By Jennifer Copley (Last Updated 12 May 2011)
Healthy cats don’t need much special care while pregnant. They can engage in most of their usual activities, though outdoor cats should be kept indoors for the duration of the pregnancy. Also, if the cat has a tendency to engage in rough play with other pets or children, she should be prevented from doing so while pregnant. Don’t prod the cat’s abdomen to feel for the kittens if pregnancy is suspected – this can cause miscarriage.
What are the signs of pregnancy in cats?
A healthy feline pregnancy usually lasts for 58 to 70 days (71 days for Siamese cats) and the average litter size is 4-5 kittens. There are rarely signs of pregnancy for the first few weeks, after which weight gain is the main indicator. Some cats also experience morning sickness and/or lethargy. Eventually, the pregnant cat’s nipples become pinker and larger. She will be hungrier than usual, and possibly more affectionate as well.
What veterinary care should pregnant cats receive?
A veterinary check-up is recommended during the first month of pregnancy. The veterinarian can make dietary recommendations and treat any conditions, such as internal parasites, at this time. Cats should not receive vaccinations or deworming medications while pregnant. Insecticides, tapeworm medications, chemical flea control products, hormones, and antibiotics should also not be used during pregnancy unless recommended or approved by a veterinarian.
Do pregnant cats require special grooming?
Most cats don’t have any special grooming requirements while pregnant. However, if the cat has very long hair, near the end of her pregnancy the fur around the nipples can be trimmed to make it easier for the kittens to nurse. This should be done very carefully to avoid damaging the nipples, and short fur (about ½ an inch) should be left to provide some protection against the kittens’ claws.
What should pregnant cats be fed?
For the first month of pregnancy, provide premium quality food and avoid giving table scraps or treats, as the cat may fill up on these and not eat as much nutritionally complete food as a result. Vitamin and mineral supplements are not usually necessary and should not be given unless recommended or approved by a veterinarian. During the second month of pregnancy, cats have higher protein and calorie requirements. Switching the diet gradually to a premium kitten food is recommended. Increasing amounts of kitten food can be mixed in with the cat’s regular food until the mother cat is eating nothing but kitten food by the time she is ready to give birth. She should continue eating kitten food until after her kittens are weaned, when the diet can be gradually switched back to adult cat food again. Although a pregnant cat should have access to plenty of food, she should not be allowed to grow obese, as the kittens are also likely to be fat in this case, which can make labour difficult. A pregnant cat’s body weight should increase by 40-50% over the course of her pregnancy.
How should you prepare the kittening box and birth room?
Cats need a quiet place in the home to deliver their kittens away from high-traffic areas of the house where anxiety caused by noise or unfamiliar people may interrupt or delay labour. The kittening spot should be dry, clean, and free from draughts and bright lights. The temperature in the kittening room should be approximately 29 degrees Celsius (85 Fahrenheit) during the delivery and for at least a week afterward, when it can be reduced to about 27 degrees Celsius (80 Fahrenheit) for 3-4 weeks, and then 21 degrees Celsius (70 Fahrenheit) thereafter. Keep a wall thermometer in the room to monitor the temperature.
Kittening boxes are commercially available, but they can also be made from cardboard, wood, or plastic storage containers. A kittening box should be approximately 2 feet square or a little smaller, depending on the size of the cat, and should have a door on one side that the mother cat can walk through without having to jump. It should also have a lid that can be removed for cleaning and to observe the kittens. Line the kittening box with tight-weave (not terry cloth) towels, artificial fleece blankets, or blank newsprint paper (without ink). The kittening box should not be placed right next to a source of heat, as this can draw the kittens away from their mother and toward the heat source.
What are the signs that a cat will soon give birth?
Shortly before giving birth, mother cats tend to spend more time grooming, particularly around the abdominal and genital areas. They are also inclined to be irritable or restless, and to wander around the house looking for a good kittening spot, checking out closets, open drawers, and other places where they can make a nest. This is an ideal time to set up the kittening box and encourage the mother cat to sleep in it. In some cases a cat will choose to have her kittens elsewhere and then move them to the kittening box later on. If she shows signs of preferring an area of the house other than where the kittening box is located, the kittening box should be moved to her preferred spot.
How long does a cat’s labour last?
A mother cat is usually in the first stage of labour for 12-24 hours, after which she delivers her kittens. Kittens tend to be born anywhere from 15 minutes to 2 hours apart, with the total delivery taking 2-6 hours. Mother cats can be given a little food and water while in labour.
How do you know when a cat is in labour?
During the first stage of labour cats tend to pant and purr rhythmically, and some cats pace, dig at the floor, yowl, strain as though constipated, or vomit. A cat that has never given birth before may become anxious and cry to her owner for help. The owner should take her to the kittening box and sit with her, stroking her fur and talking in a soothing voice. Some cats like to have the support of their human companions while delivering, whereas others want to be alone and will hiss or spit if bothered.
When should you call a veterinarian?
Call a veterinarian immediately if any of the following problems occur:
- 60 minutes of intense straining without giving birth to the first kitten
- 20 minutes of intense straining without giving birth to subsequent kittens
- 10 minutes with a kitten visibly lodged in the birth canal
- The presence of fresh, bright red blood, particularly if it flows for 10 minutes during or after giving birth
- Symptoms of illness or distress such as apathy, fever, anxiety, or an overwhelming sudden weakness that prevents pushing
In some cases a cat ceases labour after delivering one or more kittens and then resumes 12-24 hours afterward, delivering more kittens. This is usually nothing to be alarmed about as long as she is taking good care of her kittens and showing no signs of distress or illness, but if there are any indications of problems (i.e., restlessness, weakness, fatigue, fever, anxiety), call a veterinarian immediately. Even if the mother cat seems alright, if labour has ceased for 3 hours but you suspect there are more kittens to come, consulting a veterinarian is recommended. The mother cat should expel a placenta for each kitten. If she retains a placenta, this can cause infection, so counting them is a good idea. She will usually eat the placentas, so keeping an eye on the birth is recommended, and the owner may wish to let her eat a couple of them and then remove the rest, as consuming too many can cause diarrhea or vomiting. If it is suspected that a placenta has been retained, particularly if the cat appears depressed and has a fever, consult a veterinarian.
What should you feed a nursing mother cat?
A mother cat with 3 kittens or more requires 2-2.5 times as many calories as she would normally consume. Palatable, high-quality food should be available to the new mother at all times. Ideally, a pregnant cat should be slowly switched over to higher-calorie kitten food during the second month of her pregnancy and not switched back until after she has weaned her kittens. To make the switches, initially mix increasing amounts of kitten food into the cat’s regular food and then do the same procedure in reverse after the kittens have stopped nursing. See the Pregnant Cats and Kittens Page for information on caring for pregnant cats, kitten development week by week, kitten training, kitten care, and more. For a full list of cat articles, see the main Cats page.
- Eldredge, D.M.,DVM, Carlson, D.G., DVM, Carlson,L.D., DVM & Giffin, J.M., MD. (2008). Cat Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook, Third Edition. Wiley Publishing, Inc.
- Merck & Co., Inc., Eds. Cynthia M. Kahn, BA, MA & Scott Line, DVM, PhD, Dipl ACVB. (2007). The Merck/Merial Manual for Pet Health, Home Edition.
- The National Academy of Sciences. (2006). Your Cat’s Nutritional Needs: A Science-Based Guide for Pet Owners. Dels.NAS.edu.