Cat Prenatal and Postpartum Care

April 05, 2018

Cat Prenatal and Postpartum Care

Owning a cat is fun, especially if you own a pair, but what if you only planned just to have two cats and then suddenly, kitty gets preggy? Most people will see this as another welcome addition to the family, I mean, who doesn't want a happy little cat family, right?                          

Feline Reproduction


Queens, or female cats, can become sexually mature from just a few months of age (typically around 4-5 months). If your queen (the cat, of course) has not been spayed, she will go into heat or estrus seasonally, usually in the spring and fall, and will go into heat several times during each season if not mated (due to that cats are induced ovulators, which means they only ovulate when mated).

Usual signs of restlessness includes:

  • Showing excessive affection - your cat may rub around you so much that tripping on her every time you is unavoidable

  • Vocalizing too much - will wail excessively all over the house, sometimes this will keep you up at night

  • Having the urge to always escape - if she is the sole cat in the house and if her cries are in vain, then she will do drastic moves to go outdoors to look for a male cat

  • Estrus posture - usually rising up her rear in the air to tell possible mates that she is already in heat

  • Deflection reflex - you can see this reaction if you rub her lower back, particularly over her pelvis and tail base. This reflex allows the male easier access to during sexy time.

Female cats are not really choosy when it comes to mates and will accept advances made by a male cat. Letting your pet cat outside, or indoors with an unneutered male cat, will eventually lead to her being pregnant, possibly putting her and her resulting kittens in danger due to possible diseases that feral toms may carry. 

Gestation and Queen care

Gestation period last around nine weeks and estrus usually stops after once a queen becomes pregnant. Veterinarians can determine if a cat is really pregnant by doing an abdominal exam or using ultrasound. Enlargement of the teats may be seen from around three to four weeks of pregnancy, activating her mammary glands for milk production.         

In the last week of pregnancy, certain behaviors will show up and most likely your cat will start searching for a suitable place to conceive her kittens. Pregnant queens should be introduced to a quiet, warm and clean area away from the family and other pets at least a week before the predicted delivery date (you can also move their cat house to a much quieter place in the house). Clean sheets should be provided to help warm up the kittens after delivery.

Feed the queen more food, around 25% more than the usual, in the last three or four weeks of her pregnancy. This is needed for milk production and she won't have much time to go and eat while breastfeeding her young. This feeding routine should be continued until the kittens are weaned. Throughout the period, queens should have access to plenty of water, preferably placed in a pet water dispenser to avoid kittens being drowned if placed in bowls.

Seek vet advice before having your cat pregnant. It is important to know if your cat is fit to breed and also the vaccinations needed for her kittens. If your cat is already pregnant, ask your vet about particular care procedures and things to avoid, and if there is a recurring medication (like deworming or flea treatments), also raise that concern to your vet to know what is safe or not during pregnancy.


Childbirth and Kittening

Observation and timing are the key traits of being a successful midwife to your cat. Always remember that you don't want to make any actions that may disturb, make her upset  or  anxious. If facing any particular problems, always ask your vet to avoid worsening the situation.               

Parturition or childbirth is divided into three stages:   



First stage
- usually lasts up to 36 hours for first time pregnancy , and is shorter in queens which have had kittens  before:


  • There are sporadic contractions, but NO straining is seen

  • Your cat may seem to get troubled here are usually repeated visits to the bed

  • Scratching of her bedding and gasping for air may occur on the later part of the first stage

  • Vaginal discharge is unlikely to occur at this stage


    Second stage - lasts for about five to thirty minutes for each kitten: 

    • Stronger contractions are felt by your cat

    • Fetal membranes may show momentarily at the vulva and ruptures. Liquid is generally cleaned by the cat

    • Active straining starts and the kitten usually comes out head first

    • Once the head is out, one or two strains from the cat should expel the kitten

    • The mother breaks the bag and chews through the cord and licks the kitten. This cleans it and encourages it to start breathing


    Third stage - passage of the membranes and dark, fleshy mass of the placenta or afterbirth:

    • This usually follows immediately after giving birth, although sometimes two kittens are born followed by two sets of membranes

    • Make sure to count the number of placenta, that one is passed    for each kitten. If they are not all passed within four   to six hours, ask your vet for advice. Keep in mind that the queen will eat the placenta to cover up any evidence of childbirth, making sure that no predators will know that she  and her kittens are vulnerable at this stage.

    • A reddish-brown vaginal discharge may be visible for up to three weeks after the birth. This is anomalous if it is entirely green or foul. Sometimes there may be small traces of greenish discharge after the kitten or placenta is discharged, which is actually normal.


    Delivery time between kittens lasts about 10 minutes to an hour and stages two and three are repeated for each kitten. Delivery generally ends within six hours after the start of the second stage, but sometimes can last up to twelve hours. It is expected to have between one to nine kittens born in a litter (more commonly four to six). First-time queens mostly have a small litter size. Once the delivery is finished the queen will take a rest and feed her kittens.

    Always have clean towels,  a hot water bottle, a feeding bottle or syringe and some specialist substitute cat milk replacement (not cow or goat milk) handy. If all went well, just leave the queen alone and make sure she has access to food, water and litter box near her, but far enough not to be reached by her kittens.


    Worst case scenarios

    Normally, your cat can handle it all without or with minimal help from you with kittens born five to thirty minutes after a queen starts actively straining.

    Observe your cat for any problems quietly and preferably from afar, making sure not to disturb her.

    Nevertheless, problems during delivery may occur and here are some things you can do to help:


    • First and foremost, ask your vet if you have any concerns or issues regarding your cat's delivery
    • If a kitten is seen partly out (usually the head comes out first), but the queen is very tired and the kitten isn’t passed within a few seconds, you can gently pull it out by pulling downwards with clean hands (disinfect your hands before doing it), but be very gentle and seek veterinary advice if complications may happen
    • If the mother is very tired and can't clean the kittens, you can quickly and quietly clear the membranes from its head with clean, soft piece of cloth. Wipe its nose and open the mouth to clear it

    • Provide warmth if the mother is avoiding the kittens

    • If there is a need for you to intervene at all, it is best to seek veterinary advice straight away, as the kittens may be more at risk of infection or being mis-mothered (rejected by the queen).


    Postpartum tasks

    Always make sure that newborn kittens are always warmed for they loose heat very quickly. Usually the queen will clean then and use her body heat to keep the kittens warm. In the event that the queen is very tired or disturbed after childbirth, there is a risk that she may ignore them.

    In that case, you may need to keep them warm by covering them in light towels or blanket and using a heat pad or a hot water bottle covered with a light towel (just make sure that the heat provided is no more than your cat's body temperature).

    Also keep the room temperature warm and the sheets clean and dry. Normally, kittens will start to suck from their mother right after birth and if it is more than half an hour and they haven't started yet, carefully guide them to their mother's belly. If you have done that but they still doesn't start to feed on their mother's teats, consult your vet and you may need to feed them yourself by giving a substitute milk replacement (much better if prescribed by your vet). Always keep in mind that kittens can't survive for a few hours without milk.

    If there are any unusual situations that may occur to the queen after labour, it is best to bring the cat to the vet for a check-up. If taking the mother cat to the vet, ask them whether you should also transport the kittens with her. If not, make sure to have somebody to look after the kittens at home, keeping them warm at all times or feeding them if necessary.


    First six months of your kitten

    How to take care of a kitten is one of the most common kitten care questions asked and also one of the broadest.

    Here are some basic tips for how to take care of a kitten in the first six months:

    • Under 4 Weeks of Age:

      Kittens are still considered as newborn kittens from 0-4 weeks of age. At this time, newborn kittens are just developing motor skills and coordination. They are also learning how to regulate body temperature. At this time in their life, they count on their mother to feed them and for warmth.  


    • 5-11 Weeks of Age:

      At this period, kittens are already weaned off of their mothers and feeding a high protein, energy dense diet (preferably cat food for kittens). Their motor skills and coordination should also be progressing at this time and be always on the lookout for they can be very pesky and might get themselves in trouble.



    • 4-6 Months of Age:

      Your kitten is reaching an age of adolescence and therefore, sexual maturity. Playtime is still an important activity for them but with the addition of disciplining them if necessary. Your playtime with your cat should also satisfy their instinctive desires, like playing pretend hunting. At approximately six months is the time to plan for your kittens to be spayed or neutered to avoid unwanted kittens.


      So there you have it, those are the things you need to consider, from your cat's pregnancy to taking care of her kittens. It is always best to seek advice from your vet, not just when problems start to happen, but also on how you can do things right, ensuring that your cat will have a safe delivery and for your kittens to be healthy growing up. See also Taking Care of Cats and Their Pregnancy for some ideas about pregnant cants.