Non-pedigree or moggie cats are usually very fertile and give birth with very few problems but there are occasions where complications do occur. The queen (mother cat) has multiple oestrous cycle (able to have kittens) mainly from February to September. Female cats usually exhibit their first oestrus cycle between 6 to 12 months of age.
The average length of pregnancy in a queen is 65 days with a range of 64-68 days. Development of mammary glands at their abdominal area can be seen usually at day 40. Most pet parents will notice this or the belly gained weight significantly. Then it’s a trip to the vet clinic. The minute it’s confirmed you’d be a “grandmother”, a change of food is required and kitten dry food should be given as it covers the correct amount of protein and minerals required for the kittens and queen. By giving the right food there is no need for supplements. Food intake would also increase second half of the pregnancy. Queens activity level may remain or may not depending how heavy she’ll get but there will be the occasional jump here and there. Your veterinarian would have informed you an estimate when birthing would take place and approximately the number of kittens too. Start building the nest for Queen to get used to by getting an old huge box and layer it with old rags. Place it at a corner of your room where its quiet and away from other pets in the house. Introduce the Queen to that area and she’ll slowly familiarize herself there. You’ll know for sure a day before the Queen gives birth when she paces, very restless then rests for a few minutes and paces again and this action is repeated a couple of times.
Kittens are spaced along each horn of the uterus whereby each kitten has its own membranes, placenta through which it derives nourishment. The uterus can be considered as a muscular, sausage-shaped bag capable of contracting around its diameter and along its length. To help in its passage, each kitten is contained within a tough double-layered bag of membranes which are filled with slippery fluid in which the foetus floats. This protects and lubricates thus providing a distending, stretching and dilating force when the uterus relaxes and contracts during the course of birth. If you can, be present during birth as the queen is usually particular with her surrounding, you’ll get the opportunity to see the kitten slide which is called contraction so the queen can push. Give her words of encouragement during this period.
Parturition means “action of giving birth to young” but, for our young readers, let’s simplify it to The Stages of Birth.
The First Stage (Parturition)
This is the stage of uterine contractions. First stage of parturition averages 1-12 hours in duration, although this is variable. Milk is usually present within the mammary glands or appears during this stage.
Contraction of the uterus may cause discomfort, and the queen may be restless and pant and may exhibit classical nesting behaviour. In addition, anorexia, shivering and vomiting may be observed; most cats seek seclusion during this time.
The uterine contractions push the first foetus against the cervix which is starting to dilate. The allantochorion (embryonic membrane – placenta) may rupture and allantonic fluid may be produced from the vulva.
The Second Stage (Parturition)
This is characterized by increased uterine contractions and propulsion of the foetus through the cervix into the vagina. As the first foetus enters the pelvic canal forceful abdominal straining commences. Bitches (mother dogs) and Queens (mother cats) are often in lateral (lying on the side) recumbency during delivery although some bitches will remain standing. The delivery of the foetal head is often most difficult and this may be associated with some pain; after this the foetus is usually produced rapidly.
The amnion (which surrounds each foetus) is often seen at the vulva during straining. This may either rupture spontaneously, be broken by the queen or is unruptured and the foetus is born. The queen will usually break the sac the minute the foetus is born and if she fails to do so, you must remove it quickly. The time between the straining and the birth of the first foetus varies; it may be as short as 10-30 minutes but may take longer in young queens. Non-productive straining for greater than 60 minutes may indicate dystocia (difficult birth; used to indicate any problem that interferes with normal birth) Dystocia is rare in queens.
The birth of a foetus is usually followed by the expulsion of the allantochorion (placenta) usually within 20 minutes. The subsequent foetuses may be delivered quicky although the interval between foetuses may be up to 6 hours. The time taken from the birth of the first to the last foetus is variable and may be as long as 24-36 hours.
After the delivery of the foetus the queen usually commences vigorous licking, removing membranes and fluid away from the neonate’s face and promoting respiration. If she fails to do so, this can be done by using a clean soft towel. The queen will sever the umbilical cord with her teeth and eat the placenta when it is expelled. It is important to ensure the queen does not excessively chew the umbilicus since this may damage the foetus. If the umbilicus is not severed, this can be achieved using a clean disinfected scissors.
Neonates (newly born kittens or puppies) are best left with their mother during the remainder of the delivery. If they are removed this may be distressing and may inhibit further straining.
The Third Stage (Parturition)
This third stage follows immediately from the second stage and is seen as the passage of membranes, complete with dark flesh coloured mass of separated placenta, known as the “after-birth”. Normally, each set of membranes is passed immediately after each kitten, however, some times the second kitten will follow so quickly from the opposite uterine horn that the membranes from the first will be trapped temporarily and the two sets will be passed together. Also take note that with the consumption of all this, at times, mother cat can have diarrhoea. Nothing to be alarmed as it would pass within 24 hours. Fill her water bowl consistently with clean fresh water and fill her food bowl with kitten dry food as she requires all the nutrients providing milk to her litter of kittens.
Sometimes when one or more kittens have been born, mother cat will cease straining and rest quite happily, allowing the kittens born to suckle. This resting stage may last up to 24 or even 36 hours, after which straining recommences and the remainder of the litter is born normally and easily.
Mama Rose’s Pregnancy 18 October 2019 & Aftermath
Have been feeding Mama Rose at Starling Mall Gardens for a few weeks. Friendly disposition, she ate whatever was given being a stray.
I decided to rescue Mama Rose and brought her to my regular vet. Mama Rose was looking extremely tired. My vet said she’s about 11 months old & would deliver 5 kittens the following week so her nesting area I prepared. My vet said high possibility she was abandoned as she was so friendly for a stray and since heavily pregnant, she was pleading for help.
Mama was already very restless, pacing, lying down wasn’t as comfortable as before. The day I decided to rescue her I fed her Hill’s Kitten Dry & her transformation was within a week! She was looking fuller, skin healed, coat soft and shiny. Eyes bright. She looked good! This is First Stage Parturition.
Mama Rose gave birth on 29 October 2019 at 2.43 in the morning on my daughter’s bed behind my daughter sleeping! Mama has a lot of trust in us as usually cats would go in hiding to give birth. She already had 2 neonates by the time we got up. Poppy (orange) came first followed by Yoda (black) then about 30 minutes later, Snowy (cream) emerged. Mama rigorously licked all the membrane, fluid around the face so the neonate could breathe. Good mother. This is Second Stage Parturition.
29 October 2019 at 10.51 in the morning, all 3 kittens are happily suckling. This is where she ceases straining and rests allowing her kittens to suckle. She accepts water and food and appears normal but has another 2 more kittens to deliver. The fourth kitten arrived the next day, stillborn and I couldn’t revive and her last one came out 72 hours later. Stillborn and no chance of revival. During this period, she developed an infection and a fever and refused to allow her current kittens to suckle so to a 24hour animal hospital I went. This is Third Stage Parturition.
13 November 2019 at 7.56 at night all 3 kittens are happily suckling away. As Mama Rose is providing milk, she requires a complete diet that provides all the essential nutrients for her and her kittens. I gave Hill’s Science Diet Kitten Dry and this continued until the kittens were weaned off at 2 months old.
2 December 2019, eyes opened, huddle with each other for warmth and security. This was the stage where climbing out of their nesting box was play! Still on Mama Rose’s milk. Mama Rose weaned them off on 30 December 2019.
17 May 2020
From Left: Snowy & Mama Rose
7 June 2020
Poppy at her favourite spot on the highest tier top of the cat scratching tower
27 Sept 2021
From Left: Yoda & Mama Rose
All are currently fed on Hill’s Science Diet Indoor Dry.
I decided to keep Mama Rose and her 3 kitties. The minute the kittens were weaned off I spayed her immediately. She is now a happy Mama living in her forever home with a family that love her and has the freedom to do as she pleases. Her favourite past time is to watch games on Ipad with my daughter.
Images courtesy of Mama Rose and her children Poppy, Yoda and Snowy.
Content courtesy of Pet Parent, Meem Siah.
Veterinary Nursing 2nd Edition – Edited by D.R. Lane & B. Cooper