The urge to reproduce and pass genes on to the next generation is strong in unneutered felines, and a healthy female cat with access to males and a plentiful food supply can produce two or three litters of kittens a year. Species survival depends upon procreation, and pregnancy and birth are the most natural things in the world. Left to their own devices, cat courtship is a noisy affair, with several males attempting to mate with an in-season and responsive female, but usually one male is able to keep the others away and mate successfully.
Looking after the pregnant queen
Apart from increasing her diet with food specially formulated for expectant queens to cope with the demands being made on her body, treat the mother as normal during pregnancy. About halfway through the pregnancy, she will become more careful about jumping and passing through narrow openings, owing to her enlarged shape.
Take great care when picking her up and cuddling her as her pregnancy progresses – she may well not appreciate either, being uncomfortably full of kittens. If she become constipated, substitute one of her daily meals with oily food, such as pilchards or sardines, as this will aid the passing of motions.
Prepare a kittening nest, and place it in a quiet and undisturbed area of the house: a large sturdy cardboard box will do, with a hole cut into one side 15cm 6in off the ground and wide enough for the cat to pass through easily. Line the base with newspaper for insulation and place a thick layer of paper towels on top to make a soft, absorbent and disposable mattress for the birth. Show the queen where the nest is; bear in mind, however, that she may ultimately choose her own place – which could even be on or under your bed.
With longhaired queens, clip hair surrounding the birth canal to aid hygiene and ease of delivery and nipples to facilitate ease of suckling. Gently sponge her anal area twice a day if she is carrying a large litter and is unable to clean this herself. Make sure she is free of fleas and mites in the 10 days preceding birth – consult your vet regarding suitable treatment.
Labour and birth
Females give birth and raise their young following instinctive behaviour patterns that allow them to do so unaided, although they do get better at this with practice. In a natural colony of cats, however, other related females will help out, acting as midwives and surrogate nurses while the mother takes a break. This co-operation ensures greater protection and survival of the young.
Labour and birth normally proceed easily. Once second- stage labour begins when the queen goes into the nesting box and lies down, a whole litter may be born in an hour or so, or they may be spread over 24 hours with long rests between kittens.
Occasionally things do go wrong. If the queen has been straining hard for two hours without results, call out a immediately to help her give birth. Sometimes, for varies reasons, kittens do not survive. If the bereaved mother appears distressed, contact your vet for advice: the gut may require medication to suppress her milk and h prevent potential mastitis, or her loss may have a happy ending if the vet knows of orphaned kittens needing a foster mum.
Consult your vet immediately if any of these occur.
-miscarriage, due to illness or because the fetuses are not healthy
-uterine infection after birth, indicated by fever, vomiting, lack of appetite, dark coloured vaginal discharge
-prolapsed uterus, indicated by a swollen red mass appearing out of the vulva.
Mother and baby care
Kittens are totally dependent on their mother and her milk for the first three weeks. After this, they begin to experiment with eating the solid food that their mother brings back in the form of prey for them to eat, or which their human carer provides. The mother will eat and drink more than normal to maintain a plentiful milk supply. Four good meals daily should be enough for her, depending on the number of kittens. The meals should comprise small and fresh food, preferably one formulated for lactating queens, to make sure she receives the nutrients she needs to maintain her own body as well as her offspring.
Keeping kittens clean is a vital role for mothers, whose kittens may otherwise die of disease. The mother continues to wash them all over until the babies learn how to do this themselves.