Gestation in the cat usually averages sixty-five days; it is unlikely that kittens born before the fifty-sixth day will survive. Between days twenty-one and thirty-two, some pregnant queens show signs of estrus, which can be confusing to an owner. This false estrus is of no consequence.
At twenty-one to thirty-five days diagnosis of pregnancy can be made by abdominal palpation by your veterinary surgeon, but it will not tell you the number of kittens. X-rays of the abdomen after day forty are the only precise way of determining the number of kittens before birth. The nipples of a cat pregnant for the first time become more prominent and pink after the first fourteen days.
After about the thirty-fifth or thirty-seventh day, abdominal distension occurs in cats with litters of several kittens. The mammary glands become enlarged during the last week of pregnancy and milk secretion commences two or three days before the birth. The average litter size is four. The cat requires little special treatment during normal pregnancy. Normal exercise, even jumping and climbing, is allowed and in fact is beneficial in maintaining muscle tone. Food intake does not increase very much till about the sixth week. It then increases until the queen is eating about twice her normal food intake at the eighth week. As the cat gets larger, it is best to divide the daily ration into two or three smaller meals.
As the birth approaches, provide a suitable place for the queen to have her kittens. Select a spot that is protected on at least three sides and is in partial darkness. Find a small cardboard box and place several thicknesses of torn-up newspaper inside. Such consideration on your part is no guarantee that the queen will use the box, however.
The vast majority of cats have a completely normal pregnancy, but some pedigree cats, especially the so-called thoroughbreds such as the Siamese and Burmese, have a quite high incidence of abortion, fetal resorption,born kittens and weak failing kittens. (In many cases the kittens may e suffering from the effects of a vitamin deficiency.) The types of abortion are:
Sporadic abortion This is associated with hormonal and nutritional =deficiencies, poor husbandry and other poorly defined causes.
Habitual abortion This occurs most commonly in breeding catteries, causing abortion between the fourth and seventh weeks of pregnancy. This type of abortion is associated with the presence of a bloody vaginal discharge :lasting five to six days. The queen appears clinically normal, with no temperature rise. Estrus follows within four weeks of the abortion and a subsequent conception will be normal but there is a high probability that abortion will recur. The feline leukemia virus has been incriminated as a major cause.
Death of Newborn Kittens
The newborn kitten is incapable of regulating its body temperature by shivering. Even in quite high room temperatures, the kitten must be near a source of radiating heat such as the mammary area of its mother or on top of a warm water bottle, otherwise it will lose heat and become hypothermic. The early stages of hypothermia are marked by increased activity, high pitched crying and an increased respiratory rate. The body surface feels cool. Later the crying becomes more plaintive, muscle tone is poor, attempts to suck are weak, and milk is not ingested. The kitten may fall on its side frequently. Later, crying ceases and the kitten lies motionless. Often these kittens are thought to be dead and discarded by the breeder. However, they can often be revived, even after a period of twelve hours, simply by warming them. Hypothermia may occur when the queen is a poor mother and denies the kittens access to the mammary area.
Nutritional deficiencies in the pregnant queen can result in abnormal or weak kittens. Vitamin A deficiency may cause a high death rate without any other apparent cause. The main abnormality is a misshapen chest. Iodine deficiency in the queen may cause difficulties at birth and a tendency to produce kittens with congenital deformities such as cleft palates.
Administration of certain drugs to pregnant queens may produce congenital defects in their kittens. For example, cortisone in early pregnancy may lead to the production of cleft palates, and penicillin late in pregnancy appears to cause gangrene of fetal extremities and the tip of the tail. Viral infections contracted early in pregnancy may lead to abortion or to resorption of the fetus Viruses contracted later in pregnancy can cause meningitis in the kitten after birth. This can also occur in kittens up to four weeks old that contract viruses after birth. Other viruses have been incriminated as a cause of fading and death associated with severe diarrhea and ulceration of the mouth in young kittens.
Navel hernia can be congenital (or due to excess force while breaking the cord). Infection of the umbilicus is caused by bacteria. A condition that has been termed toxic milk, or acid milk, has been described as a cause of illness in young kittens. The characteristics include a crying, bloated kitten with a rough coat. The kitten usually lies with its feet tucked under its body and has a sore, raw-looking anal region. In such cases examination of the queen will usually reveal the presence of a vaginal discharge and an enlarged uterus, indicating a womb infection.
Birth of Kittens
During the first stage of labour, which lasts from twelve to twenty-four :ours, the queen becomes restless, occasionally crying and making frequent trips to the nesting box where she may indulge in some bed making. There is a sharp drop in rectal temperature early in this stage.
Obvious straining marks the beginning of the second stage, and the first ‘Kitten is usually born within thirty minutes. Quite a high proportion of kittens are born tail first; this is of little consequence. Intervals between births may be ten to fifty minutes, depending to some extent upon the number of kittens in the litter. The birth of each kitten is normally followed by membranes, although it is possible for two or three membranes to come out together.
An interrupted type of labour has been described in the cat. Here a part the litter is delivered normally, followed by a period of twelve to twenty-four hours when the queen behaves as though birth has been completed. Examination reveals that further kittens are present but the cat is resting. Labour is resumed at the end of the period of rest and the remainder of the litter is delivered without difficulty.
The Newly Born Kitten
If the queen does not free the kittens from the fetal membranes, tear the membranes from the kitten’s face with your fingers to allow it to breathe. Do not sever the umbilical cord for at least ten to fifteen minutes, as a valuable amount of blood is expressed from the fetal membranes into the kitten’s bloodstream after birth. If it is necessary, the umbilical cord should be torn between your thumb and forefinger about 1 centimeter from the kitten’s belly. Take great care not to pull on the kitten’s stomach, as a severe hernia could result.
Occasionally, an apparently lifeless kitten is revived by the licking activity of the queen. If a kitten appears lifeless, active steps must be taken to revive it. Test for heartbeat by feeling the kitten’s chest between your thumb and forefinger. Clear its airways by swabbing out the mouth and throat with cotton-wool attached to tweezers. Gentle mouth-to-mouth resuscitation can be attempted, but there is a danger of over-expanding, and possibly even rupturing, the lungs. A safer method is to hold the kitten between your hands and slowly swing it round in a circle with the head at the circumference two or three times. Another method is to rub the chest with a soft towel. Don’t be `heavy-handed’—you risk crushing the bones.
Once revived, the kitten should be placed in the mother’s box with a well-padded hot water bottle warm enough so that you can keep it against the soft part of your arm comfortably. The importance of warmth for newborn kittens cannot be overemphasized. If the cat remains calm during the birth of her kittens, they should be allowed to remain with her and encouraged to suckle, as this tends to stimulate her uterine contractions.
Kittens usually suckle every two hours in the first week of life, and after this the frequency falls off to about every four hours. If the milk supply is inadequate, the kittens will appear to be hungry and will nose around the mother, crying continually. A normal, well-fed, warm kitten will lie on its tummy with its limbs relaxed. There is no crying. If there is any doubt about the mother’s feeding ability, the kittens should be weighed. At birth a normal kitten weighs between 90 and 130 grams, depending on the breed and the number in the litter. An adequate milk supply should result in a gain of 10 grams each day. After the first week, weighing should be performed weekly; kittens should gain on average between 80 and 100 grams per week.
WeanIng Weaning of all kittens should commence at about four weeks. Add Farex and dissolved meat jelly (obtained from any proprietary tinned cat or dog food) into the milk feed, gradually increasing the consistency and adding more cat food till the kittens are eating normally. It is important during weaning to accustom kittens to a wide range of foods. Siamese cats especially seem to become easily addicted to the one type of food.