Guidebook: Guide to Raising Underage Kittens

Chapter 3: Care of the Queen

If you are fostering a pregnant queen during her final week of pregnancy, it is important to remember she may not have a big appetite because the kittens are crowding her internal organs. Feed her several small meals daily, rather than one or two larger meals. Leave dry kitten food and water out at all times. It is virtually impossible to overfeed a nursing or pregnant queen. Food requirements increase up to three times the normal amount.

Prepare a kittening box. Place it in a dry, warm, relatively dark and out-of-the-way place, and put the queen in it. If she doesn't want to stay in it, don't insist, but you can encourage her by petting her and giving her little food treats. If your nursery room is not that warm, you can keep the box warmer by wrapping a heating pad in a towel, setting it on "low," and placing it under HALF of the box so that the queen and kittens can remove themselves from the heat source if they choose. One word of warning: you might consider wrapping duct tape or a cord protector around the cord, as the kittens tend to chew on it! Alternatively, consider using a Snuggle Safe Disk which does not require a cord. Until the queen delivers, fill her litter box with shredded newspaper instead of cat litter. Many cats will deliver their kittens in the litter box. Newspaper provides a much cleaner environment for the cat and kittens than litter. After the kittens are born, you can switch to your normal non-clumping litter.

The Birth of Kittens, or Kittening

The majority of cats give birth with no problem or need for outside help. Before delivery, the queen may become irritable and restless. She will search for a place to have her kittens. Put her in the designated kittening box. She may choose not to have them there, so it helps to keep the box in a room with as few nooks and hiding places as possible. If she has her kittens outside of the kittening box, let her. When she is completely done with the delivery, move them all into the box. If the cat has had her kittens outside the box, don't worry about the "mess" - when she is finished she will normally clean up and leave very little evidence of the birth.

Some cats may want you to stay with them, and will try to follow you if you leave. You will probably have to spend some time with this kind of cat soothing her. Often after the birth of the first couple of kittens, she will be very busy and not so dependent on your presence. Other queens will try to get away from you and hide. Give her the space she needs, but keep checking in on her regularly. It is quite possible that you will miss the birth process entirely. You might wake up one morning or come home from work to find the new family born, dry, and nursing.

Stages of Feline Labor

The first stage may take 12 hours, during which the queen may purr and breathe rhythmically. She may become very active, try to dig at the floor, appear to be straining to use her litter box, and cry loudly.

In the second stage, the water breaks, and straw colored fluid is passed. A kitten will be delivered a few minutes later. The queen will lick the kitten clean and bite through the umbilical cord. She is bonding with her kittens through this process, and learning to recognize them as her own. Do not disturb her. It may look as if her treatment is too rough, but she is actually stimulating breathing and blood circulation. Kittens should begin nursing between subsequent births.

In the final stage, the placenta follows a few minutes after delivery of a kitten. The mother will probably eat some or all of the placentas. Kittens are born anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes apart, so most deliveries take 2 to 6 hours. The average litter is 4 to 5 kittens. Larger litters of 6, 7, or more are unusual.

If a kitten is not born within 2 hours and the mother appears to be continually straining or in distress, call a veterinarian immediately. She may need a Caesarean or a drug called oxytocin to stimulate contractions. If the mother is content and happy, she is probably finished, though there have been cases in which a cat resumed delivery sometime later.

Nursing Queens

If you are lucky enough to have a mom taking care of her kittens, your job is much easier. You need to make sure that mom is getting plenty of food because nursing a litter of kittens requires a lot of calories. The queen should be eating dry kitten food supplemented with canned food and she can eat as much as she wants. You also need to monitor her mammary glands as mastitis (or inflammation of the mammary glands) is a common problem. Her mammary glands should not be overly swollen or hard, should not look red or inflamed, should not be painful to the touch, and you should be able to express milk out of them. One way to monitor the queen’s lactation is by monitoring the kittens. They should not be overly vocal, should sleep most of the time, and should have a nice, round belly. There should be a plan for who foster parents should contact if they have any concerns with the queen or kittens they are fostering.