Pregnancy Care of Queen
Pregnancy and giving birth to young ones is a beautiful process called ‘queening’ in cats. This process needs kind attention of pet parents. This guide will help you to take care of your pregnant cat!
Pregnancy in cats lasts approximately 63-65 days – around nine weeks. It can be diagnosed by using abdominal palpation from around three to four weeks of age, or by using ultrasound. Pinking up (enlargement and reddening of the nipples) may be seen from around three to four weeks of pregnancy.
There are various aspects that need to be taken care of during your pet’s pregnancy – her diet, overall comfort, and behaviour patterns. Just like in humans, cats also go through hormonal changes that can cause behaviour changes, especially in the last week of pregnancy. Handle her with care and lots of love during this special time.
First step to healthy pregnancy – a nutritious diet
Now that your cat is eating for two (or three, or four, or five) she will need additional nutrients – and more of them! Your pregnant cat should be fed a high quality food formulated for growth and reproduction. This is often some type of kitten food. In general, wet food is a healthier choice than dry. It is best to ask your vet to know what food will best suit your pet.
The queen will need to eat more than usual, especially in the last three to four weeks of pregnancy when she needs approximately 25 percent more food. Feed her kitten food in regular meals. Continue this feeding regime while your cat is suckling as she will use double her usual energy requirement. Water is also vital for your cat’s health, so make sure that pregnant, birthing, and lactating queens have constant access to water, but during and after birth this must be out of reach of kittens to prevent them from drowning.
Be careful not to overfeed your pregnant cat during her early weeks of pregnancy. Yes, she needs plenty of good nutrition for herself and her kittens. However, the kitten food contains the extra calories and nutrients she needs. If she becomes overweight, it can cause problems for her and the kittens. Gradually transition to the kitten food after you have confirmation of her pregnancy, but do not increase the amount she is fed unless she is underweight or acting hungry. Once your cat is about six weeks into her pregnancy, she should be fed more frequent small meals. The pressure on her stomach from the kittens makes it harder for her to eat large quantities at a time, but she does need the extra food. Offer her small meals four to six times a day.
Remember the keywords are ‘Care’ and ‘Patience’
During her pregnancy, you will want to keep your cat relatively active in order to ensure she is fit for giving birth. Avoid any excessively rowdy activity towards the end of her pregnancy. Help her stay calm as she nears her due date, as anything too active could cause her stress. Throughout the pregnancy be sure to pay attention to her appetite and her comfort level. If your cat loses interest in her food or is visibly distressed or agitated, it could signal a problem with her pregnancy.
A quiet and comfortable place
Queens may search for a suitable place to give birth. Ideally, pregnant queens should be introduced to a quiet, clean, and warm area away from the family and other pets at least two weeks before the expected delivery date. Keep blankets and clean sheets handy that can be washed and replaced as necessary.
When it’s finally the time!
Once your cat has chosen the area where she will give birth, it’s best to leave her alone and observe from a safe distance. Fortunately, most cats need little if any human intervention when it comes to queening. However, you may need to assist if she is in distress.
Keep track of the time in between each birth and make sure you know how many kittens to expect. Contact your veterinarian if your cat is having obvious contractions for more than 60 minutes without kitten birth. Also, get in touch with your vet if more than two hours go by without the next kitten birth. If a kitten remains in the birth canal without being pushed out for more than a minute or two, it’s best to take your cat to a veterinarian.
Avoid separating mom and kittens for the first few days and be sure to continue to provide adequate amount of food to the new mom whose calorie needs will increase significantly while she is lactating and feeding her kittens.
Be ready when your cat goes into labour
Your cat is domesticated, so she may not have all of the instincts of a ‘wild’ cat; however, most cats require no intervention at all while giving birth. In fact, your cat may purposely seek out solitude when she goes into labour. Most cats would prefer to be left alone and they definitely don’t want to be patted or touched while they are giving birth. It’s best to give your pregnant cat as much privacy as possible while also leaving yourself the ability to monitor the birthing process for any signs of issues or distress.
Don’t be surprised if your cat decides to give birth in a location other than the ‘nest’ you have prepared for mom and her kittens. If this occurs, don’t be scared to move the kittens to the box you prepared for them after they are born. It’s perfectly fine to pick up new born kittens, just be extra careful and gentle!
Be prepared, don’t be scared
In most cases the cat will manage without any help, with kittens born 5 to 30 minutes after the queen starts actively straining. Discreet and quiet observation is ideal. However, here are some things to keep in mind just in case of any difficulty.
- If a kitten is seen partly out, but the mother is very tired and the kitten isn’t passed within a few seconds, you can gently try to pull her out by pulling downwards with clean hands, but be very gentle and seek vet’s advice.
- If the mother does not clean the kitten, you can quickly and quietly clear the membranes from her head with clean, soft kitchen roll. Wipe her nose and open the mouth to clear it. Rub the kitten in small circular movements to get her breathing.
- If the mother does not bite through the cord, you can tie it off twice with clean sewing thread around 3cm from the kitten’s body and gently tear between the two ties. Make sure your hands are clean while doing so.
- Provide warmth if the mother is avoiding the kittens. You can keep a warm, well covered hot water bottle, or place a small blower/heater.
- If you’ve had to intervene at all, it is best to seek vet’s advice straight away as the kittens may be more at risk of infection or being mismothered – being injured or rejected and not suckled by the queen.
When to call a vet?
- If the first stage is lasting longer than 24 hours without any sign of straining.
- If the cat has been straining for more than 30 minutes without producing anything, as this could indicate an obstruction, e.g. a very large kitten.
- If the first kitten has arrived and no further kittens appear after an hour.
- If the cat suddenly seems weak.
- If there is excessive bloody discharge or greenish discharge without a kitten. However, there may be a greenish discharge after the kitten or with the afterbirth.
- If a kitten is stuck half-way out and cannot be delivered with gentle traction. In some cases, a caesarean section may be required to deliver the kittens, so make sure you have access to vet help.
Afterbirth care for your little bundles of joy
Warmth is very important as newborn kittens lose heat very quickly. If the mother is an attentive one, she will clean them and use her own body heat to keep the kittens warm. Kittens cannot regulate their own temperature well. If the mother is not keeping them warm then ensure that newborn kittens are towel dried quickly. If the mother is very tired or disturbed, she may ignore them, in which case heat must be supplied, via a heat pad or a covered hot water bottle – no hotter than body temperature – and the kittens should be covered with a light towel or blanket.
Keep the room temperature warm and the bedding clean and dry. The kittens should start to suck from their mother almost immediately. If they haven’t started after half an hour gently guide them towards the teats. If they don’t start feeding, consult your vet and you may need to start giving a substitute milk replacer to the kitten. Remember, newborn kittens cannot go more than a few hours without milk. If the queen is calm and settled you may wish to quickly and quietly check each kitten. Speak to your vet for advice, if you have any concern. The queen should be carefully monitored following the birth.
If any of the following problems seen you need to reach your vet –
- Bleeding from the vagina or unusual vaginal discharge.
- Prolapse of the uterus (womb) – straining can occasionally cause the uterus to be pushed out.
- Disturbed behaviour – normally queens spend most of the time with the litter for at least two weeks and are usually very calm after the birth. However, some queens may show disturbed behaviour.
- Mastitis – infection of usually one mammary gland, which becomes hot, painful and enlarged
- Poor appetite, excessive water drinking or vomiting
- Awkward or clumsy movement, twitching or collapse If you notice any of these signs, it’s best to seek medical help. If taking the mother cat to the vet, ask whether you should also bring the kittens. If the kittens are to remain at home, ensure adequate care is arranged for them and they are kept warm at all times.
Taking care of newborn kittens
Nutrition: The first milk produced – colostrum – is rich in antibodies and will help to protect kittens against diseases. These antibodies last for six weeks or more. Kittens can only absorb colostrum during their first 16 to 24 hours of life and they should feed within two hours of birth. It is essential that they receive this colostrum to protect them against disease. If for any reason a kitten does not receive the first milk, speak to
Newborn kittens should feed every two to three hours. Kittens receiving adequate nourishment from the queen will sleep in between feeds and do not need additional nutrition until three to four weeks old. If not receiving sufficient food from the queen they may constantly cry and look out for teats. Distressed newborn kittens may be restless, would not sleep for prolonged periods, cry excessively, leave the queen and kittening area, appear neglected by the queen or stop feeding and have a reduced sucking reflex. If the queen is relaxed, it is recommended to gently weigh kittens at birth. Ideally they should weight between 90 and 110 g each. Keep records and weigh the kittens daily to ensure they are gaining around 10-15 g each per day, doubling their birth weight by two weeks old.
Hypoglycaemia – low blood sugar: Hypoglycaemia results from inadequate or infrequent feeding. It can cause severe depression, muscle twitching and in some cases it might also lead to convulsions. If a kitten refuses to feed, prompt veterinary care is required.
Hygiene precautions: Hygiene is of the utmost importance as hand reared kittens are highly prone to infection. Kittens who have received no colostrum from the queen will have little or no immunity to disease. It is vital that these kittens are protected from exposure to disease, including other cats and their faeces. Some feline infectious diseases can be fatal or lead to lifelong health issues. Personal hygiene when preparing feeds and toileting kittens should be excellent. Utensils used for preparing or administering milk should be safely sterilised. Ask your vet for best advice.
Normal kitten development
- Birth weight – approximately 90 to 110g – depending on breed and number of kittens in the litter.
- Growth rate – kittens should gain around 50 to 100g/week (10-15g/day) and should double their birth weight by two weeks of age.
- The umbilical cord should dry out quickly after the birth and remain dry until it naturally falls off around three days after birth.
- Eyes are closed at birth and open when the kittens are usually 10 days old. This can vary from two to 16 days. The iris – or coloured part of the eye – stays a blue-grey colour until four to six weeks old before changing colour permanently.
- Crawling starts in 7 to 14 days.
- Walking starts in around two weeks.
- Kittens cannot pass urine and faeces without stimulation of the rear end by the queen until around three weeks of age.
- Weaning starts at around three to four weeks old.
- The sensitive period of a kitten’s learning is two to eight weeks of age – the ‘socialisation period’
- Kittens can start to spend short periods of time away from the queen from six to seven weeks of age.
- Kittens should not be fully separated from the queen until at least eight weeks of age.
- Vaccination can usually start at eight to nine weeks of age – worm and flea treatment are often recommended before this.
- Maturity is reached from four months of age.
- Kittens lose their 26 baby teeth and have their 30 adult teeth by six months of age.
These tips help to keep your queen and her newborn babies safe, happy and healthy!
(Dr Aeknath Virendra, Dr Sarita , U Gulavane, Professor and Head,Dr NR Dagli, Hospital Registrar,
Dr RJ Chaudhari, Assistant Professor , Dr SM Gaikwad, Assistant Professor and Dr RR Shelar, Assistant Professor, are from Department of Animal Reproduction, Gynaecology and Obstetrics, Mumbai Veterinary College, Mumbai; Dr Manish K Shukla, Associate Professor, is from Department of Animal Reproduction, Gynaecology and Obstetrics, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel University of Agriculture and Technology, Meerut)