Nesting takes place a few days before a pregnant queen is about to give birth and is a signal of the impending labour. She will become restless and will naturally seek out a safe, quiet corner for a ‘nest’. It is important that the queen chooses her own nest area. When nesting behaviour is exhibited by an unmated queen or spayed female it is inappropriate and should be investigated because it may have a physical cause that requires treatment.
The choice of nest area is decidedly the queen’s and she will be determined to have her nest where she wants to. In the suburbs, if she nests outside the home her litter may be at risk from urban foxes.
Q. My cat has put on weight, and has taken to sleeping in a box of straw in the shed – something she has never done before. I don’t think she’s pregnant, but how can I tell if she is?
Pregnant queens show the following symptoms: weight gain, swollen abdomen and reddening of the nipples, as well as nesting behaviour near the time of the birth. However, these can also occur during a false pregnancy, so have her examined by a vet.
Q. Our cat was due to have her kittens a couple of days ago, but she has disappeared. What should I do?
Although she might have had an accident, she may simply have decided to have her litter away from home. Check all her favourite haunts, such as the garage and garden shed. You may well find her tucked up with a new-born litter.
Resting is the natural reaction of a pregnant queen. A few weeks before the end of gestation she will locate and adopt a secure site in which to nest. She will return to the nest again and again in order to give it her scent.
However, in a cat that is not pregnant, in a false pregnancy for example, nesting behaviour is abnormal and may be symptomatic of a physical disorder of the reproductive system. Inappropriate nesting behaviour in a cat that is not pregnant may be caused by ovarian cysts. These cysts develop when the ovarian follicles do not ripen and hormone treatment or surgery may be necessary to remove them.
- Abnormal nesting can also have a psychological cause, although this is more common among certain breeds of dogs than it is among cats.
- Queens may continue to use the nest after kittening, as it provides a quiet and secure place in which to feed the kittens.
- A few days after giving birth, a queen may move her kittens to a new ‘nest’ and this can happen several times. This practice is thought to stem from behaviour in the wild where it is part of a mother’s attempts to protect her young from predators.
- Female cats instinctively know how to care for their young without any instruction – even first-time mothers.
- When a mother moves her kittens to a new ‘nest’ she uses her mouth to pick them up by the scruff of their necks.