A female cat (queen) can produce several litters of kittens every year throughout her life. If you don’t want the responsibility of finding good homes for the kittens you should have your queen neutered. Keeping an un-neutered queen indoors is not a good answer to the problem. A calling queen will keep you and your neighbours awake and will do her best to escape at every opportunity. There is also a risk of infection developing in your cat’s uterus (pyometra) if she is neither neutered or bred from, and cancer of the mammary gland (breast cancer) is more common in un-neutered cats. If you decide to breed from your cat there are various things to consider to make sure that both mother and kittens are strong and healthy.
Any un-neutered female cat that is allowed out of doors will find her own mate but you may wish to have some say in this choice, particularly if your cat is a pedigree! Certain breeds such as Siamese and Persians are more likely to have problems in giving birth, so get advice from an experienced breeder. It is also a good idea to join the relevant cat club for your breed. A breeder should be able to suggest a stud cat that is known to produce healthy offspring.
Before being allowed to mate, your queen should be treated for worms, have received her routine vaccinations, and have blood tests for Feline Leukaemia Virus and Feline Immunodeficiency Virus. Ask the owner of the stud cat for proof that he has been tested for these viruses and is up to date with his vaccinations.
If you let your cat out she will probably be mated before you know she is calling, but it is better not to allow your cat to have kittens until she is fully grown. Some cats are sexually mature at an early age and can, if held back for too long, lose condition.
If your cat calls persistently when you do not think she is big enough to mate, consult your veterinary surgeon for advice. Your cat can have a hormone injection or tablets to prevent pregnancy before she is fully grown, but this may affect her future fertility and is not recommended by vets except in exceptional circumstances.
Most queens will have regular seasons throughout the year, apart from the winter months (November to February) – the process is controlled by day length and the cat’s general physical condition. Some breeds, especially Siamese and Burmese, will come into season at any time of the year.
Most queens will be in season (cycle) for between three and ten days and if they do not become pregnant will return to season about four weeks later. This varies between individuals and the oriental breeds, in particular, may cycle more frequently.
A queen in season will become more noisy and affectionate than usual. She will roll around on the floor and raise her hind quarters in the air, when her back is stroked. Sometimes the noise and unusual behaviour is mistakenly thought to be due to pain.
Queens are usually taken to the stud cat to be mated around the second day of their week long season. At other times she will probably be unreceptive and could fight with the stud cat. The queen should be introduced to the stud cat with caution. Mating is short and surprisingly violent – the tomcat grips the queen by the scruff of the neck as she lies on the floor with her rear raised and after mating she will hiss, roll around the floor and attack the stud unless he leaps out of the way.
The release of eggs from the ovaries (ovulation) occurs only after mating and several matings over three or four day period may be required. On returning home your queen may still be sexually receptive. As the queen is capable of having a mixed litter of kittens sired by several tomcats keep her indoors for a few days.
Most pregnancies in the cat last between 63 and 68 days but it can be between 60 and 70. Your vet will be able to confirm pregnancy about three weeks after mating. During pregnancy and especially when feeding her kittens, the queen will need more food than normal.
During pregnancy the behaviour of some queens will change. She may demand more attention or become more independent. When her time is near the queen will look for a suitable place to give birth. Line a cardboard box with newspaper or old towels and put it somewhere warm and quiet.
Problems in giving birth are much less common in cats than in women and queens usually do not need human assistance. However, occasionally there may be problems if the mother’s birth canal is too narrow, she is exhausted after a long labour or the muscles of the womb being unprepared to eject the kittens. Sometimes a kitten is abnormally large, has some other defect or it is badly positioned in the womb. These cases may require urgent veterinary attention to save both mother and kittens, so a queen should be watched during her kittening.
You should telephone your vet if there is no sign of a kitten after about 20 minutes of vigorous straining, or if a kitten is visible but has still not been born within about 10 minutes. If the mother seems feverish, lethargic or there are substantial amounts of fresh blood coming out of her vagina, you may need to contact your vet. If in doubt phone your vet who will be happy to give you advice.
During a normal birth there is no need to get involved unless the litter is large and the mother is clearly tired. If the mother does not move when a kitten appears some basic midwifery may help. Pull the birth membranes away from the kitten’s nose and tear (do not cut) the umbilical cord about an inch from the body. Tearing the cord leaves a ragged edge which helps to prevent excessive loss of blood.
If the kitten has not started breathing it may have fluid in its lungs. Hold the kitten in the palm of your hand with its head toward your fingers, hold your arm straight infront of you and bring your arm down to a vertical position in a firm but gentle swinging motion to expel the fluid from the kitten. Gently rubbing the kitten’s face and belly with a dry towel will help stimulate it to breathe. Once it is breathing it should be returned to its mother as body contact is important in keeping it warm.
Your cat will probably want to be left in peace with her new family for a few days after the birth. Most cats cope well on their own but keep a close eye on her particularly if this is her first litter. There are a number of rare complications that can affect a mother cat in the days immediately following the birth.
Contact your vet if your cat appears unusually restless, in pain, or shows signs of poor coordination and muscle spasms. Other indications of possible problems include a hot and swollen lump on her breast, a dark coloured discharge from her vagina or any unusual swellings in the vaginal area.
Pregnancy and kittening are natural processes for cats and are rarely associated with problems. Try not to intervene but keep a close eye on her and call your vet for advice if you are worried.