When Your Cat Has Kittens

Cats usually make good mothers and seem to enjoy maternity. Supervising the rearing of a litter of kittens contributes a lot of pleasure to most households, especially where there are children, who really love to watch the progress of the new arrivals. It is especially pleasant, if circumstances allow, to keep at least one kitten as an addition to the family since it provides companionship for the mother and is always valued and spoiled as the baby. However, if you cannot cope with a larger family of cats, or expect to find difficulty in rehoming kittens, it is much kinder to have your cat neutered as soon as possible, and avoid the problem before it happens.


Before deciding to let your cat have kittens do try to be certain that you can find sufficient good homes for the new family. It is much kinder to have your cat neutered as soon as she is old enough rather than having the upsetting problem of unwanted kittens.


There is no evidence at all to support the idea that it is better for a cat's health to let her have at least one litter of kittens. The neutered female is probably on average longer living, requires less medical care, and makes an ideal family pet.


Female cats tend to come into season (or "calling" as it is known) from about six months old and they will, if allowed, become pregnant at this age, which of course is too young for their own welfare, since they are not fully grown or mature until nine months to one year.


Female cats tend to come into season (or "calling" as it is known) from about six months old and they will, if allowed, become pregnant at this age, which of course is too young for their own welfare, since they are not fully grown or mature until nine months to one year. There are two main breeding periods; the beginning of January to the end of May, and the beginning of July to the end of August. Cats come into season less during the main winter months when the daylight hours are shorter but otherwise the times are rather variable and cannot be relied upon.
During the breeding period, cats tend to come into season for one to three days at a time, at intervals of fourteen to twenty-one days, but occasionally the season may last as long as ten days. This makes it particularly difficult to ensure that if kittens are not wanted, the cat is kept in for the appropriate time.


Cats really do call when in oestrus. They develop a persistent and raucous voice, quite unlike their normal miaow and this is particularly noticeable in the Siamese. They become very restless and try to get out of the house at any opportunity and often at this time you will find that one or more unneutered tom cats have taken up residence in the back garden. There is also a tendency for the females to roll about on their backs, giving the impression to inexperienced cat owners that they are in some acute pain.


Family Planning

The nuisance of the season problem can be reduced by means of an injection or tablets to prevent the season (see Chapter 3) but this is mainly of value to breeders who wish to postpone kittens until the cat is mature. For most households neutering is the most satisfactory measure.
Mating tends to be rather unintentional or unpremeditated in most cases for the family pet Cat.-If your cat gets out during the oestrus period she will almost certainly be mated and since ovulation appears to occur as a response to mating, the chances of conception are very high.
Under urban conditions, where a female cat is often kept in because of traffic risk, it may be slightly more difficult if kittens are wanted. In this case it is probably best to consult with the owner of a pedigree male cat who may be willing to arrange a mating (see Chapter 4, section on breeding and showing), or may know of someone who owns a crossbred unneutered male.
Usually if a cat has been mated, the symptoms of oestrus subside within 24 hours and do not recur until about five to six weeks after the birth of the kittens. Cats are less likely to conceive whilst they are feeding their kittens but this is not, by any means, a reliable rule.



Pregnancy usually lasts for 63 to 65 days but, of course, except in the case of pedigree cats, the exact date of mating is often uncertain (see table to calculate time).


Recognition of Pregnancy

4 - 5 weeks - your Veterinary Surgeon will be able to determine, as a rule, if your cat is in kitten by feeling the abdomen to detect the presence of the hard spherical foetuses (rather like marbles at this stage). Ultra Sonography may also be used to diagnose pregnancy.
5 - 6 weeks - abdominal swelling may be noticed and there will be some enlargement of the milk glands.
8 - 9 weeks - the movement of the kittens may be noticed when the mother cat is relaxed.

However, it often happens that all these signs are missed or mistaken for a weight problem, and the first indication of pregnancy is the sound of kittens coming from the airing cupboard or some other unsuitable spot. This is even more surprising to owners who were certain that their cat was a tom!



It is important to accustom your cat to sleeping in a special place that you have selected for the kittening at least one week before the kittens are due, or she may make her own plans to occupy the spare bed. If she is disturbed, or if for any reason she feels that the litter is in danger, a mother cat will sometimes transport her family for considerable distances, carrying each one in turn by the scruff of the neck.
A strong cardboard box is the best choice for a bed. Choose one that is large enough to accommodate the mother and her kittens comfortably and leave high sides, or a lid, to allow a sense of security and privacy. A step of several inches high should be left at the entrance side to prevent any adventurous tiny kittens wandering off into danger.

Keeping clean

Line the box with several layers of newspaper. Providing that the room itself is comfortably warm this will provide sufficient bedding during the birth and early days. Newspaper has the advantage that it can be removed in layers if necessary and burnt as it becomes soiled. It is less dangerous than blankets, which may become wrapped around the young kittens causing suffocation. Artificial sheepskin bedding that is machine washable is also an acceptable alternative.
Place the box in the quietest and most secluded area of the room. Mother cats much prefer to be left undisturbed in the early days to care for their family.


If your cat is receiving a sensible balanced diet it is not usually necessary to increase the volume of food during the first five to six weeks)


Correct Diet

If your cat is on a commercially prepared diet little supplementation should be required. Pet food manufacturers go to considerable lengths to ensure that the diet is balanced and contains all the vitamins and minerals that are required.


However, if your cat is a fussy eater, to ensure that she is getting her daily requirements, a multi vitamin/mineral supplement can be added to the diet (e.g. Sherley's Vionate).


At this stage the cat will probably develop a large appetite and the food can, if required, be increased gradually to twice the normal quantity. It should preferably be divided into three or four meals to avoid abdominal discomfort.



There is no need to place any special restrictions on the movements of the mother cat during pregnancy. In the earlier stages her usual activities will help to maintain muscle tone and in the later stages the weight of the kittens will probably slow her down quite sufficiently.
In the later stages of pregnancy, care should be taken when picking her up to see that she is supported under the abdomen to avoid any risk of twisting the uterus (or womb).


The process of birth is usually divided into three stages and, as a rule, mother cats will accomplish all these without any outside aid. However, occasionally difficulties may arise, so it is as well just to peep into the box from time to time to be sure that all is proceeding according to plan (see later for possible complications).

First stage of labour (6-12) hours)

When the birth is about to take place the cat will probably wander about and seem uneasy. She will often go in and out of the basket, sometimes "treading" the bedding, and making a loud purring sound. There may be a slight vaginal discharge and body temperature at the time drops to below 100° F (37-8°C). This can go on for up to 12 hours.

Second stage (3-12 hours)

In the second stage, there is a definite straining and the cat may cry out, especially with the first litter. Usually after about thirty minutes the first kitten will appear at the vulva and will be expelled quite quickly. Sometimes the kitten will remain enveloped within the foetal membranes in a transparent sac but, as a rule, the mother will break this at once and will start to lick and wash her kitten very vigorously to clean it and stimulate breathing. She will then bite through the umbilical cord and in a surprisingly short time the kitten will start to cry and then make its way round to the milk glands, settling down contentedly to feed. This stage can also take up to 12 hours.


Kittens may arrive normally by either the head or breech (tail and hind feet) presentation. However, in the case of a breech there is more risk of suffocation if the birth is delayed.

Third stage

The third stage is the expulsion of the afterbirth or placenta (the foetal membrane which connected the kitten to the blood supply of the mother by means of the umbilical cord). In most cases the kitten will be expelled still attached to the afterbirth and the mother will bite at the cord to sever it then eat the membranes. This looks rather unpleasant but it is just how a cat would have behaved while living in the wild. It has been suggested that the afterbirth of the cat and the dog may contain hormones which are of value in the production of milk, or that they may have served as a source of protein in the first 48 hours after birth when the mother was reluctant to leave her young. However, if too many are eaten they will probably cause vomiting and with a large litter it may be wise to remove any placentas that are seen and dispose of them. Sometimes, since the cat birth is a multiple process, stages two and three may overlap, so that two or more kittens may be born followed by an interval, and by the appropriate afterbirths. However, if any afterbirths are retained they can cause infection and serious illness, so if you feel uncertain as to whether or not this stage has been completed, or if your cat seems uneasy or unwell, consult a Veterinary Surgeon.

Tying and cutting the umbilical cord


Cutting the cord

It is rarely necessary to cut the cord since the mother does this job herself. However, if after a period of about ten minutes she has not done so and it becomes necessary, remember that hygiene is extremely important. Scrub your hands with a disinfectant solution and apply a tight ligature (using boiled sewing thread) to the cord, about two inches away from the kitten's abdomen. Using a pair of scissors sterilised by boiling, cut through the cord on the side away from the knot. The cord will shrivel and can be trimmed off later if necessary. The number of kittens is usually from three to seven (the average is four). The interval between births varies from ten to sixty minutes, though even longer delays may be quite normal if the cat is not straining hard nor showing any signs of distress.

New-born kittens

Usually, once a litter is complete, the mother will wash all her family and settle down to sleep. She will not, as a rule, take any food or drink during the birth but when it is over she will probably appreciate a drink of Sherley's Lactol if it is offered to her in the bed. Some cats will refuse to leave their kittens at all during the first day, even for food. However, if possible they should be lifted out to relieve themselves, so that bedding can be changed and the kittens checked for health.


Although kittening is usually easy and free from problems, troubles can occur and consulting a Veterinary Surgeon in good time may well save a life.

When to call the vet

If your cat has not managed to give birth after straining for more than half an hour, it is possible that there is a wrongly positioned kitten. This usually means that instead of lying in a streamlined "head first" or "tail and hind feet first" position, the kitten is lying transversely across the neck of the uterus (or womb). This condition, if not corrected, will be fatal, so get advice quickly.

Caesarean section

In cases where a cat is unable to produce her kitten because of wrong positioning, oversize, or other conditions, an operation (caesarean section) is usually required. If it is carried out in good time, before the mother has become exhausted, the chances that she will recover and be able to rear her kittens are good.
The operation requires a general anaesthetic. The kittens are removed through a surgical wound in the middle of the abdomen or on the flank, which is then closed with nylon stitches (removed normally after seven to ten days). The Veterinary Surgeon may recommend sterilisation (neutering) at the same time, depending on the individual circumstances.
The cat will require warmth and careful nursing (see Chapter 6 for advice on care and feeding) but unless there are complications which endanger the life of the mother cat she can be given her kittens immediately on recovery from the anaesthetic. They usually provide a considerable boost to her morale and will to live.

Large Kittens

If a particulary large kitten has been partly expelled and then becomes wedged, it will usually be necessary to get Veterinary assistance. However, in an emergency, the owner may be able to help, providing that the kitten is lying in a normal position. Check carefully that either the head and both front legs are visible, or both hind feet and tail. Grasp the kitten with a clean dry towel and as the cat strains pull gently but firmly in a downward direction. Twisting the kitten very gently into a diagonal position may also help because the pelvis is oval-shaped, and so wider at the diagonal. If any doubt at all is felt about the position of the kitten, it should not be touched. A Veterinary Surgeon should be consulted as soon as possible.

After birth

If you suspect that your cat has not expelled all the kittens or the afterbirths, if she seems listless and unwilling to eat or care for the kittens, if there is an excessive or unpleasant discharge from the vagina, or if she is running a temperature (see later for how to take a temperature), consult a Veterinary Surgeon at once. Antibiotic treatment may be needed to prevent the onset of a highly fatal septicaemia.


Hardness and swelling or discolouration of the milk glands may indicate mastitis. This will not only make the mother cat ill but will prevent her from feeding the kittens, so get advice quickly.

Prolapsed uterus

Fortunately, a prolapsed uterus is fairly uncommon. The mother cat continues straining after the kittens are born and the uterus is expelled, which appears as a bloodstained spongy mass under the tail. This condition is extremely serious. Keep the patient in a clean warm spot (for instance on a clean cloth in a basket) and contact a Veterinary Surgeon as soon as possible.


Sometimes after a delayed or difficult birth a kitten may appear to be dead, but if a heartbeat can be detected it is well worth attempting revival. Holding the kitten with the head slightly lower than the feet to allow any fluid to escape from the lungs, rub and massage the body gently with a warm dry towel. At intervals open the mouth (making sure that the tongue is depressed and not sticking to the roof of the mouth) and blow gently into the mouth, taking care not to touch the kitten with your own mouth, to inflate the lungs and stimulate breathing. If any signs of life are seen, continue until breathing becomes regular, then as soon as possible return the kitten to its mother.


Abnormal kittens

Before attempting to revive an apparently lifeless kitten, check that it is not suffering from any congenital abnormality. These may vary from kittens that are born with the muscular wall of the abdomen totally absent, to the less obvious but equally serious cleft palate which prevents the young animal from sucking and feeding. If kittens are born alive with any of these defects they should be taken to a Veterinary Surgeon as soon as possible to be humanely destroyed. Remember, of course, that all kittens are born with their eyes closed and do not start to open them until they are about twelve days old.



Determining the sex of very young kittens is not easy but it may be of some consequence in deciding which kittens can be reared for potential homes. Your Veterinary Surgeon will certainly be able to help you if you have occasion to consult him, but otherwise you may be able to come to the right conclusion after reading the description later.


Feeding the mother

During the first three to four weeks of their lives the mother cat will care for her kittens completely. She will not only feed them but also keep them scrupulously clean and by her constant licking ensure that bladder and bowels are functioning properly. To supply the kittens' needs, without losing bodily condition, the food requirements of the mother cat are very high and she can be fed almost at will. At least three high-protein meals (see later) daily should be offered in addition to milk or Lactol. Fresh water should be available at all times as a high fluid intake is necessary to maintain the supply of milk for the family.


During the first three to four weeks of their lives the mother cat will care for her kittens completely. She will not only feed them but also keep them scrupulously clean and by her constant licking ensure that bladder and bowels are functioning properly. To supply the kittens' needs, without losing bodily condition, the food requirements of the mother cat are very high and she can be fed almost at will. At least three high-protein meals (see later) daily should be offered in addition to milk or Lactol. Fresh water should be available at all times as a high fluid intake is necessary to maintain the supply of milk for the family.

First foods

To tempt the kittens to try solid food, offer interesting flavours. Well-stewed or shredded rabbit and chicken are usually popular, or shredded minced meat, boiled fish and well mashed canned meat or fish. Once the kittens have learnt to lap, milk or Lactol should be offered three times daily.

Patience will be needed at first to persuade the kittens to feed. The food is best placed on a large flat plate. 'Try to ensure that each kitten gets a fair share and increase the amount gradually until the age of five weeks, by which time you should be giving three to four meals daily (each kitten taking about 3 ounces (85 g) of solid food in addition to milk). By seven to eight weeks old, the kittens should be independent of their mother and she will probably have started to get tired of her demanding family. It is best to provide an extra sleeping box on a higher level where she can retreat from time to time.


Remember that at five to six weeks after the birth of the kittens the mother is likely to come into season, so she must be carefully watched if another litter of kittens is not to follow too soon.


To rear a large litter of orphan kittens is almost impossibly demanding for the average household. If the situation occurs, every attempt should be made to find a foster mother. However, in the case of just one to two kittens success is possible if the time can be sacrificed to give at least two weeks of constant care. The task can be a very rewarding one; since orphan kittens often grow up to be very strong healthy cats.


Warmth is of the greatest importance - a room temperature of about 70°F (21 'C) is ideal. The box in which the kittens are kept should be placed close to a constant source of heat such as a radiator or boiler. A well-wrapped hot-water bottle should be placed in the box for the kittens to snuggle up to as a substitute mother.
The box should have high sides since tiny kittens are surprisingly active and adventurous. It should be lined with a thick layer of newspaper and on the top of this a layer of blanket or old quilt for warmth


To substitute for the constant licking action of the mother cat, the orphan kittens should be wiped all over after each meal with a warm damp flannel then thoroughly dried.

Health care

Constipation can usually be corrected by the addition of a Veterinary preparation to the milk mixture.
Diarrhoea is more serious and a Veterinary Surgeon should be consulted since dehydration (loss of body fluids) can very rapidly cause the death of young animals.



Cow's milk is not sufficiently rich in protein to act as a substitute for the mother's milk. Lactol gold has been formulated to closely match mother cats' milk, and is the ideal replacement or supplement to the mother's milk.


Lactol can be given with either an eye dropper or a Lactol Feeding Bottle but young kittens, even though hungry, are often reluctant to attempt to feed and endless patience will be needed. The Lactol mixture should be given at approximately blood heat (101'F/38.3'C). Follow the mixing instructions on the Lactol label.

First two weeks - feed every two hours

Weeks 3 + 4 - feed every four hours

Then every six hours

How much?

Quantities will vary, but the kittens can be allowed as much as they are willing to take at each feed.
As a measure of progress, a healthy kitten should gain about one third of an ounce (9 g) in weight daily and should double its birth weight in eight to nine days (kittens can be weighed using kitchen scales).

Solid foods

From two weeks of age, the kitten may be offered Lactol from a shallow bowl. Solid foods can be introduced from three to four weeks. Stewed meat or fish, finely shredded and mixed with gravy, and sieved meat or fish baby foods are ideal. The latter have the advantage that they can be given with a spoon as an introduction to new foods. Once the kitten has learned to lap, the task of feeding becomes much easier. Lactol can be continued in the diet and management can proceed as for the normal kitten.

The Lactol Feeding Bottle



As soon as the kittens start to leave their mother they should be placed on the litter tray after every feed to start early house training. A clean kitten will be a particularly welcome arrival in its new home



Roundworms can constitute a danger to young kittens and even if the mother has been dosed, it is essential to treat the kittens as well. Modern treatments such as Sherley's Worming Cream or Worming Syrup are safe and palatable and do not require pre-fasting. Mother and kittens should be wormed once every two weeks after the birth.
See section - Internal and External Parasites


Fleas & mites

Check for fleas and ear mites. Give your kitten a thorough overhaul for parasites before sending it to a new home (see Chapter 5 - Internal and External Parasites).


Stress to the new owners the importance of having kittens neutered and of vaccination against viral diseases since the importance of preventative medicine does not always occur to the new cat owner. Your Veterinary Surgeon may supply a leaflet on the subject.
It will also help if you give the new owners details of the type of food that the kitten is used to.
All these things will help to make your cat welcome in his new home and will ensure that he settles down happily with his new owners.

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