cats

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?

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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