Birthing my cat and after

In ‘Is my cat pregnant?  What can I do? we looked at how to work out if your cat is pregnant and how to prepare. In this part we look at the birth and after-care.

What to expect during birth

Mostly cats do this well by themselves. Leave her alone, limit spectators and make regular checks, especially for first-time mums. Let her pick her preferred place, even if it’s not the place you prepared.

Once birthing starts it can take anything from a couple of hours to a day. Kittens normally come every 30 to 45 minutes.

Kittens can emerge tail-first, generally without problems.

When labour starts, she might yowl in pain and you can usually see or feel contractions by watching or by gently placing your hand on her belly.

Warning signs during labour

Experienced breeders may deal with some of these problems themselves but for the rest of us it is a phone call or an urgent visit to the vet if you notice that:

  • there are no kittens 3-4 hours after her labour starts
  • there are an hour of contractions without producing a new kitten
  • there is a kitten at her vulva but not coming out despite her straining
  • the number of placentas are less then the number of kittens
  • all of the kittens are not delivered within 24 hours
  • mum appears exhausted or appears to give up

Experienced breeders may also assist if the mum is not cleaning off the birth membranes and cutting the umbilical cord.

In the case of serious problems your vet can perform a cesarean. If you decide that you are not going to breed from her, he can remove her reproductive organs during the same operation.

What to do afterwards

Mum will normally chew through the umbilical cord, clean up the kittens and start to feed them by herself.

If one of the kittens is lethargic, not feeding or appears distressed, wrap it up warmly and get it to a vet quickly.

Handling the kittens gently is OK. It starts getting them used to people. You may help a hungry kitten find its way to a vacant nipple if needed.

In the first day or so after birth, watch out for a bad smelling discharge from the mum’s vulva, or fever, depression and neglect of her kittens. This could indicate an infection of her uterus. The most common infections are metritis and pyometra, both of which can be treated by your vet.

Watch her nipples for mastitis. This can appear as small cool blockages or inflammation and abscesses. This is treatable by your vet.

Try to keep mum and the kittens away from other cats for 2-3 weeks after birth to minimise the risk of infection.

Desexing

Some breeds of kitten can come into season as young as three to four months of age. Mum can come into season in about 8 weeks after birth, usually when kittens are weaned. Desexing of kittens can occur as early as two to three months provided they are over 1.1kg.

Not sure if your cat is pregnant?  Read our post Is my cat pregnant?  What should I doAlso you might want to check out our post How early is too early to desex kittens?

Cat Health Grants are now available

If you are looking for a partner to fund your research into cat health, we may be what you need.

The Feline Health Research Fund makes grants of up to $10,000 from it’s pool of  donations from cat lovers, professionals and the industry to fund quality Australian research into issues affecting the health, wellbeing and longevity of domestic cats.

We are encouraging applications from a range of disciplines into a wide range of health issues for domestic cats.

For more information please go to the Applying for a Grant page on our website.  There you can download the Small Grants Application Form, read the Grant FAQs and check out details of previously funded projects.

The window for this grant round opens on the 1st of August and closes at 5pm on the 31st of August, 2022.

If you have questions after reading the website information, please email the Secretary, Feline Health Research Fund.

The second part of our cat pregnancy series, on cat birthing and aftercare, will be published next week.

Please feel free to forward this email to associates and colleagues with an interest in feline health research.

Is my cat pregnant? What do I do?

Before you start contemplating what to do, the first big question is… 

Is she actually pregnant?

Watch for changes in her behaviour. Many females’ behaviour changes obviously over her heat cycle, usually about three weeks long. If that behaviour pattern suddenly changes, it could mean she is pregnant.

Check her nipples. They will become swollen and prominent at around three weeks into pregnancy and remain that way. A reliable early sign.

Watch her eating and weight. Pregnant cats start eating more.  They will be eating 25-50% more by the end of the pregnancy. She will gain weight, at the rate of about 10% per week of pregnancy. This should be obvious by about week five. The extra weight will be carried low in her tummy, unlike the general plumpness of an obese cat.

Watch how much she sleeps. She will be sleeping more than usual if she is pregnant.

You can tell by touch, if you know what you are doing. Experienced breeders and vets can often tell by gently feeling her tummy after the first few weeks.

Have an ultrasound. As early as a few weeks into the pregnancy, signs will be come visible in a scan. Done later in the pregnancy it can often predict the number of kittens and if they are likely to be born alive.

By blood test. A vet can perform a blood test three to four weeks after mating to confirm signs you have already noticed.

Millions of unwanted kittens worldwide become feral or have to be destroyed. If a litter cannot be cared for or found a responsible home, it is not too late for a termination and desexing, even fairly late in pregnancy. 

Once you have decided to go ahead with the pregnancy, there are a few things you’ll need to know.

How can I prepare?

The good news is that cats are mostly pretty good at managing their pregnancy and birth – but there are some things you can do to help.

Know the timeline. Cat pregnancies last about nine weeks. Almost all kittens are delivered between 61 and 72 days after conception.

Be disease-free. Pregnant cats and newborn kittens are especially prone to common feline infections. Diseases are spread by close contact so cats are best housed in groups of three or four where infection can be controlled. Any new additions to the group should be quarantined for two to three weeks to avoid introducing diseases. Keep up regular health treatments but check because some vaccinations are not suitable during pregnancy.

Feed her well with good quality nutritious food.

Watch out for signs of obesity. If she is becoming fat all over, rather than just in her belly it is likely to be obesity. Obesity in pregnant cats is a serous health concern.

Worm her. Do it about a week before birth to avoid infecting kittens with roundworm.

Watch out for signs of nesting behaviour. If she starts seeking out secluded and comfortable spaces this can show that the birth may be coming soon.

Prepare a warm, secure, private space where she can be discretely observed by you. Make it cosy but with sufficient room to have access to her if you need to intervene. If she does not choose to use the space you’ve prepared, best to respect her choice.

Have a scan. Not strictly necessary but it can predict problems and will tell you how many kittens to expect come the day of birth.

Know emergency vet numbers and locations. In the unlikely event that something does go wrong it will save time to have the number of your regular vet and a 24hr vet close at hand.

Watch for her pre-labour fast. Cats will often stop eating about 24 hours before going into labour, a good warning prepare yourself.


This article is for general information only. If you have any doubts or difficulties, your vet is your best source of information and support for your cat during her pregnancy.


NEXT WEEK, in part two, The birth and after care.

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How early is too early to desex kittens?

In the past, vets have recommended that kittens wait until six months of age before being desexed.

Over the last 20 years however, animal shelters in Australia and the world have been desexing of kittens aged two to three months and when they weigh over 1.1 kg. 

There are several reasons for this change.

Avoiding early pregnancy

Cats can come into season as young as three to four months.
Burmese and Siamese are examples of purebred cats which may do this.   

Accidental pregnancy in young cats may lead to the need for a caesarian which is  risky for the cat and quite expensive.

Early age desexing in males also ensures spraying behavior does not occur.

Newer safer anaesthetics

Vets now have access to new safe new anaesthetics that have been developed over the last 20 years and experience has shown that desexing young cats is quick and easy and they recover very well.

Changing veterinary practice

Some vets outside of the animal shelter world may still be recommending six months of age for desexing, however the statistics from shelters show that early age desexing is the way of the future.

More vets are making earlier desexing available.

Breeders

Breeders have been early age desexing for up to 15 years and have found it to be safe. The suggested minimum weight by breeders is the same as shelters, that is 1.1 kg.

Breeders have also found that kittens recover quickly if internal sutures are used as they are more convenient for breeders than external sutures. However, both are acceptable.

Sending kittens to new homes already desexed prevents accidental litters.

It also prevents unregistered breeders producing kittens for the pet market. Unregistered breeders often lack the knowledge or ethics to make sure breeding is done with the goal of producing healthy, genetically sound kittens.  

If you would like to find out more, check out the RSPC’s 2021 report on pre-pubertal desexing

March 28 is Respect Your Cat Day

respect your cat day

Our cat-loving colleagues at the National Kitten Coalition in the USA are reminding us just how much cats mean in our lives with Respect Your Cat Day

They suggest a few of the things that we can do to show our cats that we understand their needs and preferences – hints and tips to think about on this day and throughout the year.

Check it out

Four tips for a happy indoor cat

With more local governments imposing strict cat curfews and owners valuing the health and safety benefits of keeping cats indoors,  just how do you keep those contained kitties stimulated and happy?

1. Sensory buzz

Dust a large paper bag with catnip to create a mini paper paradise.  No catnip?  You will likely have basil, thyme, dill and cinnamon in your pantry which many cats love too.

2. Put them on a toy diet

Cats get bored too and even a favourite toy can become ho-hum if it’s always around.  Try putting that special toy away for a few days and notice the renewed interest when it emerges again.  In the meantime, a small bell rolled into a couple of old socks may make a happy substitute.

3. Food fun

Turn eating into an adventure. Cats love to explore a cardboard feeding ball filled with tasty treats.  An old cardboard egg container will make a ready-made puzzle for a curious cat.  You can create a scavenger hunt by placing strong-smelling treats in hard-to-get-to spots around the house.  Just don’t forget where you put them!

4. Sleeping high

Create new places for your cat to snooze.  Find safe and unused spots on shelves or high furniture and add some old toweling, jumpers or bedding to form a cosy, enclosed platform.

Our thanks to the folk at SafeCat where we picked up these hacks where they have many more ideas for keeping indoor kitties stimulated and happy.

The ‘wet’ brings a threat for northern cats

Keep cats dry in the ‘Wet’

The water and muddy conditions during the Northern Australian ‘wet’ brings an increased threat of a dangerous disease for cats.

Melioidosis (pronounced mel-ee-oi-doh-sis) is caused by bacteria that live in the soil and ground water. Cats are infected through cuts or scratches or by breathing in contaminated water droplets.

It can cause symptoms in like fever, loss of appetite or swollen lymph nodes. Sometimes infected animals will show few symptoms at all before becoming fatally ill.

Melioidosis is difficult to treat, requiring careful diagnosis and long course of antibiotics. It is often fatal.

Humans, livestock and other domestic animals in tropical regions commonly catch Melioidosis, too.

What can you do to protect your cat?

Fortunately, Melioidosis is rare in healthy cats.

Prevention is the best strategy:

  • Provide your cat with a place to live and sleep that is dry and away from soil.
  • Provide an ample supply of clean drinking water, water that is approved for human consumption.
  • Keep cats away from faeces and dead animals in the environment.
  • Keep cats in or close to home. Cats that live in a domestic environment are less likely to become infected than cats that roam widely.

As well as protecting your cat, take care to protect yourself. Melioidosis infects people too so protect your feet and hands when working in wet or muddy conditions. Take care when handling sick or deceased cats. Experts recommend commercial cremation where that is available.

As with other conditions, watch out for any changes in your cat’s habits or behaviour and, if you are concerned, contact your vet.


If you want to find out more, check out

Overview of Melioidosis  Jodie Low Choy, BVSc, BVMS, IVAS Cert, Menzies School of Health Research; University Avenue Veterinary Hospital, Northern Territory, Australia