I tend to talk about breeding as something you decide to do (or not), but sometimes your cat has other ideas. There are ways of preventing pregnancy of course, but the best-laid plans can go astray!
Sometimes also someone finds themselves with a lovely kitten or cat that they decide to breed from, but find that when it comes down to it things don’t go as easily as they thought, and suddenly they have endless questions to ask but nobody to answer, and that can get scary, and can put the lives of the mother and the babies at risk.
I find myself answering these sorts of questions more often than I would like, but if nobody else is out there to do this, here are some answers... I’m just one breeder remember, and I’m only answering on the basis of my experiences. There is NO SUBSTITUTE for the vet, so if you are really worried then don’t expect to find the answers on the internet: take you cat or kitten(s) to the vet immediately.
This page will be added to and uploaded gradually over April 2010. If you need urgent help in the meantime that is not covered here, then please contact me.
Sometimes an owner discovers that their young female is pregnant, but they don’t know when she was mated: people write to me quite often to ask how they can tell when their girl is due... This was written in answer to a new Siamese owner, and subsequently copied to someone with two moggies who had had a bit of a party without their owner realising. Both owners wondered whether the two cats they had should be allowed to stay together during and after birthing, and both had questions about how they would know when the queen was due to kitten.
I reckon on 65 days from the first day of mating, but it can be anything from 60 to 70, so that's why we try to sleep with them if possible. I make a kitten box beside my bed and nearly all of them completely ignore it until they're due, and then they go and sit in it, so they clearly know what it's for. It helps if the box has a lid and an entry hole in the side, so it's like a dark cave. They like to feel they can hide their babies somewhere safe and warm. BTW, don't use any heat pads during labour and when they're born: the queen's body temp goes up naturally to keep them warm, and they overheat with a heat pad. Just keep her out of draughts and in a warm box with a good thickness of bedding to snuggle in.
Signs: in the last week they will rip up paper a lot as a nesting activity, so it's nice if there's some newspaper lining your kitten box or in the bottom of your cupboard for her to rip!
Just before they're due most queens will go all 'quilted' and full of milk underneath, but not all. Sometimes they don't do it until they actually start labour, but it's a useful clue if it works - that happens in the last 24 hours if it happens, though I've seen some that do it several days before, so it's not a great deal of help.
Lots of people talk about them losing a plug of mucus before they go into labour: that's something you sometimes see and sometimes don't - it usually happens about 24 hours before delivery.
They shouldn't bleed before delivery, if your queen does then maybe you have a kitten bleeding out from placental abruption. There's little or nothing you can do I'm afraid, just sit it out. Go to the vet if it becomes more than spotting, as it could be something more serious like a ruptured uterus.
There are 2 stages to labour: early labour is usually not very noticeable: the queen is restless. She snuggles down and looks like she's going to sleep, then she gets up and turns around and resettles. This is because she's having small 'squeezes' to line the babies up and it's uncomfortable. Usually though you won't see it, particularly if she's very full and tight. She may purr a lot. They purr to help deal with pain. She should purr right up to the serious pushing. First stage labour can last anything from a few hours up to 24 hours. Sometimes if there's a spare placenta or a dead kitten near the exit it will be expelled during first stage, but that's quite unusual.
Second stage is pretty obvious: she may strain and/or cry out, and she will stretch out her back legs with the pressure. The queen lies on her side and is obviously pushing: you can see her whole uterus bunch up into a big ridge during a contraction. Try not to touch her while that's happening, though some Siamese like to have their hand held (literally) It depends on what she likes. This stage should not go on for more than about an hour without her producing something, so don’t let it go on much longer if there’s no kitten, even if there’s a leg sticking out. A large head, or a back-end-first delivery (this isn’t a breach by the way, it’s normal: about 45% of kittens are born this way round. Breach is when the spine presents first.) can get stuck, particularly if the queen is too small or young.
Have lots of clean bedding ready: it's quite a wet business and there's inevitably a bit of blood. Don't change the bedding too often, but I try to change after the first three, as it's all so wet and the kittens stay cold if they're sitting on wet bedding. Vetbed is good, but even that gets a bit soggy eventually. When she's finished make sure you bed her down in dry bedding to sleep with the babies. You can help by wiping her back end, the babies and the bed with kitchen roll to mop up the damp.
The kittens will look like drowned rats when they arrive - very wet, very skinny and bedraggled and even bald, but they fluff up really well when they're dry and have a bit of warm milk in them.
If your other cat wants to clean up the babies (and the mother) then let her, but try to make sure the real mother eats the placentas as they contain the boost she needs to help her continue birthing and producing milk. If she has a lot of kittens she might stop and have a rest for an hour or more between groups of kittens. I have heard of the last kitten in a litter being born as much as 24 hours after the one before it, but that's unusual. Don't worry if she stops and has a rest - this is perhaps a good time to change the bedding. The important thing with two cats who are normally happy together is not to mess around and do anything that will upset the mother. If the queen wants the other cat to go away she will let him or her know. If you take away a treasured companion at the wrong moment the queen may try to suppress labour out of distress, and that can be a disaster. Let the cats decide.
Once the babies are born see if you can help them to grab a teat if they are not very active. This might be difficult until labour has finished, as the mother will keep moving around. Don't go to bed/leave her until you've made sure they are all suckling OK and she has really finished having them. Kittens can be really stupid about finding milk! If you have a strong suckler you can pull it off it's teat and put it onto a dry one, then put a weaker kitten onto the one that is wet and smells of milk. Their instinct is to push against something that his pushing them away, as that would normally be a kitten on a teat trying to hang on. If you push a kitten towards a teat, it will push back against you, so push it gently AWAY from the teat and it will then go in the right direction.
if a kitten suckles but exhales milk from the nose it may have a cleft palate. There's nothing you can do about this except have it put to sleep. They're often active and strong, but if they can't eat they'll starve slowly, or else aspirate milk and get fluid in the lungs. You can open the mouth and look at the palate to check this. It's reasonably unusual, but as I don't know anything about your bloodlines I don't know how likely this might be. If the queen is related to the boy it's much more likely to happen.
Have some unflavoured dental floss and round-nosed scissors at the ready: if the queen doesn't deal with the placenta and cord you will have to tie it off (tie about 1-2 cm from the kitten's body and cut on the placenta side (obvious, I know, but in the fuss it's easy to get it wrong! I sometimes make two ties (really tight knots) and cut between just so that I don't accidentally cut the wrong side). Dental floss is sterile in the pack and very strong, so it's ideal. Ask your vet for a little bottle of pevedine - it's a safe antiseptic for animals, and dabbing this on any fresh cuts will guard against umbilical infections.
Sometimes the baby comes and the placenta doesn't and the mother moves around trying to get to the baby, but ends up dragging it around by the cord as it's still inside her. If this happens you need to grab the cord hard and pinch it between your fingernail and finger pad and try to pull gently but firmly to get it out. Don't panic! If you can pull with a contraction that will help. Sometimes placenta 1 gets jammed behind kitten 2, and if that happens you just have to try and help the kitten not get dragged around. If you can tie it off and disconnect it that way it helps, but it's difficult if the mother is moving around.
COUNT THE PLACENTAS! You need to make sure that you have the same number of placentas as kittens, as a retained placenta can lead to a serious infection.
Keep notes if you can. You won't remember a lot of it, but if you have notes to refer to it will help later...
in rare cases the mother over-reacts and eats her kittens (another reason that we don't leave them to themselves). Just keep an eye open that she stops eating the placenta when she gets to the cord. I'm always amazed that they don’t eat the kittens’ tails, as they are often wet and wrapped up with all the goo, but they don't. If she does over-react it's just panic: take the kitten, clean and dry it with kitchen roll (have LOADS of kitchen roll ready!) and let her have it back when it’s dryish and she's settled down and not panicking.
Kittens born dead (or apparently dead) can be revived by rubbing them with a rough cloth: wring out a flannel and let it dry on a radiator so that it's rough. They are often very cold too, and I've managed to revive a very miserable looking kitten by holding its body on my hand in a basin of warm water (a bit warmer than my hand, but definitely not as hot as a bath) with the head out in the air, and that warmed it all over very quickly, and it almost immediately started kicking and squeaking. Don’t assume a kitten is dead as they look pretty dead when they come and it takes quite a lot of licking from mother to get them going. Even then they lie about a bit for the first few hours.
Tonkinese usually arrive kicking and screaming and often grab a teat before they are even fully out of the mother. Siamese look pretty dead for the first few hours, so as long as it's moving and breathing a kitten is probably OK.
The mother will probably produce late at night, so don't expect to get any sleep that night. I usually have terrible nights for about 3 days before they're due, as I wake up and look in on them every time they move in case they've started. Sometimes though they do deliver during the day, which is very helpful...
Just in case of the worst, please ask your vet to get some KMR (kitten milk Replacer) powder from KRUUSE, and some rubber kitten teats. I feed by putting a teat onto the end of a syringe, as I find that's a lot easier than kitten-feeding bottles. Get this in now, as it takes a few days to order these things if you need them, and by then it's too late. Don't let the vet fob you off with Cimicat: kittens don't like it and it's nowhere near as good as KMR. I keep it in the freezer so it's good indefinitely, and as I buy it in bulk I get it at cost. If you don't use it you can always keep it in the freezer for next time.