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Birth and Kitten Care in Cats

Pregnant Cats and Kittens: The Complete Guide

For many people, it comes as a surprise to learn that their cat is pregnant. They may even have thought their cat was getting a little distracted from the extra snacks. Sometimes it's so hard to tell when a cat is pregnant that you won't know until you have a kitten. For these reasons, caring for your pregnant cat can sometimes be difficult in terms of prenatal care. Although cats tend to be fairly self-sufficient, there are some important things to consider during your cat's pregnancy and birth. This guide covers everything you need to know about cat pregnancy and birth, including how to tell if a cat is pregnant, how pregnant cats are, nutritional needs, stages of cat birth, and how to care for newborn kittens.

Click below to jump to a specific section:

  • How to Tell if a Cat is Pregnant?
  • How Long Do Cats Get Pregnant?
  • What to Feed a Pregnant Cat?
  • Safety Considerations for Pregnant Cats
  • How to Make Your Cat Comfortable During Birth?
  • Stages of Cat Birth
  • Postpartum Care
  • Kitten Care and Nutrition

How to Tell if a Cat is Pregnant?

It can be very difficult to see the signs that a cat is pregnant. The most definitive ways to confirm pregnancy include a blood test, ultrasound, x-ray, or abdominal palpation.

When a cat is pregnant, she is often referred to as the "queen". Usually a queen's behavior does not change greatly during pregnancy, but some cats may become more affectionate or aggressive. Eventually, the cat's belly may appear rounder or the nipples may become more prominent. However, these symptoms sometimes do not appear until late in pregnancy. Cats can also suffer from pseudopregnancy or pseudopregnancy. It is believed to be caused by hormonal imbalances that allow non-pregnant queens to show symptoms such as lactation and behavioral changes. These changes usually occur one to two months after the estrus ends and can last up to a month.

How Long Do Cats Get Pregnant?

Cat gestation period (cat gestation period) is on average about 63-65 days, or about two months.

What to Feed a Pregnant Cat?

Pregnant cats have different nutritional needs. Here's what you need to know about providing the right food for a pregnant cat.

Feed High-Calorie Cat Food

Pregnant cats should switch to a higher calorie diet during the fourth week of pregnancy. Queens must continue this high-calorie diet through weaning.

Provide Frequent Meals

Pregnant and nursing cats have a much higher metabolic demand associated with the growth, birth and feeding of kittens, so these diets can help ensure adequate nutrition. Remember that your cat will also have less room in her stomach due to growing fetuses. This means he will need to eat smaller, more frequent meals.

Health and Safety Considerations for Pregnant Cats

Once a cat is confirmed to be pregnant, there are a few things a pet parent should know and consider.

Watch Out for Vaginal Bleeding

Vaginal bleeding during any cat pregnancy is abnormal and should be a cause for concern. If bleeding is noticed in the early or middle stages of pregnancy, it is likely that the queen has had a miscarriage or aborted the babies. If bleeding is noticed at the end of pregnancy, the mother may be in premature labor and urgent veterinary attention is required.

Take Your Cat for a Stool Test

Since intestinal parasites can be spread to kittens both in utero (in the womb) and during breastfeeding, it is recommended that you have a fresh stool sample checked by your veterinarian. DO NOT use over-the-counter dewormers on your pregnant or nursing cat as some may be dangerous. If the stool sample shows evidence of parasitic infection, your veterinarian can prescribe appropriate medication.

Keep Pregnant Cats in Safe Flea Prevention Products

During pregnancy, it's even more important to keep your cat on a safe, veterinarian-approved flea preventative. Always check with your veterinarian to make sure a particular flea preventative is safe for use on pregnant cats. Keeping your cat flea-free is important not only for their safety, but also for the safety of their kittens. Flea anemia is one of the most common causes of death in young kittens.

No Vaccinations for Pregnant Cats

Additionally, cats should never be vaccinated during pregnancy. Vaccinations can put a cat at risk of significant birth defects for developing babies. Any queen used for breeding should be up to date on her vaccinations and preventatives before pregnancy.

How to Make Your Cat Comfortable During Birth?

Pregnant cats are very independent and will often find their own quiet space to nest before giving birth. And while your cat can decide for herself where she wants to give birth, whether by setting up a nest box or in a quiet part of the house. You can use a large cardboard box with low sides or just put soft, clean bedding to make it easier for your cat to get in and out. You can use newspaper or towels as bedding. Place the litter box, food and water nearby so that the kittens can easily access it while breastfeeding. Keep the nesting area private enough for the pregnant queen to feel comfortable, but still accessible so you can monitor for possible complications.

Stages of Cat Birth

There are three stages of birth in cats.

First Stage of Birth:

Contractions and Restlessness. The first stage is defined as the relaxation of the cervix and the onset of intermittent contractions. However, at this point in the labor process you won't be able to see or tell that your cat is having contractions. Body temperature will also drop to 99┬░F or below 12-36 hours after full contractions begin.

Second Stage of Labor: Birth

The second stage of labor in cats begins with stronger and more frequent uterine contractions that eventually lead to the birth of a kitten. Do not move or distract your cat during the labor process because if she feels stressed she may stop labor and start again the next day. Depending on the individual queen, kittens are usually born every 30-60 minutes, with the entire litter being born in less than six hours. Pregnant cats can have four to six kittens in a litter. You can use a timer to keep track of the time between kittens to make sure there are no problems.

  • Watch for Complications

Dystocia means difficult birth and can occur for a variety of reasons. If the mother is having severe contractions and has been pushing for more than 60 minutes without delivering the pup, she should be seen by a veterinarian as soon as possible.

What Should You Do After a Kitten is Born?

Kittens are born with a protective fetal membrane, which is usually removed by the mother cat shortly after birth. Fetal membranes are usually reddish yellow and surround the fetus floating in amniotic fluid. If the mother cat does not remove the fetal membrane within the first minute after birth, you will need to break the sac and wipe the fluid from the kitten's nose. Then, open the mouth with the head facing down and remove any remaining membranes or fluid. You can then encourage the kitten to breathe by stroking its body firmly with a towel. If the umbilical cord did not break during birth or the mother cat did not tear it, you need to disconnect it. Aim to break the cord about an inch away from the kitten's body. Tear it with your first two fingers and thumb, but be careful not to pull on the cord as this could damage the kitten's organs.

Third Stage of Labor: Postpartum

The third and final stage of labor is the passage of the placenta. A greenish-black mass of fetal membranes (sometimes called "postpartum") is expelled after the passage of each kitten.

Call the Veterinarian If You Cannot See the Placenta

Retained placenta is a condition that can occur if the mother cat is unable to expel the placenta during birth. This can lead to fever, infection, loss of appetite and failure to care for the kitten. If the queen has any remaining placenta, you will need to seek veterinary care for her as soon as possible.

How Long Does Vaginal Discharge Last After a Cat Gives Birth?

Vaginal discharge may last up to three weeks after the kitten is born. The discharge normally appears reddish-black because it consists mostly of old blood. If the discharge is extremely bloody or looks like pus, the queen should be examined by a veterinarian as soon as possible.

Postpartum Care

After your cat gives birth, the real work begins. Here's what you need to know about postpartum care, nutrition and breastfeeding.

Continue to Eat a High-Calorie Diet

Your cat should be kept on a higher calorie (pregnancy or kitten) diet as long as she is nursing (nursing her kittens). You should always have food and fresh water available for him.

Keep the Area Private and Quiet

The mother and her kittens should be kept in a quiet, low-traffic area of ÔÇőÔÇőthe house. If there is too much chaos around her, she may become stressed and neglect her kittens. As kittens get older and become more rambunctious, your cat will want to go away and have more time to sleep, groom, or socialize with the household. Give your cat space to get away from the kittens, but make sure he comes back often to check on them.

Monitoring Nursing and Breastfeeding

Colostrum is the first milk the mother cat produces for her kittens. It is imperative that kittens receive adequate amounts of colostrum because it contains vital nutrients and immunoglobulins necessary for the proper maturation of the immune system. Newborn kittens should be nursed every one to two hours, so your cat will probably be with them constantly for the first week or two. If you think your cat is not producing milk or allowing the kitten to nurse, contact your veterinarian immediately. Be careful when approaching kittens, as some mothers may show aggression towards people or other pets when they perceive a threat. Avoid giving medications and vaccines while your cat is breastfeeding. If your cat becomes sick, call your veterinarian immediately and let them know she is breastfeeding so they can prescribe safe medications if necessary. If your cat does any of the following, contact your veterinarian:

Keep Male Cats Separated From Your Female Cat After Giving Birth

If your female cat is with an unspayed male cat, she may become pregnant again before she has even finished weaning her current litter. Most vets prefer to wait until about a month after weaning to spay her, as this gives the uterus time to shrink and makes the surgery safer. If you are in this situation, neuter your male cat as soon as you find out that your female cat is pregnant, or keep your female cat confined to prevent her from becoming pregnant again without neutering.

Consider Spaying and Neutering

According to the ASPCA, a cat can have an average of four to six kittens per litter and one to two litters per year. That means a lot of kittens! Shelters across the United States are full of cats and kittens. To help with a serious overpopulation problem, talk to your veterinarian about spaying or neutering your cat. It is also important to consider the risk of pyometra (uterine infection), a life-threatening condition that can occur in intact (unneutered) cats. The best way to prevent this serious and expensive medical condition is to have your cat neutered. Neutering before the first heat cycle (which can occur as early as 4 months of age) may also reduce the risk of breast cancer in your feline friend.

Kitten Care and Feeding

Here are some tips for safely caring for your cat's kittens.

Limit Transactions in the First Weeks

Although you want to constantly caress and hold the kittens, do not interfere too much in the first week or two of their lives. During this time, kittens are very susceptible to illness and can be stressful for mom and babies. During the first few weeks after birth, the mother cat will encourage her kittens to eliminate by cleaning their genital areas. They will also clean up after themselves, so there is no need to add a litter box for kittens, especially in their first days.

Keep Nest Area Warm

Kittens cannot regulate their own body temperature until they are 3 to 4 weeks old. Therefore, for the first four weeks of their lives, you should provide a warm, clean box or bedding for mother and kittens to share. Use a heating pad under the nest box or a heating lamp above it to keep the kittens warm. However, make sure there are accessible areas that are not heated, as kittens will need to move away from the heat source if they get too hot. The warm area should be approximately 97┬░F.

Discuss Medical Care with Your Veterinarian

You should also contact your veterinarian to ask when kittens should first be examined. They may want to see them right away to evaluate for cleft palate, umbilical hernia, and other health problems, or they may recommend waiting until they are a little older. Many veterinarians recommend regular deworming starting at 2 to 4 weeks of age and vaccination at 6 weeks of age.

Watch Kittens Struggle

Watch out for "poors" or "litters" (kittens that are much smaller and don't grow as fast as their littermates) as they may have underlying health conditions that affect their ability to grow. If you notice that one of your kittens is smaller than the others or has less energy, consult your veterinarian.

Start Socializing When Kittens' Eyes Begin to Open

Kittens' eyes usually open when they are 7 to 10 days old. At this point, if the queen allows, it would be beneficial to get the kittens accustomed to your presence. Socializing them at an early age can help them adapt well to a home. Kittens should NOT be taken away from their mothers and go to their new homes too quickly, as they learn very important social rules and behaviors from their mothers and siblings. If they are under 8 weeks old, they should never be separated from their mothers. Waiting until 10 weeks of age to adopt or foster kittens will provide even greater behavioral benefits.

Start the Weaning Process at 3 to 4 Weeks

Once kittens are 3 to 4 weeks old, you can begin the weaning process by providing access to kitten food. Feed dry kibble with water (and let kibble soak to make it softer) or canned kitten food to make it easier for them to eat. They must still have constant access to the queen, who will continue to nurse them. Over the next few weeks, they will increasingly rely on kitten food rather than breastfeeding. Most queens wean their young at 5 to 6 weeks of age. At this age, you can also put out a small litter tray with a thin layer of litter. Most kittens naturally scratch the litter and learn to relieve themselves in the litter box.

Frequently asked Questions


Q1:How long does a cat's pregnancy last?
A1:A cat's pregnancy usually lasts 63 to 67 days, but can be as short as 61 days or as long as 72 days.
Q2:Is it safe to hold a pregnant cat?
A2:Yes, but be gentle, especially around your belly.
Q3:What should I feed my pregnant cat?
Q3:A diet consisting of high quality, kitten formulated food is recommended for a pregnant cat. Always consult your veterinarian.
Q4:Can my cat still go outside when pregnant?
A4: It is best to keep your pregnant cat indoors to avoid any potential stress or injury.
Q5:How can I help my cat during birth?
A5: Generally, cats do not need help. However, keep your veterinarian's contact information handy in case of emergencies.
Q6:Can a cat be neutered while pregnant?
A6:Yes, but it involves termination of pregnancy so should only be done after a thorough discussion with your veterinarian.

Frequently Asked Questions - Pregnancy in Cats
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