If your cat has symptoms such as enlarged and reddened nipples, a maternal attitude, an increase in weight and appetite or a swollen abdomen, she is very likely to be pregnant.
To be sure, it is advisable to consult your vet who, with an ultrasound or an X-ray, or simply by palpating the abdomen, can give us confirmation.
A cat’s pregnancy usually lasts between 64 and 68 days. During this period she will need to take a well-balanced and abundant meals, although it is better not to overfeed her or give her drugs that may be harmful to her kittens (vaccinations and vermifuge in particular).
As the end of the pregnancy approaches, the cat becomes restless and begins to look for a warm, quiet and secluded place to give birth to her kittens. If she then lives in the house, we should not be surprised to find her in closets, in the drawers, in the narrowest corners: she is just looking for the most suitable place for the birth.
How can you help her?
In the period before the birth it is better to keep the cat inside the house, to avoid that she decides to find a place outdoors to give birth to her kittens.
Pet shops come to our aid: they have a lot of baskets for this purpose. Otherwise we can prepare a kennel for childbirth, using a cardboard box or a box with not too high edges, lined with sheets of newspaper and a soft cloth.
The kennel should then be placed in a secluded place, away from the activities of the family, but not completely isolated. It is important to make the cat understand that the space prepared is the one in which she will have to keep her young: usually the almost-mothers accept willingly, otherwise it is better to move the box in a place more pleasing to them.
In the last weeks of pregnancy the cat may need help to clean her: it will be necessary to brush her gently and check that her nipples are free from hair residue (if the cat has long hair, it is better to shave it around the breasts and vulva).
From 12 to 24 hours before the birth (labor phase) the cat is placed in the kennel. The birth can last from 12 to 24 hours: if the cat is disturbed, she can stop and decide to resume only when she is quiet.
If your cat is at her first calving, she may be in trouble. If the placenta bag of one of the kittens (usually 1 to 8 per litter, with an average of 4) breaks down on the way out, help her to free herself. If we see that mummy cat does not clean her babies, we will have to do it using cleaning wipes.
If, however, since labor, the cat seems to be in trouble and you fear complications, it is advisable to contact the vet immediately, who can help the animal and decide, if necessary, to make the caesarean section.
In the first days of life, kittens drink colostrum, a very dense liquid rich in proteins, fats, minerals and antibodies, which is essential not only to ensure their rapid growth but also to protect them from disease, since newborns do not yet have a fully developed immune system. Only after four or five days does colostrum become real milk.
Breastfeeding lasts from 40 to 60 days, after which the cat will have no more milk. Each feeding lasts about 20 minutes and is repeated every half hour. During breast-feeding, the cat is able to provide her kittens with a large quantity of milk, which is sufficient to feed them both in terms of quantity and quality. Milk production varies according to the number of kittens, but remains stable until the fifth week of breastfeeding, after which it begins to decrease until it runs out.
Breastfeeding is very important when you consider how fast your kitten grows: this characteristic is due to the nutritional richness of mother-cat’s milk.
In turn, the particular nutritional capacity of milk depends on the stage of breastfeeding, the position of the breasts (it is said that the latter are the richest in milk) and the feeding of the kitten.
An adequate diet is the essential condition to allow the cat to be able to breastfeed her kittens: she will have to eat several times a day (4 or 5 times) foods rich in protein (industrial foods are fine in addition to eggs, cheese, meat or milk for cats), which may be associated with dietary supplements of calcium-phosphorus, magnesium, and vitamin C.
However, situations may arise in which the cat is no longer able to breastfeed her kittens: it may happen that she does not have enough milk for all her kittens, or be affected by mastitis (bacterial infection by streptococci or staphylococci to the udder) or, in extreme cases, orphan her kittens.
In these cases, if the kittens are at least three weeks old, they can be weaned, but if they are smaller they will need to use commercially available formula milk. It has the same nutritional qualities as mother-cat’s milk and will be administered to kittens with special feeding bottles for nursing kittens.
Kittens in the first days of life need frequent meals: one feed every 2 hours, then every 4 hours, then to decrease until the third week of life, when weaning will begin.
In the case of orphaned kittens we must guarantee them the same care they would have received from their mother: in addition to feeding them with artificial milk, we must keep them as warm as possible (you can use heaters or infrared lamps as heat sources), since cooling is the main cause of mortality of kittens, and ensure their hygiene (the mother would clean them during growth), taking care to clean their belly and genitals after each feeding.
How to recognize it
The cat has a seasonal polyestrous cycle, i.e. it has repeated estral cycles, interspersed with periods of inactivity. This means that, in these periods, there are several moments of heat.
The manifestations of oestrus have variable intensity. In any case, we can understand that our cat is in heat when it emits characteristic meows, rolls on the ground continuously, rubs against objects or people, asks for more caresses, flattens frequently on the ground drumming on the hind legs.
Depending on the races, the duration of the oestrum varies from 3 to 14 days, even if, on average, it lasts from 5 to 8 days. In this period, the cat is ready for mating: it can accept up to thirty mount per day.
The end of the oestrum often coincides with the beginning of the pregnancy. But how to understand if our cat waits for the puppies? What are the symptoms of pregnancy?
In the days following mating, it is not possible to determine with certainty whether the cat is pregnant. Only around the third week it is possible to recognize the first symptoms that confirm pregnancy: the cat has a swollen abdomen, her nipples increase in volume and are reddened, she increases her appetite, she has a maternal attitude.
The vet can also confirm the pregnancy through an ultrasound (from the 18th day of gestation), through abdominal palpation, since the profile of the cat will be modified by the presence of kittens, or with an X-ray. Today it is not yet possible to certify the pregnancy of a cat through a simple urine analysis.
When the birth approaches, the cat begins to look for a warm and quiet place to give birth to her kittens. In addition, in these days, she moves less willingly, her belly is increasingly voluminous and the breasts begin to produce milk. Not only that, often we can find her in the closet, in the drawers, between the boxes of our shoes: they are the places she prefers to give birth.
Then it will be good to help her to prepare the most suitable kennel for her needs: she will be grateful!