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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 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.