How Can I Prepare For My Cat To Have Kittens?

How early can cats become pregnant?

 

A cat will have its first heat cycle around 6 months of age. It is not advised for her to become pregnant this young, as this may increase complications for both the kittens and the mother. It is best to wait until she is full grown.

How often do cats go into heat?

Cats are seasonal breeders with most of their heat cycles being in the fall and spring, but some cats may go in and out of heat almost year-round. The heat cycle lasts 3-14 days. She will constantly go in and out of heat until bred.

The female cat becomes receptive to the male during estrus, or heat. External signs such as a swollen vulva or bloody discharge are not as obvious in the cat as they are in the dog.

The main signs seen are behavioral. They may loudly vocalize, roll around on the floor, and may even have a decrease in appetite. The most notable sign of heat is the cat elevating the hindquarters in an unusual stance. Many people confuse the signs of a cat being in heat with the cat being ill or in pain.

How do I know my cat is pregnant?

There is not an accurate commercial test for pregnancy in cats. The gaining of weight along with the palpation of multiple ball-like sacs in the abdomen is very accurate at confirming pregnancy.

Later, one may notice enlargement of the mammary glands. An ultrasound can be done after 28 days to confirm a pregnancy. In order to know the exact number of kittens that will be born, an x-ray is the gold standard but cannot be done until at least 45 days in the pregnancy.

When do cats go into labor? 

The gestational period for cats is approximately 62-65 days (9 weeks). The pregnant female, or Queen, will show certain signs when labor is drawing near. It is important to know these signs so we can predict when labor will occur.

When labor begins, it will occur in 3 phases. Cats are very good at the laboring process and have a strong innate sense of birthing and caring for their young; however, it is still a good idea to be around and know what to expect in case any complications occur.

The last 3 weeks of pregnancy: how do you know you are getting close?

Week 7

  • The mother is quite large and becoming uncomfortable
  • Appetite will still be increased
  • You may see and feel the kittens moving around at this stage

Week 8

  • The mother is still growing in size; she will slow down now due to discomfort
  • She may have a decrease in appetite
  • Urinary Accidents may occur
  • Kittens can be seen and felt moving around

Week 9

  • A decrease in appetite may worsen
  • The queen may show signs of nesting
  • Her behavior may change; some can become quite clingy with their family while others prefer to be alone
  • She may start to produce milk

What exactly is Nesting?

Nesting is the act of a Queen choosing her place to give birth. This may be a place that she has chosen, or it may be a nesting space that was set up especially for her.

Sometimes the mother may choose a space that the pet owner does not agree with, such as the person’s bed, a drawer full of clothes, under furniture, etc. Preparing a nesting place that the mother will like will prevent this from happening.

How do I prepare for labor?

Cats require very little from us and are very instinctive when it comes to the labor process, but there are some things that can be very helpful.

Provide a nesting area for her with soft bedding, such as a Cardboard box with a pet bed in it that is covered by an old blanket. Keep in mind that this blanket may get ruined or at least very dirty.

An area with minimal human traffic is best so the mother will feel safe and not get distracted during birth. This area should also be separated from other pets in the home. Even if the pets get along well, it is important that she have a private area away from other pets.

Here is a list of other supplies that may be helpful when preparing for labor:

  • Your Vet’s phone number and the phone number
  • Directions to the nearest after-hours emergency Vet Clinic
  • Old hand-towels to help with cleaning
  • A suction bulb to use if the kitten’s nostrils are congested with fluid
  • A pair of small, sharp scissors if needed to cut umbilical cords
  • Extra bedding for the mother and kittens after birthing is complete

What are the phases of labor?

1st phase

  • A drop in body temperature often occurs to less than 99 degrees F. This shows that labor may occur in the next 12-36 hours
  • Restlessness can be shown by pacing, moving around to different resting areas, and in an inability to get comfortable
  • Excessively grooming herself
  • Panting or Vomiting
  • Vocalization by crying or meowing more than usual
  • The female cat secludes herself in her selected nest area

2nd phase

  • The initiation of hard contractions and the birth of a kitten. This may be seen visually by looking at the abdomen and seeing the muscles become tight and contract.
  • As each kitten is born, the mother will tear open the membranes and clear the mouth and nose area of the kitten. If she does not tear the membranes, you can assist with this by gently tearing it open.
  • Breaks may occur between kittens but they should not be longer than 60 minutes.
  • The entire litter is usually born within 6 hours, with a kitten every 30-60 minutes.

3rd phase

  • Involves passing of the placentas, or afterbirth
  • This can occur immediately after each kitten or sometimes later if one kitten is born immediately after another.
  • The mother will usually eat the placentas as well, but it is not a necessity. If un-eaten, the placentas may be disposed of.
  • There should be a placenta counted for every kitten born.

What are the warning signs that something is wrong?

Decreased Appetite

If the queen stops eating or has other signs of illness during pregnancy. This can mean that she is having pregnancy-related complications.

Premature Labor or Past-Due

If signs of labor begin when the mother is not near her due date, this can mean that she is in premature labor. If labor has not happened well after her due date, this can also be a sign that something is wrong.

Dystocia

Strong contractions for over 60 minutes without producing a kitten indicates she needs help and should see the vet right away!

Bleeding

Vaginal bleeding during pregnancy is not normal and suggests that she is aborting the litter. If this occurs, have the vet check her to assess the blood loss and decide what to do.

Retained Placentas

If the mother cat retains the placenta, she can develop an infection, fever, or appetite loss, and neglect the kittens. Discolored or malodorous vaginal discharge may be present. If this occurs, she will need to see the vet

Mastitis

Mastitis is an infection of the mammary glands. This may happen after the kittens have nursed for a few days. This may present as a firm, swollen, and painful mammary gland. It may be red or hot to the touch. The mother may even be depressed, have a fever, or not want to eat.

What should I do after my cat has her kittens?

All kittens should be inspected after they are born to look for any congenital abnormalities. If anything unusual is seen, contact a vet immediately.

Make sure that the kittens are nursing appropriately. Sometimes one or a few kittens will not be getting access to the mammary glands to nurse. This may be due to its small size and lack of strength. While observing the kittens nursing, ensure that all are getting to nurse and that even the smallest of kittens is able to push through to drink adequately.

Ensure that the kittens are staying close to the mother to stay warm. If one kitten gets left off to the side while the others are snuggled close to the mother, this kitten may become hypothermic. Kittens cannot regulate their body temperature well during the first few weeks and need the warmth of their mother to survive.

Monitor that the mother is eating and drinking well. She will need to have proper nutrition to supply milk to her kittens. She should always have access to fresh water and food. Feeding a higher calorie food, like kitten food, is best.

Check the mammary glands twice daily for signs of mastitis. As we have discussed some already, the signs of mastitis include:

  • Swollen mammary glands
  • Firmness of mammary glands
  • Red or purple coloring of the skin on or around the glands
  • Discolored milk
  • Mammary gland is hot to the touch
  • A sore that develops in the mammary glands

Vaginal discharge is normal after delivering kittens. This can range in color from a clear, white, or dark red. This discharge can continue for a couple of weeks after birth. Excessive vaginal discharge that is bright red, black, green (except for immediately after birth this can be normal), or has a foul odor should alert you to bring her in to the vet.

FAQs

How often are cats in heat?

Cats are seasonal breeders and usually go into heat in the fall and spring, but if they are indoors, only they may have heat cycles throughout the year. If the mating does not occur, then she can go back into heat within days to a few weeks.

What if my cat goes into labor early?

If the cat goes into labor, immediate vet care is needed.

How long is the birthing process for cats?

On average, the birthing process can take 6 hours.

How many kittens do mama cats usually birth?

On average, 4-5, but up to 12 can be born at one time.

How soon can I spay my cat after she gives birth?

After the kittens are weaned from the mother (at approximately 5 weeks old). If another litter is not desired, the spay should be done as soon as possible after weaning, because the bitch can go into heat soon after giving birth.

Author

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  • Elizabeth Lasley

    Elizabeth is an animal lover who is owned by three cats: Vivan, Burr, and Puck. Her passion for writing started in the 9th grade when she began writing her novel. She hasn't stopped since.