Why is it important?
To ensure that her kittens will be healthy and well developed, you need to meet all of your cat’s needs. This article should give you all the information you need if you have a pregnant cat, to give her kittens the best start in life.
Cats can get pregnant any time after 6 months of age and will mate with siblings or parents. If you do not want kittens, and really there are too many already, then you need to get your cat neutered - otherwise kittens are inevitable! Cat pregnancy lasts around 9 weeks and each litter has on average 4 kittens.
Signs of pregnancyYou won’t see any signs before about 3 weeks. If you think your cat may be pregnant take her to the vets so that you can be sure. A vet will be able to feel the kitten fetuses inside the womb after about 3 weeks, or on an ultrasound scan. As she progresses through her pregnancy her tummy will get noticeably bigger and her mammary glands will enlarge.
Be aware, it has been known - especially in overweight cats - that pregnancy has gone undetected until the kittens arrive!
During her pregnancy, your cat will need extra vitamins and minerals to support the kitten’s growth. Go to your vet to get her a check over and ask about how much you should be feeding her, it is all based on her body condition. In many cases kitten food is ideal, this also gives your cat those extra calories she will need - especially in the last trimester. If she is getting overweight, it might not be the best option, and there may be a more appropriate food. Whatever diet your vet recommends, switch your cat onto this new food gradually over the course of a week or so.
This is essential to good kitten health. The diseases we vaccinate against can cause aborted or poorly developed kittens. By vaccinating the mother you are protecting the kittens both during the pregnancy and afterwards as the immunity will be passed to the newborns in the mother’ milk. This immunity is the only thing the kittens have to protect them against disease until their own vaccinations at 8 weeks old.
Worming your pregnant cat doesn’t only protect her but also her kittens. Worms can be passed to the kittens in her milk. It is important to worm your cat all the way through her pregnancy and lactation with a safe product from your vet.
Fleas, are more than just a pest to newborn kittens. If there is an infestation this can cause anaemia and death. Fleas also carry tapeworm which can infect the kittens if they are bitten.
Your cat will need a private, safe place to give birth. Ideally in a familiar part of the house but somewhere that she will not be disturbed. A cardboard box with easily laundered blankets or towels is perfect.
But, cats often like to do things their own way as most of us know! So don’t be worried if she chooses somewhere else to give birth. You can add bedding once all the kittens have arrived if the space she has chosen is safe.
Labour (sometimes called queening in cats) is generally a smooth process in cats and she will usually do it with no help at all. The first signs may be that she is restless and may vocalise more, but also she may just hide and find somewhere to give birth privately.
If she is pushing continuously for more than 20 minutes and no kitten is to be seen then you should call the vet, the kittens may be stuck which is an emergency.
Monitor your cat at regular intervals but try not to disturb her as much as possible (they are very private creatures!). If she is progressing, then just leave her to it. If she is disturbed between kittens she can pause her labour until she feels safe again. Because of this, labour can take up to 24 hours but on average it takes 2-5 hours.
If you have any concerns, contact your vet sooner rather than later.
Caring for the newborns
In most cases, your cat will look after them herself. However, occasionally there may be complications, or she may even reject them. It is important to be ready to step in if needed. Newborn kittens need to be kept warm and gently rubbed dry, if the mother isn’t licking and caring for them. Kittens do of course need milk, but do not attempt to feed cow’s milk - they need cat milk, which your vet will be able to provide if needed as a powdered formula.
If they seem to be abandoned, it’s important to get them and the mother checked over by your vet as soon as possible, as there may be an underlying medical problem in one or the other.