It usually happens at night. One morning you wake up and find a litter of kittens tucked away with mom. Your cat just had kittens. So, what can you do? If these kittens weren’t planned, the most important thing to do is schedule to get mom spayed in about two months and begin finding good homes for the kittens.
If you have any concerns, always call the veterinarian before bringing your cat or her kittens in. A visit to the veterinary clinic can be very stressful and may do more harm than good. The veterinarian will tell you if the cats need to come to the clinic or not.
If Mom Has It Under Control
Keep a close eye on your cat and kittens to make sure they are doing well. Most mom cats won’t mind you touching her kittens, but try to remain mostly hands-off for the first few days. Cats are usually great moms. As long as your cat looks comfortable and all of the kittens nurse, you don’t need to do anything.
When kittens are born, cats will remove all of the afterbirth (membranes, placenta, umbilical cord, etc) and lick the kitten until he begins breathing. Kittens are born blind and deaf. They use pheromone signals from mom to find where to nurse. They should be able to knead right away to help aid the nursing process. Purring will start at about two days old.
In some cases, cats will stop their labor process for up to 36 hours. Although not necessarily ideal, this is a normal behavior in cats. Try to not disturb your cat while she is in labor as this may cause an interruption.
Mom will continue labor when she feels rested and safe, so watch out for more kittens to come!
Issues with Mom
If mom is panting, pacing, has any green discharge or appears to be in pain, it is time to visit the veterinarian. Cats don’t pant unless they are extremely stressed or have a high fever. A panting cat with kittens is an emergency.
Serious complications are very rare when cats give birth, but they do occur. Most will not be apparent until a few days after your cat gives birth. For this reason, make sure to continue to keep a close eye on your cat, even if she was doing well before.
This condition occurs when mom’s calcium becomes critically low from producing milk for the kittens. You may notice panting and moving stiffly. Your cat may also be restless, have a high fever or be disoriented. If eclampsia progresses, whole-body muscle spasms and convulsions will occur. It is critical to get mom to the veterinarian quickly.
The veterinarian will determine the best way to increase calcium for the mother cat. If the eclampsia is severe enough, the kittens will need to be bottle-fed to help alleviate mom.
Eclampsia is best prevented by feeding a high-quality cat food that is formulated for pregnant and nursing cats. As soon as you know your cat is pregnant, check that her food is okay for pregnant cats. Supplementing calcium is not recommended unless advised by your veterinarian.
Within the week after your cat gives birth, it is possible that a uterine infection will occur. You may notice green discharge, neglect of kittens, lack of appetite, panting or a swollen abdomen. This is a rare condition but is extremely serious. If not caught early, uterine rupture and sepsis will occur.
In most cases, the veterinarian will immediately spay your cat and put her on a course of antibiotics. If the case is severe, hospitalization will be required. The kittens will need to be separated from mom and bottle raised until mom is healthy.
Extended Labor Time
Try not to disturb your cat while she is in labor, because the stress may stop labor completely. If she has been inactive for over thirty minutes since her last kitten, call the veterinarian. Do not take her to the veterinarian unless they tell you to do so.
If the veterinarian believes that your cat needs to be seen, an x-ray or ultrasound will be done to determine if any kittens are stuck in the uterus or birth canal. C-section surgery will likely be required to remove any kittens that are having trouble being born naturally.
Retained Kitten or Placenta
Cats can stop their labor process and resume it up to 36 hours later. Occasionally, cats will completely finish labor but still have a kitten or afterbirth remaining in utero. You may notice brown discharge or even be able to feel the kitten in your cat’s abdomen. Uterine infection can quickly occur causing green pus, loss of appetite, fever, and neglect of the kittens.
Your veterinarian may be able to induce labor to remove the afterbirth material. If an entire kitten remains, surgery is normally required. Sadly, it is unlikely that the kitten will be alive by the time a retained kitten is noticed.
The best way to prevent complications from a retained kitten is to have an x-ray done of your cat while she is pregnant. This way the number of kittens can be counted to make sure that all have been born. If you are present for the birth, keep an eye out to make sure each placenta is passed too. This is especially important for the last kitten born.
Mastitis is an infection in the mammary glands that is extremely painful. It usually occurs in only two teats. You will notice pain, swelling and possibly lack of milk production. Although this is a much less serious condition that many of the other issues mentioned here, it still needs to be addressed by a veterinarian.
Your cat will need antibiotics to cure the infection and a warm compress to help reduce pain and swelling. Kittens may also need to be supplemented with bottle feedings if the mastitis is significantly limiting milk production.
Issues with Kittens
Unfortunately, kittens can have birth defects or illness, just like any baby. Typically, there isn’t much that can be done for a kitten with birth defects. Illness is also difficult to treat in newborn kittens, so it is important to do as much as possible to prevent it.
Premature Kittens and Runts
Most litters of kittens actually have multiple fathers. Kittens of different fathers can vary in gestational age by several days. With cat pregnancies only lasting two months, a few days can make a huge difference.
Kittens also can have a poor placement in the uterus, causing them to be the “runt” of the litter. Their siblings get better blood supply and more nutrition to grow.
Underdeveloped kittens may have immature lungs or digestive systems. Without extensive hospitalization, there is likely not much that can be done for a kitten without fully developed lungs.
Mom may also reject undersized kittens, even if they are otherwise healthy. These kittens will need to be kept warm with a heating pad and bottle-fed every two hours to have a fighting chance.
As long as mom doesn’t reject a kitten, she is the best possible parent. Do not attempt to raise a runt yourself unless it is absolutely necessary.
Make sure any undersized kittens are not bullied by their littermates when trying to nurse. It may be advisable to separate a few of the larger kittens for a few minutes in order to give smaller kittens an opportunity to nurse. Make sure to keep any kittens on a heating pad set to low while they are away from mom.
Most owners think of fleas as an annoyance, but they can be deadly to a kitten. Fleas live off of blood and a baby kitten does not have much to spare.
Mom will wash the kittens to control for fleas but there is only so much she can do. Make sure mom is up to date on flea preventative with a flea medication safe for nursing mothers.
If you notice fleas wash all bedding immediately and treat mom for fleas. Sprinkle a small amount of diatomaceous earth in the new bedding, as this is the only safe treatment for young kittens. Kittens can also be bathed in warm water with Dawn dish soap to remove fleas, but this can quickly lower their body temperature and should be done with extreme caution.
Young kittens don’t have the ability to regulate their body temperature. Kittens rely on keeping close to mom to stay warm. Many diseases can be prevented simply by keeping the kittens warm enough. Make sure the nesting area stays at least 70 degrees day and night. Mom’s body heat will do the rest.
If the kittens need to be separated from mom for any reason, place them on a heating pad set to low. Make sure the heating pad does not have an automatic shut off.
Kittens are born with worms from mom. Even a cat who is regularly dewormed and healthy will pass on some parasites to the kittens during the birth process. Pregnant cats should be regularly dewormed with a medication that is safe during pregnancy. This will minimize the number for worms passed on to the kittens.
Once the kittens are two weeks old they need to be dewormed as well. Pyrantel is the most commonly used medication in young kittens. It is available over the counter. Make sure to clearly read all of the directions before use.
Deworming kittens is critical, especially if the mom has not been regularly dewormed. Parasites can severely slow the growth of kittens and make the kitten vulnerable to other diseases.
Blood Type Mismatch
Just like humans, cats have blood types too. Occasionally this causes problems for kittens. If the mother cat has type B blood and the kittens have type A blood the antibodies in the mother’s milk will attack the kittens. Luckily, this is extremely rare in non-purebred cats.
If you notice the kittens becoming weaker, yellow in color or urinating blood they need to be separated from their mother right away. Exclusively bottle feeds the kittens and keep them warm. Call your veterinarian immediately.
Spay and Neuter The Mom
If these kittens weren’t planned, it is extremely important to get mom spayed. Over a million unwanted cats are euthanized in shelters every year. Technically, your cat can get spayed as soon as she is done giving birth, but nursing makes the surgery and recovery more complicated.
The kittens will begin weaning at four weeks. Once the kittens will eat canned food, you can speed up the weaning process. Separate mom for a few hours several times per day. Her milk supply will begin to dry up and the kittens will be encouraged to eat more food.
Once the kittens are fully weaned mom should be spayed immediately. She can go into heat even while nursing, so time is critical. Expect to get mom spayed when the kittens are 5 or 6 weeks old.
When finding homes for your kittens, be sure that their new owners will have they spayed or neutered. Alternatively, giving the kittens to an animal shelter will ensure that they will be spayed or neutered before being adopted. Kittens are highly adoptable from shelters and most find homes quickly.
Healthy kittens gain just under one-pound in weight per month. It is a good idea to weigh your kittens weekly to make sure they are growing well. Poor weight gain can let you know that something is wrong.
- 2 Days
Kittens are still very helpless at this age. They should be purring, sleeping, kneading and nursing.
- 7-10 Days
Kittens will open their eyes, but their vision still isn’t very good.
- 3 Weeks
Kittens will begin to explore and may start to show interest in wet food. Teeth start to come in at this age.
- 4 Weeks
Canine teeth will come in and kittens will be confidently walking. Kittens this age are much better at regulating their body temperature. Healthy kittens are rambunctious and playful.
- 6 Weeks
A kitten can be fully weaned and separated from mom at this age. Given the opportunity, most kittens will still nurse and want to be with mom.
- 8 Weeks
This is typically the youngest kittens should be placed in a new home. They are fully independent but can still learn lots from mom and playing with their littermates.