Pregnancy lasts for about 2 months in the domestic cat. There can be 1 to 7 kittens in a litter. Almost immediately after giving birth female cats begin caring for and nursing their kittens. Normally, the mother cat needs little assistance caring for her kittens. Kittens are born with their eyes closed. At about 10 days, their eyes open and they begin venturing out at about 4 weeks of age. With good food, a safe place and clean water, a mother cat can successfully raise a healthy litter of kittens.
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Provide a quiet, warm room for the cat to give birth. Prepare a birthing box with torn newspaper. Place the litter box next to the birthing box. Keep a food dish filled with dry kitten food in the room. Nursing mother cats need to eat about four times the amount of calories that they normally would eat in a day. Provide clean fresh water at all times.
Leave the mother and newborn kittens alone for the first 24 hours. You can look at them and make sure there is no medical emergency, but never pick up or hold newborn kittens. The kittens are very fragile and their mother knows how to care for them. Allow her to do her job. Do not allow children to pick up baby kittens. Keep the children away from the mother and kittens since their presence will make the mother nervous.
Keep the mother cat and her litter separated from other animals and your family for at least the first 4 weeks. The kittens will open their eyes at about 10 days old. They will start to eat solid food and at about 4 weeks. If the litter lives outside, the mother cat will begin bringing birds, mice and other animals to her kittens.
Protect the mother cat from unaltered male cats. It is common for female cats to go into heat within a week or two of giving birth. If they mate she can become pregnant, which is unhealthy for the mother cat and her kittens.
Allow the mother to fully wean the kittens at 8 weeks. Some mothers let their kittens nurse long after the milk dries up. It is thought to be comforting to mother and kitten. Keep good quality kitten food and clean water available for the kittens.
Spay the mother cat when she is about 13 weeks post birth. Sterilising her so she cannot have any more kittens will help her live a long and healthy life. Unspayed cats are prone to breast cancer and pyometria, an infection of the uterus that kills cats quickly. In addition, there are millions of homeless cats killed in shelters every year. More kittens only add to the overpopulation problem.
Tips and warnings
- If there is discharge or redness surrounding any of the nipples, take the mother cat to the vet. Mastitis is a dangerous infection of the gland that can cause starvation in nursing kittens.
- Any evidence of seizures or tremors, take the mother cat to the vet immediately. Mother cats can have a blood calcium problem called eclampsia that is dangerous for the mother and kittens.
- Feral cats that give birth outside move their kittens every few days. They only go to the nest to feed the kittens. If you come across baby kittens without a mother, do not move the kittens. Like wild animals, the mother is nearby, watching for predators. Leave kittens where you find them.
- Never give a nursing mother medicine unless a veterinarian who knows the cat is nursing prescribes it. This includes wormers, flea repellents and vaccinations. Check with a veterinarian before using because the medicine may be harmful to the kittens.
- Use wood pellets, newspaper, wheat or other natural litter for the new family. Never give kittens litter boxes with clumping litter. Kittens lick their paws to clean them and ingesting clumping litter causes blockages.