy to spot. Your queen will be sitting down with one rear leg held up. She may give a grunt and will be visibly pushing downwards towards her back end. Kittens are born in one fluid action. A bubble of opaque tissue will appear and the kitten will be contained inside this bubble. Your queen will lick the tissue from the kittens’ head and body which not only cleans the kitten but it stimulates it to breathe. The kitten will still be attached to the placenta which is delivered shortly after the kitten. The queen will chew through the umbilical cord and may eat the placenta. This is perfectly normal behaviour and there is some thought that the placenta contains lots of nutrients.
If your queen doesn’t clean the kitten fairly quickly you will have to intervene. Break open the sack with your fingers and rub kitten fairly firmly with the flannel and keep going until it is breathing at which stage return it straight to the queen.
Once the queen is happy with the first kitten, she will resume labour and the rest of her kittens will be born. The time between kittens being born can be from a few minutes up to one hour. If they all come rapidly the queen will not have time to clean them all off so you should help at this stage just to remove tissue and make sure kittens are breathing.
If your queen doesn’t chew through the umbilical cord you will have to tie a length dental floss tightly round it about 1” away from the kittens body and cut the cord either with scissors if you are feeling squeamish or by using your thumb and forefinger nails which should be very clean. Cut the ties off close to the cord so that the dental floss is not hanging. The umbilical cord will shrivel up and fall off a few days after birth and you will find it in the bottom of the box.
Should your queen be pushing and nothing is happening it may be that the kitten is too large for her to pass naturally and she needs to see the vet as she may need a caesarean section. (this sometimes happens when the queen is very young and her body is not fully developed).
If her labour is prolonged, she may suffer from uterine fatigue which is when the uterus and abdominal muscles become too tired for the queen to push the kittens out. Again, you need to take her to a vet.
A kitten may partially emerge from the birth canal but not come out completely or it may start to come out backwards which is called a breech birth. Resist the urge to pull the kitten. Take your queen to the vet as this should only be done by an experienced person.
Only one person should be present whilst the queen is giving birth and do not handle kittens more than necessary as the queen may abandon them if there is too much human intervention.
Once all kittens are born your queen should settle down lying on her side to allow her babies to nurse. You may want to remove the heavily soiled bedding. To do this lift the queen from the box then gather up the four ends of the sheeting and lift the whole lot including kittens out of the box. Put this on the floor so that your queen can see that her kittens are safe. Replace the sheeting in the box and then the kittens one by one. The queen will soon return to her babies. Put down fresh food and water for mom and leave her in peace and quiet, just checking on her occasionally. She will probably only come out of the box for food and water and the occasional visit to her litter tray and will be more than happy looking after her new babies.
Sometimes deformed kittens may be born (usually dead) or they will die a short time after birth. The queen will not bother with these kittens but will concentrate on the healthy babies.
Cats are the most wonderful mothers and rarely need any help from their humans
Kittens are born both deaf and blind. Do not attempt to open their eyelids as they will open naturally when the kittens are around 10 days old. If there is a discharge bathe the eyes gently with cotton wool soaked in warm water to remove this. Mom will be constantly licking her kittens to keep them clean as well as feeding them and they should have obviously full, slightly rounded tummies. When first born they will probably weigh between 80grams and 110 grams. They will gain 10 to 15 grams daily. Obviously, mom will require a regular supply of good quality food to turn into milk for these hungry babies.
Kittens should be wormed every two weeks and you should take advice from your vet on which is the best product to use.
Once kittens are four weeks old you may want to keep them in one room as they will start to explore the world outside of their box and you will find them all over the house which is dangerous for them and they get into all sorts of mischief. Let them out when you can supervise them as they need to hear and see all of the sights and sounds of family life. This will stop them being fearful when they go to new homes.
Kittens should not be rehomed until they are at least 8 weeks of age. They will need a course of vaccines to keep them healthy. The first vaccine is done at 9 weeks of age followed by a second vaccine at 12 weeks of age. Following this they will need a yearly booster.
Obviously, children will want to see mom and babies but should not be allowed to handle them unsupervised.
Let the children look in the top of the box at mom and kittens but not handle them until the kittens are around 3 weeks of age. Then the children should sit on the floor and only be allowed to stroke the kittens. Make sure they do not drop them or handle them too roughly in their excitement. It is natural that the children will want to handle kittens and this is also good for the kittens to experience the normal noises of family life.
Other reasons to contact your vet
- If it is obvious that the queen still has more kittens inside her and she has stopped labour for two hours.
- If there is a green, black or foul-smelling discharge coming from the birth canal.
- If there is blood coming from the birth canal.
Once kittens are six weeks old mom can get pregnant again and she will happily leave her kittens to go courting for a short while and then before you know it she is having kittens again. This is not fair on a female cat and being repeatedly pregnant is a drain on her body. It is much better for her to be spayed by your vet. Not only will this prevent her from being constantly pregnant but will also stop her from getting a life-threatening womb infection called Pyometra and possible mammary tumours which again will threaten her life.
Please be fussy when selecting new homes for your kittens after all it will hopefully be their forever home.