A Guide to Cats and Mating

It happens before you know it. You turn around and the cute little kitten that you just got yesterday is having a litter of kittens of her own. As most people know, cats are quite good at reproducing. In fact, the average size of a litter is four kittens. For Siamese cats, it's even higher – six kittens. And that's just the average. But remember, it's a good idea to get your cat spayed or neutered as soon as he/she is old enough. Otherwise, you could have a lot of homeless kitties on your hand. Only leave your cat intact if she's a purebred and you plan on breeding her.

The good news is that cats generally don't have problems during pregnancy or birth. But here's an easy guide that will tell you all about it.

How Do I Know My Cat's Pregnant?

It takes about 26 to 35 days from the time your cat gets pregnant for a veterinarian to tell for sure. The diagnosis can be made by ultrasound or by feeling the abdomen of your cat – or the queen, as she's called when she's "with kittens." The uterus area should feel like a string of pearls. At about 20 days, you should be able to feel the small fetuses if your cat is relaxed. Some cats will show enlargement and a pink color of their mammary glands as early as the 18th day of pregnancy. A cat is usually pregnant for 58 to 68 days.

How to Know When Your Cat's in Labor

Since cats usually breed for several days in a row and the length of pregnancy can vary, it is hard to predict a due date for the kittens. There are, however, some helpful hints: Most cats will start to nest about 12 to 24 hours before birth, although some might start as early as 5 days ahead.

If you want a more reliable method, take the cat's temperature twice daily beginning around 2 weeks before the estimated due date. Two weeks before birth, the temperature is still normal, around 101.5 degrees Fahrenheit. About one week before birth, the temperature drops to around 98 to 99 F. At the first stages of labor, the temperature drops again. Sometimes, the temperature can be as low as 95 F.

What's Normal Labor?

After labor starts, it can take up to 4 hours until the first kitten is born. Kittens can be born either tail first or head first. The average time between each kitten's birth is 30 to 60 minutes but it can take up to two hours. Some cats prefer eating small meals between births. This should not be discouraged, and a high-quality food should be offered. Occasionally, there can be a delay of as much as five to six hours between the births of two kittens. After birth, your cat may have a bloody discharge for up to 10 days.

If you've provided your cat with a good quality diet during her pregnancy, she should be able to handle the birth without much help. Keep your cat indoors when she's close to birthing, and set up a nice, quiet area for the event. Then leave the mother alone. Cats don't like to be bothered or gawked at when they're birthing.

But stand by quietly to make sure all is well. If the cat's in labor for a half-hour to an hour and nothing is happening, or if the animal seems in pain, or a kitten seems to be stuck half-out, call your veterinarian.

Mom Meets the Kittens

As soon as a kitten is born, the mother licks him clean. First, she vigorously licks the kitten's scruff to stimulate breathing. Then, she cleans the rest of the kitten and eats the placenta, though this is not necessary. You can remove and discard the placenta.

Keeping the Kittens Healthy

Unlike humans, kittens do not receive maternal antibodies through the placenta. Therefore, newborn kittens are unprotected against a variety of diseases. The transfer of these antibodies from the mother cat to kitten via milk is very important. The kittens must begin nursing within the first 16 hours of life if they are to receive disease-fighting antibodies. It also helps if the mother cat is healthy and had her vaccines before she was bred.