Breeding, Pregnancy, and Queening

dystocia | preventing dystocia | pseudopregnancy | abortion | queening | pre-queening supplies

Introduction: The following information will help owners of female cats give proper aid to mother and kittens during delivery. This discussion also includes information on maintaining the proper health and nutrition of the mother and kittens before, during, and after birth.

Breeding a Cat:

Cats are "long day" breeders. This means that they usually cycle between February and September when the days are longer. Cats usually cycle every 2-3 weeks during this time if they are not bred. It is recommended prior to breeding, that the queen be scheduled for routine examinations by a veterinarian. Continued examinations are recommended once during each trimester, post-queening, and 2-4 weeks into lactation. Important topics such as body condition score, nutrition, pregnancy detection, fetal health assessment and count, dystocia risk assessment, kitten health and well-being, lactation, and recovery can all be addressed during these visits. Many problems and disappointments can be avoided by using the services of a trained professional during the pregnancy, queening, and lactation period. See preventing dystocia below for additional suggestions.


Normal Pregnancy:

Gestation: The average gestation time for cats is 56 to 67 days. The due date should be calculated to be between 63 days from the first breeding and 65 days after the last breeding.

Pregnancy is divided into trimesters. The majority of maternal weight gain during pregnancy occurs during the second and third trimesters. Nutritional needs increase during the third trimester and continue throughout lactation.

Detection of Pregnancy: This can be accomplished through a variety of procedures. The most simple method of pregnancy detection is through abdominal palpation by a trained professional. The optimal time for pregnancy detection by palpation is approximately 19 to 28 days after breeding. Palpation cannot accurately assess fetal health or number, and its success is dependent on the size and temperament of the female. Abdominal ultrasound is the most accurate method of pregnancy detection before the third trimester. Ultrasound can detect the first evidence of pregnancy as early as 20-25 days after breeding and can be used as an assessment of fetal health or stress. Accurate fetal counts are difficult in the larger litters, however. Abdominal radiographs taken well into the third trimester are the most accurate method of estimating litter size, and can detect some problems such as fetal death or oversized kittens.

Nutrition: Nutritional requirements of the female increase during gestation and lactation, especially during the third trimester of pregnancy and the first 4 weeks of lactation. Nutritional requirements are greater for females with larger litters. Environmental temperature, activity of the queen, and other factors which affect metabolism also determine the nutritional requirements during pregnancy and lactation. Feeding a high-quality diet during this critical time is probably the most important decision about nutrition the owner can make.

It has been recommended that the diet for females in the last 4 weeks of gestation and first 4 weeks of lactation should contain at least 35% protein and 17% fat on a dry-matter basis (see table on page A575).

Supplementation with a quality multiple vitamin-mineral product during pregnancy and lactation, given according to label instructions, is generally considered safe. Supplementation is not as critical as providing a high quality diet which meets the above criteria.

This high quality diet should be introduced gradually during midpregnancy and continued through the end of lactation. With the help of a veterinarian, daily intake should be initially calculated based on weight, then adjusted based on individual variation and caloric needs. The daily intake is generally divided into two daily feedings. After queening (giving birth), the food intake should be accelerated by increasing meal size and frequency. Water may be added and food may be warmed to enhance taste. A quality multiple vitamin-mineral supplement may be given during this period. It is highly recommended that the owner consult with a veterinarian regarding the nutritional needs of pregnant and lactating cats. See page A575 for additional information on nutrition.

Adequate nutrition for the mother is essential during pregnancy and lactation. Failure to provide sufficient nutrition can result in small, weak kittens that are prone to disease


Parturition (delivery) - stages of labor:

  1. Stage 1 - First-stage labor is defined as the period of time were the cervix dilates and early uterine contractions occur. Signs of first-stage labor include decreased appetite, nesting, seeking seclusion, restlessness, vocalization, and frequent trips to the litter box, where she may strain as if to pass stool, or nest. Typically this stage lasts for 2-12 hours in most cats, although it may begin as early as 48 hours prior to actually giving birth.

  2. Stage 2 - Second-stage labor consists of the delivery of each kitten with strong contractions of the abdomen and uterus. Second-stage labor usually alternates with third-stage labor for each kitten. The first kitten is typically born within 2 hours of the onset of stage two labor, and subsequent kittens are born 10-30 minutes apart thereafter.

  3. Stage 3 - Third-stage labor involves passage of the placenta. Each kitten develops during pregnancy with its own separate placenta. The placenta for each kitten is generally passed within a few minutes of the kittenís birth. If the placenta is still attached to the kitten, it should immediately follow the kitten; if the placenta and kitten have become separated during the birthing process, the placenta may take longer to pass, or may even be passed following delivery of the next kitten. The female commonly eats the placentas after stage three labor.


Problems associated with pregnancy and queening:

  1. Dystocia: In wild cats, there are rarely problems with queening, since the process of natural selection tends to eliminate traits which would cause problems with health and reproduction. In domestic cats, however, difficult delivery or dystocia is seen more often, especially in overweight and aged animals. The information provided here will help an owner determine if a queening female is experiencing dystocia and when professional help is required. Accurate and timely correction of a queening problem will often result in a more favorable outcome. If a severe dystocia is not corrected, death of the queen and kittens may result.

    Causes of dystocia are several and are divided into: fetal factors (i.e. large kitten size, incorrect positioning) and maternal factors (i.e. birth canal abnormalities, lack of uterine contractions). A combination of fetal and maternal factors is not uncommon.

    Detection of Dystocia:
    The following situations can be used to identify when a female may be experiencing dystocia:
  1. Observation of active, visible straining for 2 hours without producing a kitten.
  2. Presence of fetal membranes in the birth canal for longer than 45 minutes without delivery.
  3. Observation of a female in second-stage labor for more than 4 hours, experiencing weakness, poor contractions, and failure to deliver kittens.
  4. Failure to deliver all kittens within 36 hours of starting second-stage labor.
  5. Observation of depression and lethargy in the mother.
  6. Observation of the female biting at her vulva and/or hind end with possible attempts to urinate frequently.
  7. Observation of a foul smelling, green/white discharge from the vulva, without the production of kittens.
  8. Failure of labor to begin after 68 days of gestation.
  9. Passage of more than 3 hours between kittens without signs of labor.

Note: If disturbed, some cats will prolong the time between kittens from 6-12 hours. Taking up to 36 hours to deliver all the kittens can be a normal occurrence.

Treatment: Once it has been determined that a female is experiencing dystocia, the following may be used by a veterinarian to correct the problem:

  1. Manual attempts to remove the fetus(es) - This can often be accomplished if a kitten has entered the birth canal and no obstructions exist that will prevent the kitten from exiting. Lubrication of the birth canal and traction on the kitten, while putting pressure on the abdomen, may be sufficient to correct the problem.
  2. Episiotomy - Occasionally, the vulvar opening will be too small to allow the passage of kittens. In these cases, an incision known as an episiotomy may be performed to widen the opening and allow the delivery of kittens.
  3. Drug and hormonal assistance - Some causes of dystocia include low blood calcium or sugar levels, and fatigue of the muscles of the uterus. Administration of calcium, dextrose (sugar), or oxytocin (a natural hormone which stimulates contractions of the uterus) may be used to treat these situations.
  4. Cesarean section - If all else fails, or if it is determined that waiting for more conservative therapy to work may endanger the life of the mother and/or her unborn kittens, a cesarean section is performed as a treatment for dystocia. A cesarean section is the surgical removal of all kittens from the uterus while the mother is under general anesthesia. Ovariohysterectomy (spaying) may be performed at the same time if necessary or desired.

Preventing Dystocia: The following are a few suggestions that may help prevent or predict potential dystocia:

  1. Pre-breeding examination: It is recommended that any potential breeding female be taken to a veterinarian for an extended evaluation. During this examination the veterinarian may be able to detect any abnormalities in the outer birth canal or other problems with the overall health of the mother. Diagnostic work such as a CBC, blood chemistry profile, and radiographs may be performed.
  2. Proper nutrition: Good nutrition before breeding to ensure that the female is physically prepared to support the growth of a litter is important in helping to avoid problems. Undernourishment can contribute to infertility or can produce kittens with low birthweights. Obesity of the mother causes an increased risk for dystocia.
  3. Routine pregnancy examinations: At least one checkup per trimester is recommended. This entails a visit to the veterinarian every 3 weeks during pregnancy. For some patients, a brief examination, weight check, and discussion of nutrition may be all that is necessary for the first two visits. Other patients who may be experiencing difficulty or are determined to be more at risk may require other procedures to be performed, such as bloodwork and/or ultrasound. For the last visit, an abdominal ultrasound or radiograph is recommended to observe the fetal development and, if possible, count the number of kittens present. Knowing beforehand the number of kittens to be born can aid in detection of dystocia.
  1. Pseudopregnancy: Pseudopregnancy or "false pregnancy" is the exaggeration of the normal hormonal changes associated with the end of a heat or estrus cycle in the female. Symptoms may range from imperceptible to severe and include weight gain, development of the mammary tissue, lactation, vaginal discharge, nesting, restlessness, and mothering of toys or other objects. Detection of pseudopregnancy usually occurs when owners of a cat are concerned about continuing signs of first-stage labor without progression into second-stage labor. This condition usually resolves on its own within 5-6 weeks after the problem is recognized. Breeding behavior usually continues throughout pseudopregnancy.

  2. Abortion: Abortion can occur in the female as a result of a variety of causes. Early in pregnancy, abortion may occur as complete resorption of the fetal tissue by the motherís body. Some early resorptions may never be detected. Fetal death during the latter half of pregnancy may result in partial absorption, mummification (shriveling/drying) of the fetus, abortion (premature delivery of a partially developed fetus), or in stillbirth (dead kitten born during normal delivery). One or more fetuses can be resorbed, mummified, aborted, or stillborn, without affecting the rest of the litter.


Queening Ė Care for the mother and newborn kittens:

  1. The mother should be allowed access to a dry, warm place to give birth. Because disturbances can prolong the normal birthing process, the birthing area should be located where there is little traffic and noise.

  2. Prior to second stage labor, the vulva, anus, and hind end should be cleaned with warm, soapy water. It is sometimes helpful to have the hair in these areas trimmed prior to delivery.

  3. After each kitten is born, the mother typically breaks the amniotic sac, tears the umbilical cord, and begins to clean the kitten. The kitten should begin moving and crying. Any kitten that does not immediately move or cry should be retrieved and rubbed vigorously with a warm, clean towel over the back, abdomen, and top of its head. Suction of fluids from the nostrils with a bulb syringe may help the kittenís breathing. Doxopram, a powerful respiratory stimulant, is often given to newborn kittens to help them begin breathing. Give 1-2 drops under the tongue (sublingually). Refer to page H162 for additional information on this drug.

    As a last resort, some professionals use an acupuncture site to help stimulate breathing in newborn kittens. A small sterile needle is carefully inserted at the point where the nose meets the upper lip. Response to this technique varies.

  4. To avoid hypothermia (low body temperature), the kitten should be returned to the mother to begin nursing once the kitten is moving, crying, and has a healthy, pink color to its tongue, mouth, and footpads.

  5. The "first milk" or colostrum is of vital importance to kittens in their first weeks of life. A mother begins to produce colostrum a few days before queening and continues to secrete it for approximately 24 to 48 hours afterwards. Ingestion of colostrum by the kitten is most critical in the first 24 hours. Colostrum contains vital immune protection against diseases such as panleukopenia (distemper) and rhinotracheitis which can be devastating killers of kittens. Any kitten that does not nurse during the first 24 hours should be force-fed colostrum, if possible, and carefully monitored. Orphaned kittens raised by hand are usually considered colostrum-deprived, and special arrangements should be made for these kittens in their vaccination protocol (see page A905).

Pre-Queening Supplies:
Clippers (to trim excess hair from mother)
Bucket with warm, soapy water (to clean motherís vulva/anus prior to queening)

Queening Box Equipment:
Old blanket
Room thermometer (to keep the queening area at a comfortable room temperature)

Queening Kit:
Thermometer (12-24 hours prior to giving birth, the motherís temperature may drop below 99.5į F.)
Bulb syringe (to remove mucus and debris from the kittensí nostrils)
Latex gloves (should be worn at all times when giving assistance to the mother)
Hand towels (to dry and warm each kitten)
KY jelly (should be applied generously to the catís vulvar area and hands or equipment before attempting to give assistance)
Diluted betadine in spray bottle (tea colored - for disinfecting)
Paper towels
Trash bags
Laundry basket
Shampoo (for cleaning mother after giving birth)
Heating lamp (should never be positioned too close to mother or kittens)
Dopram-V (a respiratory stimulant - see page H162)

Kitten Box for after Kittens are Born:
Heating pad (kittens and mother should never be placed directly on the pad - always place a towel on the heating pad and the pet on the towel)
Receiving blankets
Hand towel

General Suggestions:

  1. The best thing most owners can do when a cat is giving birth is to let the process proceed naturally and uninterrupted. However, if it is determined that the mother is having difficulties (see B90 page 3), immediate assistance should be given by a veterinarian or owner.
  2. If assistance is given, three things are essential:
    • Keep clean - This applies to the person giving assistance. Use latex gloves, towels, warm water, and frequent hand washing.
    • Use plenty of lubrication (KY jelly) to prevent trauma to the mother and kittens.
    • Use gentle force or traction.
  3. If things do not progress easily, professional help is a must.