The period between mating and birth of the kittens is between 63 and 65 days according to the text books. Unfortunately, queen cats are unable to read and they may be early or late. It is therefore wise to arrange to be available for midwifery for about seven days before and after the predicted date. You may also feel, especially for the first time, that you would prefer to have a veterinary surgeon at hand in case of complications. In this case it is best to advise the vet in advance so that a note can be made in the day book.
After mating, the queen cat’s diet should be increased, with emphasis on additional meat, calcium in the form of sterilized bone flour, and vitamins in the form of yeast tablets and codliver oil.
Diagnosis of pregnancy can often be difficult especially if only one or two kittens are being formed in the uterus. It is an expert’s job, requiring identification of the swellings in the uterus by gently squeezing with the fingers on both sides of the abdomen. The time when this will be possible varies according to the experience of the person concerned, but it would be some time between the fourth and sixth week of the nine week pregnancy. Another sign which may be observed about three weeks after mating is the darkening of the colour of the nipples which become slightly pinkish in colour and also slightly enlarged.
As in all pregnancies, exercise should be dignified, restricted but regular, while tree climbing and jumping about the furniture should be discouraged as this may produce an accident. The queen should not of course be treated as an invalid but fed properly and given adequate but not excessive exercise. When the confinement is near it may be helpful in long-haired cats for the fur around the tail to be clipped away. Similarly, hair along the under-belly which may cover the nipples should be cut short, if possible using curved scissors to avoid nicking the skin. Also, during the last few weeks of pregnancy, as the abdomen becomes more enlarged, it is preferable to give the queen her meals in four divided quantities so that at no time is her stomach over-loaded. The nutritional balance of the food should be modified by giving about half as much again of meat or fish, but retaining the same quantity of cereal. This will ensure that the kittens formed in the womb are strong without being over-fat, which could lead to difficulty at birth.
One or two days before the confinement is expected special care should be taken to wash the nipple area with clean soapy water which should be thoroughly rinsed away afterwards. This will remove all dirt, debris and possibly worm eggs which the kittens might take in when they first suckle. After washing, a little oil or vaseline can be rubbed gently into the nipple area to soften them. Excessive handling, especially by children, should be avoided at this stage as accidents can happen causing an unfortunate abortion.
The ‘maternity home’ could easily be the cat’s own preferred basket, box or bed. However, it is common for the queen to look for a quiet warm corner well away from interference by people or other animals in the house.
Cats are, above all, self-indulgent. They will take great pains to seek warmth and total comfort, and of course will insist on only their favourite food. This may explain why one hears such frequent reports of devoted pet cats choosing to have their kittens right in the centre of the eiderdown or cover of their owner’s bed, or even occasionally actually inside the bed. This usually applies, however, to extrovert cats full of self-confidence and self-indulgence. The shyer queen will probably have her kittens behind the boiler, in the cupboard under the stairs, in the airing cupboard, or even in an outhouse. In these circumstances the amateur breeder may be unaware for several days that the kittens have been produced.
If the queen has settled into her confinement quarters, she will probably prefer to use a litter tray in the last few days before the birth occurs as she will probably be passing more urine to compensate for the increased volume of waste products to be eliminated in this manner, including her own and those of her kittens passed back into her bloodstream from the uterus. This litter tray should be kept scrupulously clean, with at least daily washing out with a cat-safe disinfectant and fresh litter. Incidentally, the same litter tray will prove of interest to the voung kittens when they begin to roam away from the box and thev will probably begin to use it at this time in response to then-natural tendency to the neat and tidy organization of their natural functions. Signs of imminent birth are a restlessness with constant wandering about from room to room, and noticeable movement of the queens’ flanks as the kittens inside her change position – this is particularly apparent when she is asleep.