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Feline Pregnancy and Birth – Part 3

This article is about some of the grim but significant signs that something is wrong, along with some of the causes of neonate mortality in kittens. I will also give some basic first aid procedures, for emergencies, if vet help is unavailable. (This artilcle contains no photos / pictures).

If you do not wish to read about the grim side, please discover more articles here.

Where I have given emergency procedures / treatment below:

  • Please never administer first aid without prior discussion with your vet – Vet advice / attention should always be your first priority
  • Do Not attempt any procedure if you are not confident
  • Always thoroughly wash your hands first!

Signs Something is Wrong

These are emergency situations which will require immediate vet attention:

  • If there is bleeding during pregnancy
  • Your queen fails to deliver a kitten after 30 minutes of strong contractions or after 30 minutes of the first bubble sac being seen
  • A fowl smelling discharge is passed during or after labour (some discharge is normal but it should not smell)
  • Your queen seems weak, is staggering, trembling or collapsed
  • If your queen has hard, painful mammary glands
  • Your queen is not wanting to eat or straining to urinate
  • If any newborn kittens are regurgitating food, have discharge from their nose / eyes, have diarrhoea or cry excessively

Important Note

Neonates are fairly tolerant of hypoxia (low oxygen); they also possess a haemoglobin type which maximises oxygen transfer effectiveness. So it is essential to persevere with attempts to revive any kittens who are reluctant to breathe. DO NOT think about giving up for at least half an hour!

Kitten Stuck in Birth Canal

If you can see a kitten stuck in the queen’s birth canal, you will need to seek immediate vet attention. If the kitten is in the correct position you can attempt to help – but please be Very Aware! You can damage a kitten whilst trying to help free it!

In an emergency, wash your hands thoroughly & sterilise if possible, before attempting the procedure. The kitten should be presented head first with its two front legs either side of the head. If the kitten is Not presented in this position or if there is resistance when pulling – You WILL need vet attention immediately.

Providing the kitten is head first with two front legs either side of the head – using a clean, warm towel, you can gently grasp the kitten. Apply traction steadily, in an arc, towards your queen’s hind (back) feet. The kitten should slide out gently.

Never pull between contractions! Always pull with contraction! Always pull gently!

Queen Not Helping Her Kitten

If your queen does not remove the sac from her newborn kitten or if she shows no interest in her newborn kitten, you will need to help so the kitten can breathe. Thoroughly wash & sterilise your hands. Use a clean, warm towel to remove the membrane / sac from the kitten’s face – Rub the top of the kitten’s skull gently, the sac should break and peel away. If it does not – pinch the sac with your thumb and forefinger, at the base of the kitten’s skull – gently! Pull away carefully.

Wipe around the kittens face and remove fluid from the mouth and nostrils. Then hold the kitten, belly down in one hand and rub the kittens back & body with the towel in your other hand (this is to stimulate breathing). The kitten should start wriggling around and being vocal / crying, give the kitten back to your queen and monitor.

If the kitten does not wriggle and doesn’t appear to be breathing – hold the kitten firmly between your cupped hands, making sure the kitten can’t fly out (obviously without squashing it!). This may sound harsh but it is necessary, swing the kitten rapidly in an arc from shoulder height down, then check. This action should expel fluid from the kitten’s air passages. If the kitten is still not breathing – rub the kitten vigorously with the towel and swing again – check – rub – swing – repeat. Keep going until the kitten moves / cries, or sadly until there is no response after at least 30 minutes of trying.

The Umbilical Cord

Most queens will compulsively chew each umbilical cord and eat every placenta / afterbirth. If your queen has not done this after approximately 5 minutes, you will need to cut the cord. Wash your hands thoroughly & sterilise. Use a clean & sterile pair of scissors. Ideally you would use a haemostat or an umbilical cord clamp (Please see * note below).

Alternatively tie some thread around the umbilical cord, approximately 3cm away from the kitten’s belly. Cut the side of the tie away from the kitten, sterilise the severed end – the one still attached to the kitten and dispose of the placenta (if your queen is not eating it!).

*Haemostat – this is a surgical tool for preventing blood flow, used to control bleeding (looks like a pair of funny ended scissors). I’m well aware you may not happen to have one of these at home, so alternatively you could use a sterile umbilical cord clamp or a piece of thread tied around the cord.

Kitten Is Not Breathing and The Placenta Is Still Retained

If a kitten is not breathing at all or with difficulty and the placenta is still retained. With clean, sterile hands, fasten a haemostat/umbilical cord clamp/thread on the umbilical cord, approximately 6 inches away from the kitten. Gently grasp the cord on the side closest to your queen and pull gently. The placenta should be passed all at once. If it doesn’t, don’t fuss, cut the cord on the queen’s side of the clamp, remove the clamp and sterilise the severed ends. Attempt to revive the kitten using the aspirate, rub, and swing method given above.

When a weak kitten breathes on its own, give the kitten back to your queen and monitor closely. If the kitten begins to feel cool to the touch or starts to breathe slowly – check its nose & mouth for any fluid, aspirate again and massage if necessary. Place the kitten on a heat pad to keep warm and attempt to give back to your queen when warm or after approximately half an hour, again monitor closely. If you are at all concerned please contact your vet.

Causes of Neonate Mortality

Sadly, there are many causes of neonate mortality. Please protect neonates and tiny kittens from danger at all costs. If you have other cats or animals at home, you must separate them. Neonates should remain protected and isolated with their mother for at least their first 2 weeks of life. You can introduce tiny kittens to other cats and animals after 2 weeks of age, but ideally not until the kittens are old enough to defend themselves.

Neonates and young kittens are vulnerable to trauma; common sense should be used here, with precautions such as:

  • Safe kitten area and nursing pen
  • Eliminate all opportunities where a kitten could fall
  • Reduce the area or the size of the play pen, if necessary, to avoid any kitten straying from mum & litter
  • Avoid any opportunities for kittens to become cold (always provide a heat pad)
  • Be watchful over any handling of neonates and tiny kittens
  • Restrict access for other pets to get to the kittens

Extremes of temperatures, humidity, overcrowding, stress and inadequate sanitation, will essentially discourage nursing. This could lead to infections or hypothermia.

Neonates are especially sensitive to cold, because they are unable to regulate their own body temperature. If they become too cold their suckling reflex becomes depressed, which can lead to hypoglycaemia and in worse cases, even death.

Prolonged or difficult labour, maternal inattention or over-attention and disorders with lactation can also cause neonate mortality.

Cannibalism

This does occasionally happen and it is considered an instinct over which the queen has no control. It is thought that cannibalism usually occurs when a queen is very young, very nervous or highly-strung and cannot discern how to maternally and properly care for her new litter or if she has a very large litter. It can also happen when a queen senses a kitten is stillborn or weak and unlikely to survive. Intact (not neutered) tom cats may possibly kill newborns due to territorial issues; again this is considered instinctive behaviour.

The Kitten Consort is a small, specialised rescue, I receive no funding & rely on sales from this online shop and donations. If you found this article helpful/enjoyable or you love what I do, please consider a small donation or purchasing something from the shop. Every bit helps me to save more neonates and tiny kittens.

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Feline Pregnancy & Birth – Part 2

The Birth

Most of the time you won’t need to do anything other than enjoy watching new life come into the world. Queens are such amazing creatures and usually manage the birth very well, no mess, no fuss and all alone. Human intervention is only necessary if your queen is in distress or shows no sign of breaking the sac and cleaning the kitten’s faces so that they can breathe. Having said that, it is essential that if you think your queen is having difficulty, you call your vet straight away.

Unless there is an emergency you should try to avoid handling your queen’s newborn kittens.

Warning! There are a few graphic photos contained in this article!

Signs of Labour

Just like humans, birth signs are different in every queen, most however, display the following:

  • Your queen becomes restless
  • Cleaning around the nipples & genital area
  • Often a discharge caused by the placental plug being passed
  • Rapid breathing, deep purring or kneading with paws

First Stage of Labour

Your queen’s body is preparing for labour, her uterus will be starting to contract and her muscles, like the pelvic & perineum, start slackening for birth. She may begin to pant through contractions and make trips to and from the kittening bed before she settles.

Note: When your queen begins to bear down to deliver, it’s helpful to note down the time – if her first kitten is not born within half an hour – call your vet and have a clean, towel lined carrier ready. If you’ve seen a bubble emerge – please see below – second stage labour.

Second Stage of Labour

This is where your queen’s contractions become stronger and actually begin pushing kittens out. Normally you will see a dark, greyish coloured sac, which looks like a bubble, emerge first. Each kitten will be wrapped in its own sac of amniotic fluid (placental membrane).

One of Biscuits newborn kittens after she broke the sac of amniotic fluid

Note the time when you first see the bubble, your queen should give birth on her own within 30 minutes. If no kitten appears within 30 minutes, take her immediately to your vet.

Once a kitten is born your queen should break and remove the sac and lick her kitten vigorously, paying particular attention to the nose and mouth to clear mucous. She will also bite through the kitten’s umbilical cord.

Biscuit during the birth of her kittens

Third Stage of Labour

Usually after each kitten is delivered, each placenta will be passed. Your queen will usually eat the placentas! I know this sounds gross but it gives her a big boost of nutrients and in the wild it would hide any evidence of vulnerable prey being around.

Sometimes two kittens come out quickly and both placentas follow. Make sure all placentas are accounted for, there should be 1 placenta passed for every 1 kitten. A retained placenta can cause serious infection, in some cases surgical removal may be necessary, which inevitably means you will need to hand rear her kittens until she has fully recovered.

After the Birth / Post Labour

After delivering all of her kittens and probably sighing in relief, your queen will settle down and encourage her extremely vulnerable neonates to suckle. It is vital that neonates are suckling well and regularly, because if they are not fed regularly they may suffer from hypoglycaemia (low blood glucose levels).

Biscuit settled down, nursing her newborn babies

A neonate also depends on its mother’s colostrum for Maternally Derived Immunity (MDI). This means, in basic terms, a neonate will receive antibodies from its mother’s milk. These antibodies help to protect the neonate’s immune system, which is immature and can’t adequately protect itself against infectious diseases. Most colostrum transfer occurs within the first 24 hours after birth, it may continue for up to 72 hours.

Lactation

This is the production of milk and normally occurs during pregnancy. Lactation is influenced by 3 hormones:

  • Progesterone – secreted by the corpus luteum within the ovary and causes enlargement of the mammary glands during pregnancy
  • Prolactin – secreted by the anterior pituitary gland in the last third of pregnancy and stimulates the production of milk
  • Oxytocin – secreted by the posterior pituitary gland during the last hours of pregnancy and enables the glands to release or ‘let down’ the milk, in response to suckling by the neonate

Did You Know?

Milk produced by a queen is:

  • More concentrated than cow’s milk!
  • Contains more protein than cow’s milk!
  • Contains twice as much fat as cow’s milk!

Kittens are born tiny, blind and completely at the mercy of their mother, but they develop at a very fast rate!

Help and Advice

Most queens are truly awesome and manage to cope with pregnancy and birth very well, without any assistance. A lot of owners say they didn’t know their cat was pregnant until they discovered 3 or 4 tiny brand new kittens next to her!

Sometimes, unfortunately, complications do occur, with most common problems in kittens occurring either: in utero, immediately after birth or between 0 and 12 weeks old.

If an emergency occurs – keep calm and immediately contact your vet.

In Part 3 of Feline Pregnancy & Birth I will talk about when things go wrong, if you wish to read about it, please go here.

The Kitten Consort is a small, specialised rescue, I receive no funding & rely on sales from this online shop and donations. If you found this article helpful/enjoyable or you love what I do, please consider a small donation or purchasing something from the shop. Every bit helps me to save more neonates and tiny kittens.

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Feline Pregnancy & Birth – Part 1

We have a duty as cat owners to provide everything our furry companions need for a healthy & happy life. If you choose not to neuter your cat(s) or find your queen pregnant – it is your responsibility to provide care for her & her babies. Cats do make wonderful mothers & they usually deal with pregnancy & birth perfectly by themselves. Humans getting over-involved with the birth can upset the queen or harm her relationship with her kittens. There are many places to get help & advice, starting with your vet for your queen’s health.

Me loving Julio (he wasn’t too impressed!)

Litter Size

How many kittens a queen has in her litter depends upon multiple factors, such as the age of your queen, breed & genetic history. For more information, including average feline litter sizes – please go here.

Becoming Pregnant

Traditionally the Oestrus Season lasted from around January until August. Now, however, with human influence such as central heating & weather changes, this has become a year round cycle. This cycle comprises of the queen being in heat for 5-8 days, followed by 3-14 days off. A queen will be in & out of heat until she is either pregnant or spayed.

It is not until a queen mates that she ovulates (ovulation is triggered by mating, via projections on a tom cat’s penis which stimulate vaginal nerve endings in the queen). It takes 2 days for the eggs to move from the queen’s ovaries to her uterus, therefore litters can contain kittens from different fathers. Queens are promiscuous creatures, if given the opportunity; they will mate with more than one tom cat to ensure the strongest litter.

Gestation Period

The length of time a queen is pregnant is usually 63-65 days. I would strongly recommend seeking vet attention if no labour is obvious after 66 days (even though some queens can go up to 74 days).

During Pregnancy

  • Your queen’s stomach will swell to accommodate her growing foetus
  • Her nipples will swell & become a darker pink (known as ‘pinking’)
  • Ultrasound can confirm pregnancy & estimate litter size at approximately 21 days gestation
  • Your queen will nest towards the end of her pregnancy
  • It is recommended that modified live vaccines NEVER be given to pregnant queens. This is because they can cause abortions or birth defects, such as Feline Panleukopenia. You can have your queen vaccinated after she has weaned her kittens.

Caring For Your Pregnant Queen

How your queen is feeling should be your priority. A fresh, clean supply of water should always be available. Your pregnant queen should be fed a correct maintenance diet (her normal amount of food) until the last 3rd of pregnancy or around 42 days. At around 42 days she needs an increase in energy & protein for foetal growth.

Your queen’s uterus will be enlarged, meaning she’ll have a smaller stomach capacity, so feed her an increased amount of food, in small portions & frequently. Kitten food is a good option to give her added protein, fats and nutrients.

Your Queen’s Accomodation – Preparing The Kittening Area

There are many options for kittening / nursing areas and a whole host of different beds etc. So here I will go over the basics.

In the wild a queen would be vulnerable whilst giving birth, her newborns are also extremely vulnerable, so the place she chooses to give birth & raise her litter would naturally be quiet, comfortable, warm & private. I’ve heard many stories of queens choosing areas to give birth that her owners are not too pleased with, such as piles of ironing, in wardrobes, cupboards & even behind the fridge!

It is often difficult to find the balance between keeping your queen’s area hygienic & keeping her important scents (which can comfort her & provide enrichment), for this reason I would recommend you have a small room, which is private for your queen, especially if you have other cats or animals. Where this is not possible the corner of a quiet room can work.

Disinfect the room/ area Before moving your queen into it. (I use Safe4 disinfectant, which is DEFRA approved & contains No Phenols – which are toxic to cats. Or Zoflora Pet, which also contains No Phenols). Please follow manufacturer’s instructions for use.

If your queen does not already love the room/ area, move her into it around 10 days before she’s due. After moving her clean only where dirty, avoid disinfectant & harsh cleaners, leave her scents where you can.

Your Queen’s Room

The area/ room for your queen & her kittens should be secure, so that newborns are not at risk of either: falling out, getting cold or separating from mum & litter. It is vital that newborns are protected from other cats, other animals & danger. Ideally the area is quiet & private for your queen to give birth & nurse her kittens.

Always provide access to clean, fresh water for your queen. Along with the usual food bowls, litter trays, toys & scratch post, you will need:

  • A den or area for giving birth & nursing in – indoor crate / large dog cage / large play pen / large cardboard box
  • Plenty of cloth towels / newspaper / paper towels / puppy pads
  • Blankets (I would recommend having plenty spare!)
  • Heat pad – should always be made available

So long as the area is cosy and prevents newborns crawling out, falling out, becoming cold, getting into danger or separating from mum, it should suffice.

Peaches & Julio in their safe play pen

To continue reading about The Birth, Please see Feline Pregnancy & Birth – Part 2.

The Kitten Consort is a small, specialised rescue, I receive no funding & rely on sales from this online shop and donations. If you found this article helpful/enjoyable or you love what I do, please consider a small donation or purchasing something from the shop. Every bit helps me to save more neonates and tiny kittens.