Breeding from your cat

A female cat (queen) is capable of producing several litters of kittens every year throughout her life. If you don’t want to take on a litter of kittens, or the responsibility of finding good homes for them, you should have your queen neutered. Keeping an un-neutered queen indoors is not always a practical solution: a calling queen may 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 (called a 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 do decide to breed from your cat, this can be a very rewarding process, but there are various things to consider to ensure that both mother and kittens are strong and healthy. 

How do I go about choosing a mate?

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 or veterinary surgeon. The relevant cat club for your breed will be able provide lots of information about breed-specifics and may also be able to put you in touch with an owner of a stud cat. Many breeders now advertise on the internet, but it is worth checking the pedigree of the stud and that they have had relevant vaccinations if you decide to go down this route.  

Before being allowed to mate, your queen should be treated for worms using a veterinary product rather than a supermarket product (which may not be suitable for this purpose), have received her routine vaccinations, and have blood tests for Feline Leukemia Virus and Feline Immunodeficiency Virus. Remember to 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. 

When is the right time to breed from my cat?

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 (from around 4 months). If your cat calls persistently when you do not think she is big enough to mate, consult your vet 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.

How often will my cat come into season?

Cats are seasonal breeders (the process is controlled by day lengthas well as the cat’s physical condition) and so will season regularly from around March to October. Some breeds, especially Siamese and Burmese, will come into season at any time of the year. Most queens will be in season 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 noisier and more 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 behavior is mistakenly thought to be due to pain.

When should my cat mate?

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 the mating is finished 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) is stimulated only by mating and several successful matings over a 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, it is wise to keep her indoors until she is definitely finished her cycle to prevent a mixed litter.

How long does the pregnancy last?

Most pregnancies in the cat last around 63 to 68 days but it can range from 60 to 70 days. Your vet will be able to confirm pregnancy about 3 to 4 weeks after mating - usually via an ultrasound scan. During pregnancy and especially when feeding her kittens, the queen will need more food than normal.

How do I prepare for the birth?

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.

Is kittening likely to be dangerous for my cat?

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 queen's birth canal is too narrow, or if the muscles of the womb are unprepared to eject the kittens. Cats can become exhausted if they have a large litter and a long labour. Other problems can occur if 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 if possible.

When should I call my vet?

You should telephone your vet if there is no sign of a kitten after about 20 minutes of vigorous straining (you will see her flanks ‘ripple’ quite violently as she has contractions), 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 either fresh blood or a very dark smelly discharge coming from her vagina, you may need to contact your vet. If in doubt phone your vet who will be happy to give you advice.

What if the mother is exhausted?

During a normal birth there is no need to get involved unless the litter is large (over 4-5 kittens) 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. Gently rub the kitten’s face and sides with a dry towel to stimulate it to breathe. If the kitten has not started breathing it may have some fluid in its lungs. Hold the kitten gently in the palm of your hand with its head toward your fingers, hold your arm straight in front of you and carefully bring your arm down to a vertical position in a gentle swinging motion to expel the fluid from the kitten. You can gently clear any fluid or mucus away from the kitten’s nose with a cotton bud. Once it is breathing it should be returned to its mother as body contact is important in keeping it warm.

What are the risks after the kittens are born?

Your cat will probably want to be left in peace with her new family for a few days after the birth. Most cats cope best on their own without human intervention but keep a close eye on her particularly if this is her first litter. Excessive noise or human touch may cause a disruption in the bind between queen and kittens, so hands-off monitoring is best if possible. 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 symptoms of illness to watch for include a hot and swollen lump on her breast, a dark colored 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.

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