It shouldn’t happen to a vet’s cat…but it did.
Long story short, I gave my tortie girl, Noni, a contraceptive injection. I had wanted to spay her, but life kept getting in the way. Anyway, I gave her the injection to buy time, really.
We went on summer vacation and returned to find Noni looking suspiciously rotund. Giving her a fuss, I found that her nipples were more prominent. Surely, she couldn’t be pregnant, could she?
A Healthy Litter
All was revealed when, 5 weeks later, Noni gave birth to a healthy litter of kittens — which just goes to show that no contraceptive is ever 100 percent effective.
I strongly support the neutering of cats to prevent unplanned litters, so I felt torn. It also taught me a valuable lesson: Mother Nature finds a way, so surgery is the best policy. On the plus side, I was thrilled to experience Noni’s pregnancy and kittening, and the delight of a clambering litter of kittens.
Whether the patter of tiny paws is planned or not, it’s important to take care of the mother. A healthy pregnancy means a high chance of straightforward birthing, which is good news for Mum, babies and your blood pressure.
Planning for Pregnancy
When the mating is planned, you have the luxury of getting your girl in good shape. Before she becomes pregnant, make sure she is up to date with:
Remember, this isn’t just about protecting her but also the unborn kittens. For example, vaccination means the mother gives the kittens protective antibodies in her milk, while fleas suck blood, which can cause serious anemia in newborn kittens.
Another crucial factor is the mother-to-be’s weight. You’ll want her to be lean to normal rather than normal to well-covered. If the cat is overweight or obese, then postpone the plan until she’s safely dieted to a healthy weight — the risk of birthing difficulties rises dramatically in cat mums who are overweight in early pregnancy.
The First 6 Weeks
Pregnancy in the cat is approximately 9 weeks (approximately 64–67 days). This is best divided in 2 unequal sections: the first 6 weeks and the final 3 weeks.
Feeding the Mother
Avoid the temptation to start feeding your cat up. One of the biggest mistakes is “feeding the unborn kittens” too early on.
Feed the mum normally for these first 6 weeks. This doesn’t mean starving her if she’s hungry, but don’t deliberately ply her with more food than she’s used to. If she’s not looking for extra food, then stick with the same portion size and frequency. If she seems hungry, then fair enough: Give her a little extra, but keep a firm eye on her body condition.
We don’t want her to lay down extra fat right now. Check this out by feeling for her ribs. You should be able to feel the gentle ebb-and-flow of her ribs, but individual ribs shouldn’t be staring out at you.
Here’s a handy list to keep in mind:
- Unable to feel her ribs because there’s fat in the way? Don’t up her ration.
- Her ribs are felt as gentle bumps? She’s doing great.
- Obvious ribs? OK, let her have a little more food.
The Mother’s Health and Well-Being
Keep up with Mom’s routine preventative healthcare, but check the packaging. Not all preventatives are licensed for use in pregnancy, so carefully read the packet insert before applying or dosing. If in doubt, call your vet for advice.
Also, let her set the pace. If she wants to play, then let her. She needs to stay fit and in good condition ready for the birth.
The Final 3 Weeks
Feeding the Mother
Now is the time Mom needs more nutrition. But it’s also when the kittens are getting big and squashing her stomach, making it hard to eat large meals.
So feed her kitten food in lots of small meals spaced over the day. The stomach pressure will make her unlikely to overeat, so give her the amount she can clear at each sitting.
Preparing for Birth
Now is the time to provide a nesting box and get your cat used to it so it’s a “go-to” spot when she goes into labor.
Also, plan ahead and get a birthing kit ready. This should include a flashlight (for peering under the bed), paper and pen (to note down timings) and the vet’s phone number (for advice).
And last but not least: Chill. Try not to stress so she can have a peaceful pregnancy and smooth birth.
This pet health content was written by a veterinarian, Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS. It was last reviewed Aug. 11, 2017.
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