If you plan to breed your cat, she should have at least one or two heat periods first. This will allow her to physically mature allowing her to be a better mother without such a physical drain on her. We do not recommend breeding after 5 years of age unless she has been bred prior to that. Having her first litter after 5 years of age is more physically draining to her and increases the chances of her having problems during the pregnancy and/or delivery. Once your cat has had her last litter, she should be spayed to prevent the female problems older cats have.
Male cats are more successful breeders when they are in familiar surroundings. Therefore, it is preferable to take the female to the male's home for breeding. The timing for breeding cats is not highly critical or complicated because cats are induced ovulators. This means that the act of breeding stimulates the ovaries to release eggs. Therefore, the female's eggs should be present when the sperm are deposited in the reproductive tract at breeding. Most female cats require 3-4 breedings within a 24-hour period for ovulation to occur. Once ovulation has occurred, the female cat will go out of heat within a day or two.
The Feline Estrus
The female cat (queen) comes into heat (estrus) many times each year. The heat period lasts about 2-3 weeks. If she is not bred, she will return to heat in 1-2 weeks. This cycle will continue for several heat cycles or until she is bred. The period of time that she is out of heat will vary depending on geographic and environmental factors, such as temperature and the number of daylight hours.
Signs of Estrus
The signs of heat are different in cats as compared to dogs. Cats have minimal vaginal bleeding, usually not even enough to be detected. Changes in behavior represent the most notable sign. Cats become very affectionate. They rub against their owners and furniture and constantly want attention. They roll on the floor. When stroked over the back, they raise their rear quarters into the air and tread with the back legs. They also become very vocal. These behavior changes often become obnoxious to owners and may be interpreted as some unusual illness. In addition, queens in heat attract intact (non-neutered) male cats. Tomcats that have never been seen will appear and attempt to enter the house to get to the female.
The Pregnant Queen
Pregnancy, also called “gestation,” ranges from 60 to 67 days and averages 63 days. Most cats deliver (queen) between days 63 and 65. The only way to accurately determine the stage of pregnancy is to count days from the time of breeding. If possible, the breeding date should be recorded. The mother should be examined 3 weeks after breeding to confirm her pregnancy.
A pregnant cat should be fed a kitten formulation of a premium brand of cat food for the duration of the pregnancy and through the nursing period. These diets are generally available through veterinary hospitals or pet stores. Kitten diets provide all the extra nutrition needed for the mother and her litter. If the mother is eating one of these diets, no calcium, vitamin, or mineral supplements are needed. (The kitten formulation is necessary to provide the extra nutrients for pregnancy and nursing).
During pregnancy, the mother's food consumption will often reach 1.5 times her level before pregnancy. By the end of the nursing period, it may exceed 2 times the pre-pregnancy amount. Do not withhold food; increasing the number of feedings per day is helpful in allowing her to eat enough for her needs and those of the kittens.
The mother will spend most of her time with the kittens during the next few days. The kittens need to be kept warm and to nurse frequently; they should be checked every few hours to make certain that they are warm and well fed. The mother should be checked to make certain that she is producing adequate milk.
If the mother does not stay in the box, the kittens' temperature must be monitored. If the kittens are cold, supplemental heating should be provided. During the first four days of life, the newborns' box should be maintained at 85 to 90 F (29.4 to 32.2 C). The temperature may gradually be decreased to 80 F (26.7 C) by the seventh to tenth day and to 72 F (22.2 C) by the end of the fourth week. If the litter is large, the temperature need not be as high. As kittens huddle together, their body heat provides additional warmth.
If the mother feels the kittens are in danger or if there is too much light, she may become anxious. Placing a sheet or cloth over most of the top of the box to obscure much of the light may resolve the problem. An enclosed box is also a solution. Some cats, especially first-time mothers, are more anxious than others. Such cats may attempt to hide their young, even from her owner. Moving from place to place may continue and will endanger the kittens if they are placed in a cold or drafty location. Cats with this behavior should be caged in a secluded area. This type of mother has also been known to kill her kittens as a means of "protecting" them from danger.
Troubleshooting with the Newborn Kitten.
Kittens should eat or sleep 90% of the time during the first 2 weeks. If they are crying during or after eating, they are usually becoming ill or are not getting adequate milk. A newborn kitten is very susceptible to infections and can die within 24 hours. If excessive crying occurs, a veterinarian should examine the mother and entire litter promptly.
When the milk supply is inadequate, supplemental feeding one to three times per day is recommended and should be performed on any litter with 5+ kittens. There are several commercial formulae available that are made to supply the needs of kittens. They require no preparation other than warming. They should be warmed to 95 to 100 F (35 to 37.8 C) before feeding. Its temperature can be tested on one's forearm; it should be about the same as one's skin. An alternative is canned goats' milk that is available in most grocery stores. The commercial products have directions concerning feeding amounts. If the kittens are still nursing from their mother, the amounts recommended will be excessive. Generally, 1/3 to 1/2 of the listed amount should be the daily goal. Supplemental feeding may be continued until the kittens are old enough to eat kitten food.
If the mother does not produce milk or her milk becomes infected, the kittens will also cry. If this occurs, the entire litter could die within 24 to 48 hours. Total replacement feeding, using the mentioned products, or adopting the kittens to another nursing mother is usually necessary. If replacement feeding is chosen, the amounts of milk listed on the product should be fed. Kittens less than 2 weeks of age should be fed every 3-4 hours. Kittens 2-4 weeks of age do well with feedings every 6-8 hours. Weaning, as described below, should begin at 3-4 weeks of age.
The First Few Weeks of Life
For the first month of life kittens require very little care from the owner because their mother will feed and care for them. They are born with their eyes closed, but they will open in 7 to 14 days. If swelling or bulging is noted under the eyelids, they should be opened gently. A cotton ball dampened with warm water may be used to assist opening the lids. If the swelling is due to infection, pus will exit the open eyelids and should be treated as prescribed by a veterinarian. If the eyes have not opened within 14 days of age, they should be opened by a veterinarian. Kittens should be observed for their rate of growth. They should double their birth weight in about one week.
At two weeks of age, kittens should be alert and trying to stand. At three weeks, they generally try to climb out of their box. At four weeks, all of the kittens should be able to walk, run, and play.
Kittens should begin eating solid food about 3 to 4 weeks of age. Initially, one of the milk replacers or cow's milk diluted 50:50 with water should be placed in a flat saucer. The kittens' noses should be dipped into the milk 2 or 3 times per day until they begin to lap; this usually takes 1-3 days. Next, canned kitten food should be placed in the milk until it is soggy. As the kittens lap the milk, they will also ingest the food. The amount of milk should be decreased daily until they are eating the canned food with little or no moisture added; this should occur by 4 to 6 weeks of age.
Eclampsia or milk fever is a depletion of calcium from the mother due to heavy milk production. It generally occurs when the kittens are 3-5 weeks old (just before weaning) and most often to mothers with large litters. The mother has muscle spasms resulting in rigid legs, spastic movements, and heavy panting. This can be fatal in 30-60 minutes, so a veterinarian should be consulted immediately.Go back