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Gestation in Cats
The term gestation means the period when the young are developing in the mother’s uterus (pregnancy). In cats, gestation normally lasts 63-65 days. Siamese cats may carry their kittens for 67 days.
Diagnosis of Pregnancy
There are no practical blood or urine tests available for early diagnosis of pregnancy in the cat. The earliest possible time of diagnosis may be 3-4 weeks after breeding, when the doctor may be able to detect pregnancy by feeling the abdomen (85% accuracy). At 6 weeks of gestation, x-rays are 95% accurate when used to count the number of offspring.
During the first 4-5 weeks of pregnancy, there are few noticeable changes. Weight gain and enlargement of the abdomen generally become noticeable after the fifth week. The increase, of course, varies with the size of the litter. The mammary glands may begin to enlarge during the fifth week, but typically no increase in size is noticed until the seventh week. Milk is normally present 1-2 days before delivery.
During the last weeks of pregnancy, your cat may have difficulty finding a comfortable position and may seem restless. Many queens (female cats) seek seclusion. Occasionally the cat may soil the house because the heavy uterus is pressing on the bladder or colon.
Normally no restriction of exercise is required during the first 6-7 weeks. Your cat should be kept in the house during the last 2 weeks because she may attempt to have her kittens in an unsafe location outside.
Good nutrition is essential to the health of both mother and kittens. It is nearly impossible to overfeed a pregnant cat, since she requires 2-4 times as much food as normal. Harmful feeding practices include feeding raw egg whites, raw fish and exclusive meat or fish diets. The doctor may prescribe a special diet (such as kitten food) or supplementation.
NORMAL BIRTH IN CATS (Queening)
Preparation for Delivery
You should begin to prepare for birth of the kittens before the queen gives birth. A box should be provided so that the mother becomes accustomed to sleeping in it and will deliver the kittens there. Most cats prefer a covered delivery box. Food and water can be kept nearby. Place the box in a secluded yet familiar area of the home, away from family traffic, to allow mother and kittens solitude and rest. Newspapers make excellent bedding because they can be changed easily, are absorbent, and can be shredded by the mother as she makes her “nest.” If such materials as old quilts, rugs, blankets or mattress pads are used, they should be laundered frequently. If you want to know more precisely when the delivery is near, check the rectal temperature twice daily, starting on the 60th day. Rectal temperature drops below 100F within 24 hours before the onset of labor. Normal rectal temperature ranges from 100.5 to 102F.
Labor and Delivery
During the first stage of labor, the mother cat seems uneasy and restless. She may refuse food or water. The cat’s rectal temperature drops, and she seeks dark, secluded places. Considerable howling may occur. This stage lasts 12-24 hours. In the second stage, contractions and expulsion of the kittens begin. Delivery starts with a small, greenish sac protruding from the vaginal opening. This is followed by a kitten and the attached placenta. The normal presentation of the kitten is nose first, lying on its abdomen. Some kittens, however, are born hindquarters fist. After the delivery, the mother normally opens the sac by licking and biting, cleans off the kitten and severs the umbilical cord. You may have to perform these functions for the mother if she refuses to do it herself (see Obstetric Care below). Make sure the sac is removed from the kitten immediately if the mother doesn’t do so. The third stage of labor is a resting stage, which follows each kitten. This stage may last from a few minutes to one hour. Occasionally, 2 kittens are delivered within a few minutes, followed by resting.
After each kitten is born, remove all membranes covering the kitten, clean off its face, and remove mucus from its nose and mouth. Rub the kitten with a clean, dry towel to dry it and to stimulate breathing and circulation. After a few minutes of rubbing, the kitten should begin to squirm and cry. The umbilical cord should be tied about 1 inch from the body with fine thread and cut on the side of the knot away from the kitten. Apply a drop of iodine to the cord end after it is cut.
Assisting with the Birth
If a kitten seems to be lodged in the birth canal and the mother cannot expel it, assistance is necessary. There may not be time to call your veterinarian and drive to the hospital if you wish to save the kitten. Grasp the kitten with a clean towel and exert steady, firm traction. Do not jerk or pull suddenly. The best place to grasp the kitten is by the skin of the back, but gentle traction on the legs may be necessary.
Notify the Doctor if any of the Following Occur:
- You cannot remove a kitten from the birth canal.
- Labor is strong and persistent for 30 minutes without a birth.
- Labor is weak and intermittent for 5 hours without any results.
- There is a dark, vaginal discharge, and no labor or births have occurred within 3-4 hours.
- The pregnancy lasts more than 67 days.
POST-NATAL CARE OF THE QUEEN
- The mother and offspring should be brought to the office, on the day of delivery or the day after, for a physical exam and hormone injection to contract the uterus.
- Fresh, clean water should be available at all times. We recommend feeding “kitten food” to cats for the higher energy and protein level. Feed the mother cat as much as she can eat.
- Try to keep the new family in quiet surroundings and avoid all commotion possible for the first two weeks. Excitement can cause a lot of the problems that are seen in both the female and the offspring.
- Females will often have soft stools for a few days due to diet changes, vaginal discharges, and cleaning the offspring. A vaginal discharge and the passage of blood clots is to be expected for a few days. The discharge should not be greenish-yellow or have a bad odor. Notify the hospital should the discharge persist for more than 7 days.
- Palpate the breasts and observe the nipples daily. Wash with warm water if needed. Notify the doctor of any discoloration in the skin, tenderness, or severe engorgement that occurs. Watch for sores on the nipples as the kittens begin to get teeth.
- Food quantity may be decreased at “weaning” (about 4-5 weeks of age) to help decrease milk flow.
- Notify the hospital if the mother cat exhibits a change of disposition, nervousness, tremors, moderate weight loss, lethargy, or lack of appetite.
If you decide to spay your pet, the best time is about 1 week after the offspring are weaned.