Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:
There is a colony of feral cats near where I live. We put food out to try and help hem. They will all come and eat but won’t stay or be petted. I think they prefer their life outdoors. One fairly young female became more friendly in the last couple of weeks and decided to come in the house. It turns out she is pregnant. She is really rather large. Her nipples don’t appear swollen and aren’t dropping milk but she is very round and we can see kittens moving. We have set her up a box and bed and tray and food and water in our downstairs bathroom and she likes to stay in there. We closed off the doorway with a child gate and she makes no attempt to get out. She purrs all the time and always wants love. She head rubs us and meows too. I have no idea how pregnant she is and whether I should let her out to do her thing. I feel like I should keep her and the babies in until they are old enough to be spayed/neutered. Any idea how to tell when she will give birth? We already have several rescued cats from the colony all fixed, but the local centers wont take the cat and babies without putting them down. I don’t want that! Help!
Thomas: Thank you so much for taking in this mama cat and wanting to care for her kittens until they’re old enough to find homes of their own. That’s a wonderful thing you’re doing!
Bella: Now, it sounds like what you’ve got there isn’t a truly feral cat. Maybe she was kicked out of her house before she was spayed, or maybe she was kicked out because she was pregnant. You’ll never know for sure how she got there and ended up in a feral cat colony, but it sure sounds like she’s been around people before!
Tara: The average cat pregnancy lasts between 60 and 65 days, or about nine weeks. From your description, it sounds like she may be about seven to eight weeks into her pregnancy.
Thomas: At seven weeks, a mama cat is getting quite round, and at week eight, it’s easy to feel the kittens inside her.
Bella: Another thing you’ll notice at the seven-week stage is that your mama cat will have a huge appetite! She’s eating everything she can in order to build up stores of nutrition for nursing her kittens.
Tara: Start giving her kitten food if you’re not doing so already. Kitten food has a lot more calories and nutrition and will help her get ready to feed her babies.
Thomas: During the eighth week of pregnancy, your cat will go into “nesting mode,” looking for a safe space to give birth to her babies. If you haven’t already done so, provide her with a “kittening box.”
Bella: A kittening box can be as simple as a cardboard box lined with towels. Basically, you’re making a place where mama feels safe delivering her kittens and the kittens are safe when she goes off to eat or use the litter box.
Tara: About a week before your cat gives birth, her nipples will enlarge noticeably and may begin dripping milk. Although the milk-dripping thing doesn’t always happen!
Thomas: She’ll also start grooming herself a lot, and some of the hair on her belly might fall out in preparation for nursing.
Bella: Her appetite may go down a bit, or she may take to eating small amounts frequently, since the kittens are pressing on her stomach and other organs.
Tara: Your cat will stop eating a day or two before she goes into labor. This is totally natural, so don’t worry about it. You may also see some slight discharge, possibly a bit reddish, from her vulva. As long as it doesn’t smell bad or look like pus, it should be fine.
Thomas: As the blessed moment arrives, your cat will start seriously nesting and will probably spend most of her time in the kittening box you’ve given her.
Bella: As labor becomes imminent, your cat will start licking her genitals, and may even make some anxious noises. The first kitten should be born about an hour after labor begins. Subsequent kittens should come every 15 to 20 minutes thereafter, until she’s done giving birth. When each kitten is born, she’ll lick it clean and eat the placenta.
Tara: Yes, it’s kind of gross, but it’s very important to let her eat the placentas. They’ll give her the nutrition she needs to continue her birthing. The placentas also contain hormones that help keep the labor process going.
Thomas: About 99.999999 percent of the time, everything goes smoothly during feline labor and delivery. But there are a couple of signs to watch out for. First, if you’re sure there are more kittens inside her and she goes more than an hour without delivering–especially if she starts acting more anxious–then you need to get her to a vet. There may be a kitten stuck in the birth canal.
Bella: Kittens need to stay with their mama for at least eight weeks in order to be fully weaned, but 12 weeks is better. This will also give you a chance to socialize mama and kittens and help them to be nice and adoptable.
Tara: You can have mama cat spayed at about 8 to 10 weeks after she gives birth. In fact, as soon as the kittens are born, we’d recommend making an appointment to get her spayed about eight weeks from that day, because cats can go into heat again pretty quickly once their kittens are weaned.
Thomas: The bottom line: Don’t let her outside while she’s pregnant. She’ll find a nest somewhere, and it may not be as safe as your bathroom. Kittens born outdoors can easily get fleas and other parasites, which could actually kill them.
Bella: Then get her spayed once the kittens are weaned. See if you can work with a trap-neuter-return group or a local shelter to foster and spay/neuter the kittens. They may also be able to find homes for the kittens so they don’t have to grow up as ferals.
Tara: So, how close is your cat to giving birth? We’d say she’s probably a week or two out.
Thomas: What about you other readers? Do you have other tips to help Kat get ready for her cat to give birth? Please share them in the comments!