The gestation period of the mother, or ‘queen’ cat, is from eight to nine weeks. With a planned pedigree mating one can estimate when the birth will take place. But if your pet tabby has mated with next door’s torn, it’s not much use consulting your diary. Watch instead for obvious signs of pregnancy.
Cats like to have their kittens with the minimum of fuss and away from human scrutiny, usually in some dark out-of-the-way corner, where, again with its uncanny sixth sense, the queen cat knows that the light will not injure her kittens’ eyes.
Try, if you can, to introduce the expectant mum to a wooden box, lined with paper, somewhere secluded and away from draughts; in the bottom of the airing cupboard, perhaps, or in a kitchen cupboard, under the sink. But don’t be alarmed if mother cat, having had her kittens, lifts them up gently by the scruff of the neck, and, one by one, removes them to another place of her choosing. However, once the cat has had her kittens, don’t try and remove her bed. This will only cause distress. When kittening time arrives, don’t interfere unless something is seriously wrong.
The kittens should all be born within a few hours after the commencement of labour and the queen will do all that is necessary to wash the kittens and clean them up afterwards. If the mother cat continues to strain without passing a kitten, don’t wait until she is exhausted before seeking veterinary advice.
When it appears that all the kittens have been born and attended to, the mother may be given a warm, milk drink. She should then be left, with as little disturbance as possible, for the next two weeks. By then the kittens’ eyes will open, although they should still be protected against strong light.
The mother and non-survivors
The average litter is three to six kittens; often the mother is unable to feed more than three or four. Dead kittens should be removed immediately. On no account drown unwanted kittens. Take them to the nearest RSPCA centre, or to your veterinary surgeon, who will put them to sleep humanely for you. It is very cruel to take all a queen’s kittens away from her. However, should the litter be born dead, move the mother into another room and give her a fresh bed to help her forget.
If, after giving birth, the queen has no kittens to nurse, give her about two teaspoonfuls of salad oil, mixed with sardine oil, which she will probably lap up herself. This can be repeated the following day, but she must also be given plenty of water, and milk now and again, as the oil will make her thirsty. Provide a light diet with NO meat for the first four or five days; afterwards a nourishing diet to build up her strength.
Incidentally, cats should always be handled gently and, particularly so when they are expecting kittens. Children must never be allowed to pull them about, or squeeze them, during the last three weeks of pregnancy. Both hands are necessary for picking them up, or carrying them, so that the hindquarters are well supported. Kittens should never be lifted up by the skin, or scruff, of the neck, except by the mother cat.