Oh My God I Thought You Were Just Getting Fat!

rx of a pregnant cat
Cats ovulate or release eggs from the ovary after mating with the male cat. (Imgur)
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So you have decided to breed your cat, or should I say your cat has decided to be bred? Or, also distinctly possible, you have adopted or rescued a cat who seems to be putting on a little weight. What’s a Good Samaritan to do? Read on, furry feline followers, and I’ll take you through kitty conception and delivery step by step.

Cats get pregnant very easily. This is because they are what we call “induced ovulators,” which means they ovulate or release eggs from the ovary after mating with the male cat. This is a very efficient system, as I am sure you are all quite aware. Contrast this to humans and canines who ovulate before they breed and hope to time things right. Fortunately, nature has arranged hormone fluctuations for these species so they can time things properly. If you are reading this, it is because you are a cat lover and probably don’t care about dogs or people. Back to the cats.

Before you breed your cat, visit your veterinarian. You’ll want your kitty up-to-date on her vaccines and checked for parasites. These need to be done before mating because you want to stay away from as many pharmaceutical and biological substances as is possible once she is pregnant. You will also discuss things such as diet, breeding, housing, flea control, and so forth with your veterinarian.

Next, find a suitable male cat. Call the local cat clubs or breeders to find your stud muffin. Internet, magazines, and cat shows are good places to look.

For reasons of territoriality, libido, and other testosterone related issues, it is advised to bring the female to the male when the time is right. The time is right when your female cat acts as if she has gotten into your teenagers “cat nip,” if you know what I mean. I love the “emergency” phone calls I get from people who have never seen a cat in heat: “Yes, Mrs. Smith, now, is she rolling around out of control on the floor? Uh, hum, and is she howling like she is a sick cow? Exactly, and is she crawling with her butt up in the air and rubbing on you like she has poison ivy? Yes, well, no, she’s not dying, Mrs. Smith, she’s just in heat!”

About 3 to 4 weeks after mating, your veterinarian should be able to tell if your kitty is pregnant by palpating (feeling) her abdomen for fetal balls. If they cannot tell at this time, we can take x-rays at 45 days because that is when the fetal skeletons mineralize; this is a good idea anyway so we know how many kittens to expect. The normal pregnancy will last about 58-63 days.

Now we need to get ready for the big event. Giving birth to kittens is quite eloquently referred to as “queening.” Such aristocracy. Start making a maternity box for you cat. It should be about 12 inches by 18 inches and at least 4-5 inches high. Put a soft towel in it and place it in a quiet, dark location like a closet. When the time gets close she will seek places where she can get away from the hectic day-to-day life of a normal cat; if you find her away from her box bring her back to it. One of the first signs of labor is a clear discharge from the vagina and a swollen vulva (outer lips of the vagina). Kittens will appear shortly afterwards. The average size is 4 kittens per litter and it can be up to 3-4 hours between kittens. This is OK as long as mom isn’t straining, cramping or pushing too hard. If she does and doesn’t produce a kitten within 1-2 hours seek veterinary help. Otherwise try not to interrupt too much; mom will usually take care of everything. This will include removing the sac and severing the umbilical cord. Just place some food and water in the maternity box because new mothers don’t like leaving their kittens.

As soon as the kittens are clean and dried by their mom, they will begin to nurse. This is where their instincts take over. If you want, you can referee to make sure each kitten is getting a nipple and nursing. It is important that each kitten nurse the first day because the mom’s first milk, called colostrum, is rich in antibodies. Don’t worry if mom doesn’t eat the first day, but if she is not by the second day, go see your veterinarian. It is interesting that to make kittens, the mom needs double her normal nutrition, but to feed the kittens she needs triple her normal nutrition.

Plan on taking mom and her youngs to the vet the first or second day after they are born. Your veterinarian will want to check out mom and her kids and will probably give mom a hormone injection to help cleanse out her uterus. Return again when the kittens are 3 weeks old to begin their de-wormings. When the children are 10 to 14 days old, they will open their eyes. This is when the fun begins, as they’ll start to explore by 3 weeks of age. At this time, you can start to offer them their own food mixed in a gruel with kitten formula. Do not use milk as it causes bad diarrhea. Get the formula at a pet store or your veterinarian’s office.

To wean the kittens doesn’t require much; the mom usually starts to push the kitties away and nurse them less as they start to eat more regular food. Now is the time to start cutting back mom’s food, so she will dry up. When the kittens are 6-8 weeks old, you can decide whether or not to find them homes or keep them all and become a true multi-cat household.

See, that wasn’t too hard. One word about birth control. We in the pet health care professions see far too many unwanted cats destroyed each year. At our hospital, we have never, ever had a vacancy in our cat adoption ward. Never. So if you do breed your cat, make sure you have homes for the kitties before you start. Then have your cat spayed when she is done being a mom.

by Dr. K. Dodds, D.V.M.University of Florida graduate.

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