During the birth
As a caregiver, it is your role to watch over the cat but do not interfere unless there is a problem. Most cats are perfectly able to give birth without human intervention.
Once the queen has delivered a kitten, she will lick it, and chew the umbilical cord. Shortly after the kitten is born, the placenta will be delivered, the queen will usually eat this. Keep a close eye on the queen and count the number of kittens and placentas. There should be one placenta per kitten. If there are more kittens than placentas, seek veterinary help as a retained placenta can lead to a uterine infection.
How do I know the last kitten has been born?
It’s important to determine if the queen (mother cat) has safely delivered all of her kittens. The biggest indicators that she has finished giving birth include:
- Her breathing returns to normal (no longer panting)
- No more straining or licking her genitals
- She will focus on cleaning and feeding her kittens
- She appears content and settled
Immediately after the birth:
Quickly transfer the mother cat and her kittens to a soft blanket or towel, remove the soiled bedding and replace with clean. Line the bottom of the nest with newspapers or puppy pads and place soft blankets on top.
Kittens eat and sleep for the first two weeks of life and during this early period the queen will only leave them to eat, drink or toilet. Place the nursing box in a quiet area of the house, free of drafts. Kittens are unable to regulate their body temperature, therefore ensure the temperature of the room they are housed in is warm.
Provide water, a good quality food, and litter tray within close proximity to the nest. The queen may not be interested in food immediately after the birth but should resume eating within 24 hours, if she hasn’t, seek veterinary attention.
The socialisation of the kittens is important, but avoid handling the kittens as much as possible for the first two weeks. The queen will instinctively know what she is doing with minimal help from you. Watch and observe from a distance to ensure everything is well with the mother and her babies.
If you do handle the kittens, pick it up, but keep your hand and the kitten within immediate proximity to the queen.
What should the mother cat eat?
Feeding kittens use up a huge amount of the queen’s energy (measured in calories). Nursing mothers with more than two kittens need between 2 and 2.5 times the calories they needed at the time of mating (page 5). Feed a highly palatable, high-calorie food during this time, your veterinarian can recommend the best product to meet the queen’s needs.
Ensure fresh, clean drinking water is also available.
Watch for signs of:
- Postpartum hemorrhage: Heavy bleeding from the mother
- Disinterest in a kitten or kittens: Not nursing or responding when a kitten cries, pushing a kitten or kittens away
- Acute metritis: Lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, foul-smelling discharge
- Mastitis: Swollen and painful mammary glands, fever, the milk may be blood-tinged
- Eclampsia: Stiffness, muscle twitching, panting, increased respiration rate, convulsions
- Vaginal prolapse
- Kittens who do not suckle within 30 minutes of birth
- Obvious congenital abnormalities
- Vomiting and or diarrhea
- Eye or nasal discharge
- Failure to gain weight or weight loss
- Rejection by the mother
- Skinny and/or dirty kittens, crying
- An apparently healthy kitten (or kittens) who rapidly deteriorate after birth may have neonatal isoerythrolysis, a serious and life-threatening condition caused when kittens who have type A blood nurse from their mother who has type B blood during the first 24 hours of life. Symptoms include lethargy, rapid pulse, increased respiration, jaundice (yellowing of the mucous membranes), tail tip necrosis, failure to thrive and sudden death.
When do kittens wean?
Kittens will show an interest in solid food from 4-5 weeks of age. Offer them soft and palatable food which can be moistened dry food or canned. They will continue to nurse from their mother until 8-10 weeks.
The key socialisation period begins at three weeks of age and it is important the kittens receive adequate socialisation, if deprived, kittens have a higher risk of developing into adult cats who are fearful and aggressive.
At three weeks, kittens begin to explore and are curious and outgoing. During this period, kittens need the following:
- Exposure to people (familiar and unfamiliar).
- Exposure to other animals, including members of their own species (this is especially important with orphaned kittens who don’t have a mother or siblings to interact with
- Being handled away from their littermates and mother. Gently touch the ears, mouth, paws, limbs to get the cat used to veterinary checkups, grooming and claw clipping.
- Exposure to different environments. During the early days, avoid places with unvaccinated cats.
- Playtime. Provide a range of different toys for the kittens to interact with.
Let the kitten lead, if she shows signs of discomfort of fear, stop and try another time. During this critical time, it is important that the kitten’s experience is always positive. Socialisation should continue beyond these early weeks and into their new home.
|Birth to 1 week||Can lift head, eyes, and ears folded, weighs approximately 90 – 100 grams (3.1 -3.5 oz). The attached umbilical cord drops off around day three.|
|Week 2||Kittens should have doubled their weight and are now able to maintain an upright posture. The eyes begin to open between 10-14 days. The first baby teeth (incisors, the small teeth at the front) erupt at two weeks.|
|Week 3||Some kittens will begin to explore and play/interact with littermates. The ears are now fully erect.|
|Week 4||The canine teeth (fangs) have erupted and the kitten’s hearing is well developed. Kittens should be able to urinate and defecate without stimulation.|
|Week 5||The kitten’s eyesight is now fully developed. Kittens begin to try solid food between 4-5 weeks but are still reliant on their mother’s milk.|
|Week 6||Eye colour begins to change. The kittens are now extremely active.|