by Vetsavers of St Thomas’ Road, Spalding
Cats are very proficient breeding animals and rarely need assistance, but it is useful to know what to expect as at times they do need help.
Usually about two days before giving birth your cat’s mammary glands will increase in size and she will begin producing milk.
Around 12 hours before the appearance of the first kitten, the cat’s temperature will decrease to about 99°f and you may notice a drop in her appetite. She may become restless and begin nesting in earnest. Other signs are that she may begin purring, meowing, panting, licking her genitals and she may vomit. You may notice a vaginal discharge. Not all signs apply to all cats.
The visible signs that a cat is actually in labour are evident after she has entered her nesting box and is disinclined to come out.
Most cats will begin to display contractions which can be seen or felt – in the beginning the contractions are not terribly strong. She will expel the placental plug which has been protecting the uterus from infections and this can be sometime before the birth of the first kitten usually accompanied with some fluid.
Contractions increase in strength with a shorter space of time between them. Individual cats may become disturbed and want your attention others become very introvert.
First sign that birth is imminent is a water bubble of amniotic fluid that precedes the birth of a kitten. This can appear and seemingly disappear as the contractions increase in strength, but indicate that a kitten is in the birth canal.
As contractions increase in strength she may pant or cry out and move around trying to get comfortable – some use the side of the box with their back feet to help them push.
Kittens are born front feet first or back feet first – the latter is normal but delivery can take a little longer.
The kitten should be born within 30 minutes to one hour after strong contractions commence and subsequent kittens within 15 minutes to 30 minutes between kittens.
There is often a rest period which can be one to several hours while the second ‘horn’ of the uterus is engaged (the uterus has two horns).
Birth of the kitten
As the kitten is delivered it will arrive attached to a placenta and wrapped in the amniotic sac membranes that will cover its muzzle. The mother cat should break these by licking to enable the kitten to breath. If she delays and time passes you may intervene and break these membranes for her using clean sterile cloth to clear its nostrils.
The placenta will be still attached to the kitten and it may be delivered with it or later. Each kitten has an individual placenta. Keep count of placenta delivery as retained placentas can cause infection and even death.
The mother cat should chew through the cord and eat the placenta which is normal and nutritionally valuable for her. With an inexperienced mother make sure she does not try to eat the kitten.
When you are sure that all kittens have been delivered and the queen is settling with her babies you can offer her some food and a drink. Her food and drink should be left close by as should a litter tray and many a queen has to be offered breakfast in bed to encourage them to eat.
A quick check should reveal all kittens tucked in and some suckling already. If she is relatively dry and warm and you have not handled her kittens at all just leave her until the next day before changing bedding.
She will probably want, or in the case of a first time mum, need to be given peace and quiet for the next few days. Restrict disturbing her but check on her at least twice in a day as there are rare complications that can occur post birth.
How do I care for the newborn kittens?
In the early days the mother cares for the kittens almost totally. It can be useful to quickly weigh each kitten at the same time each day to be sure they are gaining weight and if they are not gaining supplementary feeding may be required – a good brand supplement is called Biolac.
Points to note
l Weaning can start any time from around four weeks up to six weeks of age.
lFemale cats can come into heat again while nursing kittens often when the kittens are just a few weeks old
l Kittens should be wormed around six to eight weeks.
Kittens should not go to new homes under the age of eight weeks while 10 to 12 weeks is preferred as kittens learn their social behaviour during this time both from their mother and also from siblings.