Brightwood Animal Hospital

9640 Old Johnnycake Ridge Rd
Mentor, OH 44060

(440)350-0123

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Feline Breeding Your Cat

Part I: Breeding, Pregnancy, and Delivery

Whether you are breeding cats commercially or simply because you want a litter of kittens from your favorite cat, you'll find that breeding cats can be a fun and rewarding experience. It can also be one of frustration and disappointment. There are many things that you can do to increase your chances of success. Part I of this two-part series discusses breeding, pregnancy, and delivery. Part II discusses raising kittens.

BREEDING

Female cats (or queens) come into heat many times during the year. This part of the reproductive cycle is called estrus. It is the time when the female is sexually receptive to the male. The heat period usually lasts 3 to 16 days with the average being 7 days. If the queen is not bred, she will come back into heat in 1 or 2 weeks. The cycle continues for several heat cycles, or until the queen is bred. Depending on the geographic location, most queens stop cycling and are sexually inactive for about 3 months in the fall and winter.

How can I tell when my cat is in heat?

You'll usually have no trouble knowing when your cat is in heat. She'll become very affectionate, rubbing on you and the furniture, rolling on the floor, and constantly wanting attention. When you stroke along her back, she'll raise her hindquarters and tread with her back legs. Another obvious sign of heat in cats is that they become very vocal. The yowling sounds they make can even lead a new owner to think the cat might be in pain. Another undesirable thing is that cats in heat attract tom cats (unneutered males). Toms will attempt to get to the female and may spray urine on various places to mark their territory.

There are few, if any, signs that heat is about to begin. Unlike in dogs, there is no obvious spotting blood in cats.

What is involved in having my cat bred?

Expect to be asked to bring your female to the male you have selected. Most male cats breed better when they are in familiar surroundings. It is not critical when during a queen's heat she is bred. Unlike females of most other species, cats are induced ovulators. The act of mating stimulates or induces ovulation; release of the eggs (ova) from the ovaries. (In other species, ovulation occurs at a set time during estrus, and is stimulated by hormone levels.)

In most queens, it takes 3 or 4 matings in a 24-hour period to induce ovulation. Once ovulation has occurred, the queen goes out of heat within 1-2 days. Be sure to record the date(s) when the queen was bred so that you can calculate her expected delivery date.

Note: Once you have decided to breed your cat, try to time her booster vaccinations for a month or two before she is bred. This way, you will be making sure the kittens are well protected from those diseases for the first few weeks of life.

PREGNANCY

In cats, pregnancy (or gestation) lasts an average of 63 days, although anywhere between 60 and 67 days may be considered normal. Most queens deliver between 63 and 65 days after mating. To accurately calculate the expected delivery date, it is necessary to know the breeding date. It is also a good idea to have your cat examined about 4 weeks after breeding so that your veterinarian can confirm that she is pregnant, and that she is healthy.

Should I be feeding my cat anything special during her pregnancy?

We recommend that you feed your pregnant cat a high-quality brand of cat food that is specifically formulated for kittens. Continue feeding this diet throughout her nursing period. The kitten formulation will provide the pregnant or nursing cat with all the extra nutrients she and her kittens need. It is not necessary to add any vitamin or mineral supplements. (Several reputable companies produce diets for kittens. These foods are widely available through veterinary hospitals; ask your veterinarian for a recommendation.)

As her pregnancy progresses, your cat's food requirements will increase, so be sure to increase the amount you feed. As a general guide, in the second half of pregnancy you should be feeding approximately 1½ times as much as you fed before your cat was pregnant. Nursing cats often need even more food. Depending on the litter size, your nursing cat may need over twice the amount you were feeding before pregnancy. In order for your pregnant or nursing cat to get all she needs, it is often best to feed her more often, rather than just increasing the amount you give her each meal.

What should I expect to see during her pregnancy?

Other than the obvious increase in the size of her belly and mammary glands, your cat's behavior may change during pregnancy. Even from the time of breeding, many pregnant cats become very sweet and affectionate, sometimes even "clingy." Some become irritable, which may be out of character for them. Like pregnant women, some pregnant cats seem to have a short period of "morning sickness" (vomiting). Once this period has passed, these cats may have a ravenous appetite for the remainder of their pregnancy.

What preparations should I make for the delivery?

As the time of delivery nears, your cat will begin looking for a safe place to have her kittens. It is a good idea for you to put together a birthing or queening box a few days before the expected delivery date. Choose a box that is large enough for the cat to move about in with ease, but with sides that are low enough for her to see out. Line the bottom of the box with several layers of newspaper. Then put the box in a quiet, secluded place, such as a closet or a dark corner.

It is also a good idea to have a kitten kit prepared and on hand. It should contain the following:

  • A couple of thin wash cloths or gauze sponges (available at any drug store)
  • some soft towels or cloths for cleaning and drying the kittens
  • dental floss and scissors for tying off the umbilical cord if necessary
  • a heating pad, hot water bottle, or heat lamp; have an extra towel to cover the heating pad or water bottle to prevent the kittens from overheating or being burned

DELIVERY

Most cats go through the delivery process, or labor, without needing any assistance. You should try to be present when your cat delivers for the first time.

What are the signs that delivery is near?

As the time of delivery nears, many cats become more "clingy," not wanting to be left alone. If this is her first litter, your cat may not want to deliver her kittens alone, even to the point of delaying delivery until you return. In the final 24 hours before delivery, your cat may become disinterested in food. As labor begins, she may become nervous or agitated, and begin panting. Also, the cat will seek a secluded place to give birth. The cat's temperature will drop a degree or two before going into labor.

What should I expect to see during delivery?

Most kittens are delivered headfirst. It is not unusual or abnormal for kittens to be delivered tail-first (breech birth). It is estimated that breech birth occurs about 40% of the time. Each kitten is enclosed in its own semitransparent sac. This membrane is part of the placenta, or "afterbirth." Typically, the placenta is passed after each kitten is delivered. Following is the normal sequence of events during delivery:

Once labor begins, the head (or tail end) of the first kitten appears at the vagina after a few contractions. The kitten is fully delivered and free of the birth canal within about 10 minutes.

The queen begins licking the newborn kitten to tear away the sac from the kitten's head. This is important because, unless the sac tore open during delivery, the kitten will quickly suffocate if the sac is not removed from around its face. The licking also stimulates the kitten to breathe, and removes some of the birth fluids from its coat. The cat may be quite vigorous with the kitten, but it is very unusual for a cat to hurt her kittens in this way. Like babies, kittens often cry or mew when they take their first breath. This does not mean the cat has injured the kitten.

Next, the cat chews the umbilical cord close to the kitten's belly to disconnect the placenta. She may then eat the placenta. This is normal.

The sequence begins again with the next kitten.

How long should delivery take?

Delivery times vary with the breed or body type:

  • Breeds with relatively narrow heads (e.g., Siamese, other short-haired cats) may deliver the entire litter in 1-2 hours
  • cats with large, round heads (the typical "domestic" type) generally take longer to deliver
  • Persians may have some difficulty delivering their large kittens; the queen often rests an hour or more between kittens

How will I know when my cat needs assistance, and what should I do?

When in doubt, call your veterinarian. Here are some suggestions for specific situations:

A. The kitten's head/tail or a fluid-filled sac is visible at the vagina, but nothing seems to be happening.

  • you'll need to assist the delivery
  • take a thin wash cloth or a dampened gauze sponge and break open the sac (the sac is easily torn, but it is slippery, which is why you need the cloth or gauze for traction)
  • gently grasp whichever part of the kitten is exposed and, when the next contraction occurs, pull steadily in the direction of the mother's back feet (i.e., away from the tail)
  • if the kitten does not budge, call your veterinarian rather than continuing to pull on the kitten

B. The cat has one or two kittens, then labor seems to stop.

  • call your veterinarian if it has been more than a few hours since the first kittens were born

C. The kitten was born without assistance, but the cat does not lick away the sac from the kitten's head or do the other normal things a mother cat would do.

  • this sometimes happens with cats that are delivering for the first time; it takes them a little time to figure out what they are supposed to do
  • you'll need to remove the sac from the kitten's head so that it does not suffocate; if necessary, use the wash cloth or gauze to break open the sac
  • if the cat is showing no interest in the kitten, vigorously rub the kitten with a soft towel to stimulate breathing and to dry it
  • use a piece of dental floss to tie off the umbilical cord about ½ inch from the kitten's body; cut the cord just below the dental floss (i.e., on the placenta side of your knot)
  • place the kitten in a warm place (e.g., in a separate box with a heating device) until all of the other kittens have been delivered; be sure to keep the heating device on a low setting so as not to overheat or burn the kittens
  • stay with the cat, and assist as needed, until all of her kittens are delivered

D. The kitten's breathing sounds raspy.

Ÿ this can occur if the kitten inhales fluid during the birth process; you'll need to clear the fluid from the kitten's lungs

  • hold the kitten in the palm of your hand, with its face cradled between your pointer finger and middle finger; use this hand to keep a firm but gentle hold of the kitten's head, and use your other hand to keep a hold of its body
  • with your hands together around the kitten, swing them in a swift downward motion to encourage the fluid to flow out of the kitten's lungs; this movement also stimulates the kitten to gasp and fill its lungs with air
  • repeat this process several times until the kitten's breathing sounds better and its tongue is a nice bright pink; if the kitten's tongue is bluish in color, repeat the process a few more times

E. None or only some of the placentas were delivered.

  • don't worry too much; unless the cat ate the placentas while your attention was elsewhere, they will probably be passed in the next 24-48 hours

Call your veterinarian immediately in any of these other situations:

  • the cat has been having intense contractions for 20 minutes without producing a kitten
  • the cat suddenly becomes depressed or very lethargic
  • the cat develops a fever (rectal temperature over 103ºF)
  • bright red blood trickles from the vagina for more than 10 minutes

Depending on the condition of the mother, the size of the kittens, and the litter size, your veterinarian may manage a difficult delivery (dystocia) with or without surgery.

What should I be doing after the delivery?

Remove the wet and soiled newspapers from the queening box and line the box with soft bedding. If you have had to assist with the delivery and have kept the kittens in a separate box in the meantime, return the kittens to their mother once you have prepared the clean bedding. They will be hungry and she will be ready for them to nurse.

It is a good idea to have your veterinarian examine your cat and her kittens within the first 24 hours after delivery. The veterinarian will check to make sure all kittens have been delivered, and that all delivered kittens are healthy. If necessary, your cat may be given an injection to contract her uterus and stimulate milk production.

It is normal for the cat to have a small amount of bloody discharge from her vagina for 3-7 days after delivery. If the discharge continues for more than one week, or if it looks abnormal in any way, call your veterinarian.

Does premature delivery occur in cats?

Yes, but it is uncommon. When kittens are born several days early (prematurely), they are small, thin, and have little or no hair. They require round-the-clock care if they are to survive. Caring for premature kittens is discussed in Part II.

Do cats often have stillborn kittens?

It is relatively common for one or two kittens in a litter to be stillborn; to die shortly before or during delivery. The stillborn kitten may be delivered normally, or it may disrupt the birth process and need to be removed for labor to proceed. If several kittens in a litter are stillborn, you should contact your veterinarian to determine the cause. Keep the kittens for post-mortem examination.

Do mother cats get eclampsia?

Yes, cats can get eclampsia, or milk fever; loss of calcium from the mother's body as a result of milk production. It is most likely to occur when milk production is at its highest, which in cats is usually when the kittens are older (around 3 weeks of age) but still nursing. Eclampsia is more likely in cats with large litters. Signs include muscle spasms, stiff or spastic movements, and heavy panting. Eclampsia can be fatal; call your veterinarian immediately if your nursing cat shows these signs. The condition is easily treated with calcium, but you must act quickly.

by William M. Fraser, D.V.M.

Brightwood Animal Hospital serves Mentor, Concord, Painesville and the surrounding communities.

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