Pre and Post Natal Care Mother Cats...have a safe kitten delivery!

Mother Cat Natal Care

To help you manage the birth of kittens we have compiled letters that tell you how to tell if your cat is pregnant, prepare for the birth of kittens, handle difficult deliveries. Other topics include postpartum problems like fleas, diarrhea, bleeding as well as mastitis, newborn kitten deaths and tomcats.

How to Tell if Cat is Pregnant

Hi Simba, My cat went into heat about 3 days ago on the second day I caught her mating with a male cat.
Do cats continue to mate until the end of their heat if they are pregnant? I have heard of cats mating even after they are pregnant, is this true? Colette

Dear Colette,
Female cats in heat are induced ovulators, meaning that they do not release an egg until after the act of mating is finished. So if this was the first encounter for your cat, a pregnancy is unlikely.
In addition, female cats' heat cycles stop upon their being impregnated, which of course is the successful fertilization of a female's eggs with a tomcat's sperm (which can take a while). This means the heats do not stop immediately. I hope this helps. Simba

Hi Simba,
I have yet to spay and neuter our 7-month-old brother and sister kitties. We figured we would know whether the girl was in heat. I just read about kitties going through a "silent heat". I am wondering if something may have happened without us noticing. Are there any signs I can look for to tell me if I am going to be a Grandma? - Simba, Summer, Sammy, and Steely

Dear Simba, Summer, Sammy & Steely,
It takes two to Tango. Now, the breed most often associated with a ‘silent heat’ is the Somali. Also, most male cats will reach sexual maturity around 6 to 8 months of age (females can start as early as 4 months). This means that there is very short window of time where something could have happened.

It is unlikely that the little gal is pregnant…BUT, just in case, be aware that physical signs of pregnancy can begin to show at 4 weeks. Look for the following:
  • 4 weeks: Mammary enlargement
  • 6 weeks: Lactation
  • 4-6 weeks: Abdominal enlargement
If you cannot wait, you can find out early with the following:
  • at 1 week: You can do an ultrasound
  • at 2 weeks: You can do X-rays
Let me know how things go. Your Pal, Simba

Dear Simba
I have a cat that I believe is a hermaphrodite (as he/she is pregnant)...Are there unusual pregnancy issues we need to know about? Vicki

Dear Vicki,
Hermaphrodite cats usually have malfunctioning ovaries and testes. I have never heard of one becoming pregnant. It might be a good idea to see your vet and have him examine your cat's birth canal to see if there are any complications and whether a c-section may be necessary. He can also make a determination of whether Kitty is a hermaphrodite or not. Simba

Pregnant Cat With Fleas

Dear Simba,
My 13-month-old cat is 7 weeks pregnant, and has fleas. Any recommendations for safe flea control? Last time, I used a cheaper over the counter treatment, but its directions said that it is not to be used on pregnant cats. Cheers! Jane

Dear Jane,
I believe that the best flea treatment for pregnant and nursing momma cats involves a flea comb, daily vacuuming and the frequent washing of your their bedding at a high temperatures. I am wary of applying chemicals or even 'natural' shampoos to treat fleas on cats at this delicate stage, as these could have adverse effects on the kittens. Using the flea comb might take a little longer, but your cat will love the extra attention of being combed. Be sure to keep her indoors so as to prevent re-infestation. Note that fleas often come with Roundworms so keep an eye on that also. Keep me posted. Simba

Preparing for Birth of Kittens

Dear Simba,
My female cat is 4-weeks pregnant. I have not had a cat who has given birth indoors before and I am worried if it will be messy. I am worried that my husband might freak out if she has the kittens on our bed, which is her favorite spot in the house. He has mentioned finding a home for her along with the kittens (it would break my heart to give her away) and if she ruins the sheets it would only add fuel to his fire.

Where does a mother cat usually nest? How long should I wait to have her spayed after the birth of her kittens? Also, she was a hand-raised cat that was abandoned by her mother shortly after birth. Will not being raised by a cat cause her to be a bad mother cat or will instinct take over? --Shelly

Dear Shelly,
Pregnant cats will decide upon a nest a few weeks before birth. They will usually go for a quiet & isolated spot, where she can care for and nurse her kittens. I doubt your cat will decide on your sheets, the area is just too busy. Your best bet is to set aside a small room or bathroom and stock it with blankets and other comfy things. As for having her spayed, wait until the kittens have been weaned, which is at 5-6 weeks. And as for her instincts, hand-raised cats are very gentle creatures. Her motherly instinct will take over and she and the kittens will be just fine. Keep me posted. Simba
PS Check out the notes below on pre & post natal care.

Dear Simba,
We adopted a stray cat and recently learned that she is pregnant. Can you please tell me how long the gestation period is for a cat? What are the signs that she is about to go into labor/give birth? Do you have any suggestions on caring for the mother and kittens after delivery? Thanks, Expecting

Dear Expecting
Cats have a gestation period of 63 days (pretty fast!). See below for some homework you need to do now.

Before Labor Homework
  • Change her diet gradually to kitten food 3 weeks before she is due (kittens require additional protein from their mother). Try birthing formula if available.
  • Provide her with access to fresh food and water 24/7. Her habits will change. She now eats when she wants to.
RIGHT Before Labor Signs:
  • Mom will stop eating, repeatedly visit her nesting place and exhibit panting, rhythmic purring and restless behavior 12-24 hours before birth.
To Do: Right Before Labor:
  • Provide a comfy, warm and secure for mom cat (fyi, your cat may bear the kittens without making a sound)
  • Keep children and any other pets away from the mom before, during, and immediately after labor.
  • Do not interfere or have contact with mom unless the cat is VERY attached to you (peek in to make sure everything is ok, but do not disturb her unless you see problems)
Have emergency numbers handy should there be any complications. Fact: about 1 in 3 kittens is born feet first, this is not usually a problem.

Problems During Birth: call for help if mom has/is or displays:
  • Fast or shallow breathing
  • Excessive crying or "yowling"
  • Hemorrhaging
  • Vomiting/diarrhea
  • Dilated pupils
  • Discolored gums or tongue
  • Inability to complete giving birth
  • Fever
  • Unconcsiousness
  • Shock
  • Seizure-like shaking, foaming or stiffness
  • Let mom care for her litter as she knows best...Be aware that mother will eat very little and only rarely leave her nest during the next few days.
  • Mom will also instinctively move the litter after a few days
  • Have mom treated with a roundworm wormer soon as the kittens are born. Roundworms and other parasites are often activated by pregnancy.
  • Have her vaccinated (if she has not already had her shots)and spayed after the kittens are weaned.
  • Keep the room nice and cozy (newborns need 80F degree temperature their first few days).
  • Check out Newborn Care for caring for young kittens.
Keep me posted. Simba

Postpartum Diarrhea in Cats

Dear Simba, We rescued a pregnant cat who was dumped at our farm. She delivered 5 kittens and everything was fine until Momma developed diarrhea - and then the kittens did too! They are 1-week-old and holding on, but are not well. Momma has gone to the vet and was tested, but she was too pregnant to have any vaccines.

I called the vet when she developed diarrhea…he has not called back. In the wilds of Idaho there are little options for emergency care. We do not want to lose the kittens to dehydration, so we are supplementing momma with the egg, condensed milk, Karo mix, a couple of drops at a time. We are giving saline solution with karo to help the kittens stave off dehydration.

What else can we do? Would yogurt help the diarrhea? We also have bene-bac for calves, sheep and horses - would a tiny bit of that help Momma? I would rather not take the kittens off her completely, but I worry she will pass something on to the kittens. Elydia

Hi Elydia,
It is common for momma Cats & Kittens to develop diarrhea shortly after birth. This is many times due to intestinal parasitic infections, especially Roundworms, which are often activated by pregnancy. So what to do?

First, treat the roundworms. Nursing mother cats can be treated with Roundworm worming medicine without harm to the kittens. Be sure that you find medicine that is marked safe for nursing moms.

Second, because Karo Syrup is often used to relieve constipation, I recommend that you use Formula #1, #2 or #4 instead of the Karo-based emergency formula. As for momma, consider giving her a little bit of dry, skin-less chicken. This has been known to help in diarrhea. If these changes do not stem the diarrhea within 1-2 days, begin giving momma some probiotics (consult with your vet as to the dosage). In the mean time continue keeping the little guys hydrated and take them to the vet as soon as you are able to. Also, do not forget to have momma cat spayed. Many shelters and local chapters of the ASPCA have free spay & neuter programs for strays. Keep me posted. Simba

If you can, consider getting Bottlekatz: A Complete Care Guide for Orphan Kittens for good tips on caring for little ones.

Dear Simba,
We have a cat, Charlotte, that recently gave birth to four kittens. She has had constant diarrhea since there a reason for this??

Diarrhea can be caused by anything from bacterial infections, intestinal parasites, food intolerance to obstructions among other other things. Pregnancy many times goes hand in hand with Roundworms and other parasites. I recommend that you have the mom cat de-wormed. Also follow the steps in the Diarrhea in Kittens section for tips on controlling the loose stool. Take her to a vet if the problem persists or if the stool takes on a bad consistency (see the stool color guide in the Upset Stomach section). Simba

Can a nursing Mother Cat get her inoculations or does she have to wait until the kittens are weaned? John K

Dear John K,
It is best to hold off on any vaccinations until the mother cat is no longer nursing the kittens. This will occur at 5-6 weeks. If you feel that the underlying conditions are serious you may want to have the mother vaccinated and then place the kittens in either foster care or feed them kitten formula. Do only under the advice of a vet. Otherwise, it is best to wait until weaning. Your Pal, Simba

Postpartum Bleeding in Cats

Dear Simba,
My cat is 1-year-old, and she had a litter of 6 kittens. It is the third day and the kittens look great-healthy and moving around. But I am worried about the mother. She is got a bit of blood coming from her vaginal opening. Is this normal? She does not seem to be too restless or in pain or anything. Nikia

Dear Nikia
This is something of a judgment call on your part. A little bit of vaginal bleeding is normal after giving birth. However, excessive hemorrhaging indicates a serious problem that requires veterinary intervention. Give your vet a call and find out what he / she says. Simba

Difficult Birth

Dear Simba,
My 2-year-old cat just gave birth to a kitten today, just one... This is her second litter... first time she had 5. Is it possible for a cat to have just one kitten? Carrie

Dear Carrie,
Yes, it is possible for a cat to have just one kitten in a litter. However, the average litter has 4-6 kittens and can range from 1-8. The second litter is supposed to be the largest litter. Because of that I recommend that you check to see if any kittens are stuck or blocking the birth canal. Feel the mother's tummy for lumps and look in to see if any are stuck in the birth canal. A stuck kitten will protrude slightly and then retract when the mother relaxes. They appear unable to pass through. If this is what is happening, you can lubricate the birth canal with K-Y or a similar jelly. If the kitten is still not born in 15 minutes, you need to act. First, call your vet. If he/she is not available do as follows:
  • As the kitten begins to protrude, place your thumb and index finger on either side of the perineum just below the rectum and push gently (this helps keep the kitten slightly protruded).
  • Gently grip the kitten and slip the lips of the vulva over its head.
  • Then, with a clean piece of cloth, grip the skin of the kitten just behind the head and pull the kitten out.
  • Be very gentle and do not apply force anywhere on the kitten.
  • Wipe the kitten, monitor it for breathing and place it near the mother so it can nurse.
I hope this helps.Simba

Litter Size

Dear Simba,
We were given a kitten that was said to 6-months-old, 2 months ago. She just gave birth to 6 kittens. I thought that first litters were smaller. Could it be that our kitten was older than we thought and had a previous litter? Also, what is the average number of kittens for a birth?

There is no hard and fast rule that young cats cannot have litters of 6 kittens. Litters average about a little over four per cat. The second litter is the largest. However, some cats may have up to eight kittens! Simba

Dear Simba:
My 5-year-old Persian just had a litter of kittens at the vet. She had 11 kittens, 2 of which were stillborn. The Vet said this might have a world record for kittens in a litter. She had 11 kittens, Do you know if that is a record? Kasey in SC

Hi Kasey in SC,
I have read that a South African cat named Bluebell, who was a Ragdoll, gave birth to 14 surviving kittens in one litter. So you are only a few off the record. Congratulations. Now go ahead and have your mom cat spayed before she gets into any more trouble! Simba


Hi Simba,
Mother Cat is not able to feed her kittens anymore, because her milk hardened. I now I have to hand feed them and they are not taking the bottle well. I am worried on why this has happened to Tilly (mom). She was in pain. So off to the vet, and they gave her an anti-inflammatory injection, and told us not to have Mom feed her kittens.

I am so sad, because Tilly got such enjoyment from feeding them, and the bond has to be broken so soon. --- Very Concerned Grandma

Dear Very Concerned Grandma,
How sad. Mother Cat seems to have what is called Mastitis. This is an inflammation of the mammary glands and can occur with or without a bacterial infection. Mastitis is closely tied to the incomplete emptying of the mammary glands, which causes them to become swollen, tender and hot. Other symptoms include the development of dark-red or purple soft spots with the milk becoming bloodish in color. Because of the risk of infection your vet is right in not letting the kittens nurse from her. However, Tilly is still the mother and will care for the kittens in other ways. The bond will still be there. Keep me posted. Simba

Kitten Deaths

Dear Simba,
My Kitty is pregnant again. She had just one kitten during her first litter. The kitten did very well for the first two weeks and then the day after he opened his eyes he stopped breathing and we were unable to revive him.

Is it possible that my momma cat smothered the kitten? Should we be concerned that this could happen again? She was very good with him so I hate to think she did anything to harm the kitten. Thanks Karen

Dear Karen,
Kittens die sometimes. It is very sad, and a terrible thing to see. While it is natural to want to assign blame or look for a cause, these things just happen and there is very little we can do.

It is not uncommon for apparently healthy kittens to die after the first week of life. Often their mothers infect these tikes with bacteria during birth. This infection festers and can cause internal sores and pneumonia, which are fatal to kittens. Sadly, many kittens are born with birth defects, viral/bacterial infections and have their days numbered from the start.

Remember that the most important sign of health in kittens is body weight. A kitten should weigh 100 grams +/- 10 grams and should gain 90-100 grams a week during its first 6 weeks. Low weight is usually associated with:
  • immaturity
  • metabolism problems
  • birth defects
  • infections
  • nutritional deficiencies
  • maternal neglect
So be sure to pay attention to the runt in the litter. Lending credence to the smothering theory, obese momma cats are known to experience higher loss rates. From what you say, it sounds like your momma cat was a good mother. I doubt she killed her kitten. For your peace of mind, keep an eye on this next litter. Care for them and be a good grandma. Keep me posted. Simba

Hi Simba,
I have a family cat that has had 3 litters. Every one of them has been stillborn. I feel so bad for her; she is such a good-natured Mama cat. She cries for days after, as if calling to her babies. She does not understand how they are born, and that they have to be buried. Please help what I can do for her. Tina and "Tornado" Tate

Dear Tina & 'Tornado' Tate,
How very sad for your cat. I recommend that you contact your local shelter and have your Mama cat serve as a Foster Mother for orphaned kittens. This will allow her to be a mother, something that she has not yet been able to do and will save other kitties that have also experienced a loss. Your Pal, Simba

Hi Simba,
My 11-month-old cat,
or should I still call her a kitten had 4 kittens 3 weeks ago. One of the little tikes died on the 3rd day. He was sleeping, and then started crying loudly and a few seconds he stopped breathing, and passed on to kitty heaven. Do you know what may have caused this? Sad

Dear Sad,
It is heartbreaking, but nearly 50% of kittens that fail to survive to weaning are either stillborn or die within the first 3 days of life. Causes for these deaths include:
  • Premature birth
  • Inutero viral infections (i.e., feline herpes, FIP, panleukopenia, FeLV)
  • Birth defects or trauma
  • Inadequate nutrition
  • Maternal neglect
  • Environmental stresses
I wish you and momma cat the best with the rest of the litter. Your Pal, Simba

Tomcats, Danger?

Hi Simba,
i have two cats: one is a 8-month-old tabby, now pregnant & a 2-year-old angst ridden neutered male cat. I am very afraid that when she has her babies that the older male cat will act viciously towards them, possibly hurting them. I have heard stories where tomcats kill male kittens for rival reasons. If I am right or wrong please gives some tips or ideas on how to prevent any problems. catluvr!

Dear catluvr!,
Tomcats, especially feral tomcats, have been known to sometimes kill kittens that are not their own. Tomcats are un-neutered and usually feral cats. You do not have a tomcat. But the most important thing is that you feel comfortable. Perhaps the best way to get there is to supervise visits between your male cat and momma cat. If you get to a point where you believe the kittens are going to be ok, you can allow visits to continue unsupervised. Keep me posted. Simba

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