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Rule Number One

Remember to Breathe ...

Most cats deliver their young in a very organized, almost business-like manner. Cats are very individual about these things but some females or "queens" are calmer, some can be a lot more nervous (especially with their first litter or if they are younger mothers), but almost without exception I have never seen a cat I would call a truly poor mother. A few I know of have been not terribly good at the beginning but once they got the idea, they were always gentle and caring mothers.

The Planning Stage

First, you will need to determine for sure that you have a pregnant cat. You may confirm pregnancy by examining the nipples, which may become enlarged, and turn a deeper pink about three weeks into the pregnancy. Your veterinarian may be able to tell by palpating the abdomen. Some of the signs of pregnancy in animals are the same as humans - a tendency to sleep more and an increased appetite! You may also notice a little bit of morning sickness.

You will want to begin feeding the queen a high-quality kitten food in both canned and dry varieties. You may allow her to have as much as she wants without overfeeding. She will need the extra resources to carry the pregnancy normally and to provide 100% of the nutritional needs for her growing litter.

Where is the best spot to deliver her kittens?

Carefully consider where you want your queen to have her kittens. Under your bed is NOT a good place. The closet floor isn’t really a good idea either because even in the best of situations it can be too cool and drafty. While my queen is not normally caged, I am a firm believer in cages for certain situations. Kittening is one of the times I insist upon it. It eliminates all sorts of problems and headaches. All too often, I have heard of breeders who have gotten up in the morning only to be missing kittens, or to find them scattered all over the house. Sometimes, queens insist that every day is moving day until the babies have puncture holes in their necks. The large or extra-large coated-wire dog training crates work nicely for this. Get or make a cage, decide where you want the mother to deliver and put her in for a few hours every day if she is not used to being caged. It is a good idea to feed her there too. About two weeks before delivery, put her in the cage and leave her there all night.

The normal gestation period for cats is between 63 to 65 days, give or take a few days on either side. If you have a rough idea of when your cat was bred, it is much easier to anticipate the delivery date.

How can you tell when labor begins in cats?

Some cats give obvious hints when they are going to deliver, others give none. Some cats won't eat before delivering, others are little gluttons. I have a girl who will actually snack between kittens. Absolutely anything to make it more confusing for you ... *grin* ... Some people will insist that they can accurately predict delivery time by taking temperatures twice daily beginning on day 60 to 61 after breeding, but I have never had this kind of luck. They tell me that if the temperature reads about 101.5 for a couple of days, then drops to 98 or 99 degrees, you can expect labor to begin within 12 hours. If the temperature goes a couple of degrees ABOVE normal, you have been real sharp, caught the beginning of a serious problem and you need to call your veterinarian right away. This may mean a problem with the pregnancy or a developing illness of some other type.

I have been lucky in that I always seem to be able to tell with fairly decent accuracy exactly when my girl is going to deliver. For me, the best system, exhausting though it is, is to set an alarm for every hour and a half all night from the 63rd night - or sooner if your female shows signs of impending labor. In order to be courteous of your family members, you and your girl should spend a few nights in another room. Your queen will not object if you get her used to it ahead of time.

Usually, right around a couple of weeks before delivery, your girl will be looking for places to deliver. She will poke into dark corners, make a mess of your linen closet if you are careless enough to leave the door cracked open or take over your overflowing laundry basket. Once you have her caged, she will do a lot of digging and nesting. Cardboard cartons or half of a large carrier make good nest boxes to put in your kittening cage. Some breeders line the bed with newspaper but I find that too messy - a recent good suggestion was to put the newspapers in old pillowcases. I also use towels so my girl can dig into them, making a comfortable nest, but I also insert these into soft, old pillowcases since little kitten claws are sharp and can get caught into the loopy weave of towels.


(Many) old, soft towels, sheets and pillow case

Rice Heaters – Old socks filled with long-cooking (but uncooked) rice then heated in the microwave

Extra towels and sheets for bedding

Clean dental floss

Record book and pen

Permanent markers with non-toxic ink

Small scale which measures weight in grams/ounces (I use a kitchen scale, purchased at Wal-Mart for less than $10)

Small, sharp, blunt-end scissors (soak in a small flat pan of alcohol beforehand, thoroughly dry and place into a zip-lock bag for readiness)

A roll of paper-towels

Your favorite beverage *smile*

The phone number to your local 24-hour veterinary emergency clinic and the transportation to get there in the event you need to

The First Stage of Labor in Cats

In the first stage of labor, you may notice a general uneasiness in the cat, she may either want you right by her side at all times or she may desire her privacy. If she allows you to be observant, you may also notice a slight mucous discharge or a constant washing of her genital area. If you have a longhaired cat, clip the fur around her bottom. This makes for a much easier clean-up job when she is finished the birthing process. It is also a good idea to clip the hair around the nipples in longhaired cats. For all cats, you may massage the nipples with a little pure cocoa butter (don't use human lotions or creams containing cocoa butter - buy a tin of the good stuff) if they seem crusty.

The Second Stage of Labor in Cats

The second stage of labor begins with straining. Sometimes the queen will go into her litter pan and squat but do nothing. Some queens will produce a great deal of elimination to clear their systems before delivery. Young, inexperienced queens will also sometimes deliver their kittens in the litter pan - a very messy, bad thing when it happens - so when the second stage begins I bring in a new, clean box and I use paper toweling in it instead of litter. If she delivers there - no problem - the kittens won't be all covered with litter. If she urinates in the pan, it is easily cleaned. You will be able to both see and feel the muscles of the abdomen contract as the straining becomes more pronounced. To assist in the delivery, the vaginal opening will have enlarged and the vagina will be well lubricated. Though a cat will rest between contractions, the contractions will come closer and closer together as the kitten leaves one of the horns of the uterus and begins the trip into the birth canal. Some books will tell you that most kittens come "head first" - it would be nice if it were true. A normal birth (head first delivery) only occurs about 50% of the time with breech births (butt first delivery) being quite common and no call for alarm unless the queen is tired. Hopefully, your girl will deliver her first kitten headfirst; rear first is a more difficult delivery, especially for the first kitten in the first litter. Once the head is out, the rest of the kitten comes without too much trouble. Tail end first means the large rib cage has to come first and it is more difficult to deliver. Head first or rear first, the first thing you will see is a yellowish colored bubble emerging from the birth canal or some portion of the kitten covered by the sac of membranes. Once the kitten is out you will probably find it is still pretty closely connected to the mother by the cord to the placenta (or "afterbirth") which she should expel fairly quickly. She probably will begin to lick the kitten right away but may be more concerned with washing herself, especially if it is her first litter. Either way, break the sac over the face of the kitten and begin to rub it lightly with a small, clean cloth such as a face cloth or paper towel. If it is wiggling and making noise you have time for her to expel the afterbirth. If the kitten seems too quiet and lethargic, rub firmly but gently with the washcloth to stimulate the kitten to breathe. You may also have to hold the kitten between the palms of your two hands, head down, and swing briskly back and forth, pendulum fashion. I find bending over and swinging the kitten between my legs is most convenient. Stop and continue rubbing and swinging until it is obvious the kitten is breathing on it's own.

Record Keeping For a New Litter is Essential

Once all of the kittens have been delivered, you will want to weigh them and write down their birth weight. If your kittens are all "look-alikes", you will want to mark them in order to keep accurate records. I use a permanent marker with non-toxic ink. Touch the kitten under the front leg (armpit) with the marker, weigh it and write down the identifying marker color in your record book along with the birth weight. You will them place the kitten back in with Mom. I have several pages in my record book for each litter, but the birth page looks like this:

Lexus & Tonka Bred June 28th, 2005 Delivered August 31, 2005 @ 65 days
1. 4:00 a.m. Blue - Female (breech) 4 oz
2. 4:30 a.m. Red - Male (normal) 3 1/2 oz
3. 6:00 a.m. Green - Male (normal) 4 oz
4. 7:00 a.m. Purple - Female (breech) 3 1/4 oz

You will be surprised how valuable this information will be to you in the future. Use the rest of the page to keep daily weight records of the kittens. It is very important to remember that a gain one day may be followed by a loss of weight the next day. By the time you notice or feel a weight loss, it may be too late to help the kitten and reverse the condition. If you weigh them daily at about the same time, you will know if they are gaining regularly. Don't count on your sense of touch to tell you this. You cannot tell a loss of 1/4 to 1/2 ounce and this can be serious with a very young kitten. If you need to give supplemental feedings as might be the case with a large litter or to give the smallest kitten an extra boost, the sooner you begin, the better.

Watch the mother carefully to see if she delivers the afterbirth and check off somewhere on the record for each kitten, the delivery of the afterbirth. It is VERY important to count a placenta for each kitten. I knew of a queen who delivered four healthy kittens with no problems only to develop a high fever within 36 hours. She delivered prematurely and my friend found her in her bed with one kitten and no afterbirth so my friend simply assumed she had eaten it. The result of "assuming" was that the queen had to have a Caesarian section to remove the afterbirth; due to high milk fever she couldn't nurse, and my friend sadly lost all but one of the kittens. This was a most unusual course of events; but if a retained placenta is not expelled after a short amount of time, call your vet and seek his counsel.

Problems with Delivery of Kittens

While most deliveries go without a hitch, if your queen experiences HARD labor for an hour and has not delivered a kitten, you should be concerned. Do NOT let anyone talk you into letting a cat continue in hard labor for more than two hours. (I tend to panic and phone the vet after one hour). It may be a simple problem where your vet can manually turn a kitten into a better delivery position. However, it could mean the kitten is just too large to deliver or it could even mean a torn uterus. In either case, a cat could labor forever and not deliver. Sometimes a cat needs a C-section but sometimes she just needs more expert help than you can give. Occasionally, labor stops and the veterinarian will give Oxytocin to start contractions again.

Most queens will attempt to eat each afterbirth and I allow my girl to have as many as she wants. If she refuses to eat a placenta, I dispose of it by wrapping it in toilet tissue and flushing it away. In the wild, an animal will eat the afterbirth to remove all traces of the birth as protection from enemies. It is also a source of nourishment, a possible laxative, a source of hormones to make the uterus contract and to aid in milk flow. The queen may deliver her kittens at 15-minute intervals or even wait four hours before producing another. As long as she seems comfortable - don't panic. An extended period of hard, unproductive labor is worth panicking about.

It is best to keep all of the kittens separate from the mother until delivery is completed unless it takes several hours. In most cases, the mother will not be too interested or have time to wash and cuddle kittens while in labor with another. She may even inadvertently roll on it. It is important at this stage to keep the newborns warm and dry. If she goes a long time between deliveries, put one kitten in for a while for her to wash and nurse if she is willing. You can always alternate kittens as the litter grows in size. It is easier to sneak one kitten away from her when she is in labor for the next than it is to remove two or three kittens.

So Now You Have Kittens!

Most queens, when they finish delivering, make it pretty obvious by their relaxed attitude. The bedding gets wet and messy so you will want to get it changed and return the kittens to their mother. I use an extra-large dog crate for delivery and this will be home for the new family for about 4 to 5 weeks. It opens from the front. After all the kittens are back with their mother and she is attending to them nicely, I cover one end with a large towel to darken the "nest" area. I also offer my queen a little snack, or some KMR or goat's milk. After a little while, peek in and if all the babies seem to be nursing and contented, turn out the lights (deliveries often seem to happen at night) and go to bed. I find this style cage convenient because I can leave the front door open for the queen to come and go as she pleases until the babies can get out of the nest box. Then I keep the front latched, and my girl will let me know when she is ready for a trip outside of the nest. By the time the youngsters try climbing the wire doors, it is time to move them out to access of my entire bedroom. By the time they are ready for full "freedom" of your house, they know all about scratching posts and litter pans and can concentrate on clearing my desk (regularly) and getting into absolutely everything that isn't bolted down. *grin*

Up until now, your responsibility has been limited to keeping the nest clean, your queen fed and happy and handling the babies daily to weigh and inspect them. Now on to the next step ...


Every vet has a pattern of vaccinations they will recommend, but you will have a number of decisions to make regarding vaccinations. You may opt for having your veterinarian give your kittens all of their vaccinations. Some people give their own vaccinations, but due to the fact that not all vets will recognize or allow home-vaccination, I do not recommend this for anyone. The most commonly recommended age to begin vaccines is 5 to 7 weeks for Rhinotraceitis, Calici Virus and Panleukopenia. This is a three-part series of vaccines, starting at around 6 to 7 weeks old, the second set at 9 to 10 weeks old and the last at 12 to 13 weeks old. A few years ago I learned about an intranasal (ocular-nasal) vaccine designed to be dropped in the eyes and nose. There are a couple of reasons why you might consider asking your vet to use it. If you have ever had a respiratory infection in any of your resident cats, you probably have one or two that are now "carriers". Any kittens you produce will need protection at a very early age. Maternal protection acquired by nursing varies greatly from cat to cat and cannot be depended upon to provide appropriate immunity.

A Word About Responsibility

Now that your kittens are vaccinated you will be thinking about new homes for them. When I began breeding, my mentor gave me some advice which I have never forgotten. She said, "You are responsible for every kitten you have allowed to be born". I took that very seriously to heart and when talking with potential kitten buyers, I always let them know in no uncertain terms that my babies are welcome back in my home for whatever reason any time the buyer determines they can no longer love or care for them appropriately, no questions asked, for the life of the kitten. As a breeder, of course people pay for my kittens. But in a different situation, you may still want to ask for a small purchase fee - this can be used to cover the cost of pediatric spay/neuter of the kittens before they are placed (if it is available in your area) and to discourage people who want "something special for nothing". If you cannot obtain pediatric spay/neuter, then you must require that the kittens you place be spayed or neutered by a certain date, usually their 6-month birthdate.

A final word ... unless you are a breeder, working with pedigreed cats in a responsible, ethical breeding program, you should consider spaying your female as soon as the babies are weaned. The best time to do this is about the age of 10 to 12 weeks after the kittens are born. By this time, Momma has all but stopped allowing them to nurse and they are all eating and using the litter box consistently on their own.