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What to Expect when Your Cat is Expecting

The first thing I want to say about cat pregnancy is that it should be avoided whenever possible. We all know the statistics about unwanted animals filling the shelters-so if you have a cat, get it spayed or neutered. However, as we all know, things happen. Maybe Snowball slipped outside the week before her vet appointment, and now you have more Snowballs on the way. Could be that you adopted a stray who was already in the family way, and you hope to give the kittens a good start in life. Or, as in my case, you have volunteered to do foster care for your local shelter, and you have a momma-to-be purring on your lap as you read this. Whatever the case, when it comes to the birth of kittens, it is a good idea to know what you are getting into before the big day (or night) arrives.

Gestation

You'll find many sources that say normal gestation for cats is 65 days. I've found that this information is not really very useful, as one must know the date on which the cat mated in order to count the days. Because my experience with cat pregnancy has been with foster cats that arrive at my house already pregnant (and who had arrived at the shelter that way), all I have ever been able to do is guess, based on the size of the cat's "baby bump." And my guesses tend to be incorrect. I had one cat that went three weeks beyond the due date I had guessed for her, and one who surprised me by delivering when I thought she had another month to go. So unless you know exactly when your cat got pregnant, good luck trying figuring out when the kittens will come. However, if you know for sure that your cat has been pregnant for more than 65 days, you may want to contact your vet, as prolonged pregnancies can pose health hazards for both momma and kittens.

Cat Behavior Before Birth

You'll know the time is near, however, when your cat starts to exhibit particular birthing behaviors. In the week leading up to the birth, you will probably notice that your momma cat can't seem to get comfortable. Any human mom will be able to identify with this. Your cat may also start to look for a secluded spot to deliver her litter. This may be a good time to shut the cat into the area where you want her to give birth so that the mess is contained (more on this later). One behavior I have noticed in several of my momma cats is that they will attempt to lick their humans once labor starts. If your cat starts to compulsively lick your face or hands-and won't stop even if you shoo her away-she may be starting labor. Finally, you'll know for sure the moment has arrived when the cat begins to pant with an open mouth, and when you can visually see the contractions squeezing her middle. You can be pretty certain at this point that you will have kittens within an hour.

It Gets Messy

I hate to say this, but it's going to get messy

Just a heads up if you have never seen a litter of kittens born: it's messy. I've found that cats rarely stay in one place while they are giving birth-they like to walk around and move from one spot to another-so if you want to save your good linens, move your cat to an appropriate birthing spot before her labor even starts. Otherwise, you could be surprised to come home after work and find your bedspread has been used as a delivery table, or that your beige carpet is no longer beige.

It's important that someone monitor the birth in case things start to go wrong. However, if you are squeamish, you may want to find someone to stand in for you. The kittens are born still encased in their amniotic sac, which the mother will remove with her teeth. One of the grossest aspects of the birthing process (in my opinion) is that cats eat the placentas-so be prepared for that as well. You also may be surprised by just how small freshly minted kittens are. I might compare them to the size of an adult mouse. They really won't start to look like those cute calendar kittens for at least two or three weeks. Right after birth they will be wet and squirmy with their umbilical cords still attached, and of course, their eyes will be sealed shut. It takes a real cat lover to see something cute in all this-fortunately I am a cat lover, so I think newborns are adorable.

When to Intervene or Get the Vet Involved

Most of the time, momma will be able to deliver her litter with no problem at all. It's a good idea to keep an eye on her through the process, however, in case she needs human intervention. A common issue to come is that a kitten will get stuck halfway out of the birth canal. It's okay to take hold of the kitten and gently pull. I did this with one of my foster cats when one kitten was born breech, and everything "came out okay."

If the momma gives birth to a kitten but doesn't seem to notice it (oddly, this can happen), draw her attention to the baby so that she can begin to lick it. Newborn kittens need to be stimulated in order to start breathing, so this needs to happen within seconds of birth. If the momma does not seem interested in doing this job, you may want to take a paper towel to remove any membranes from the kitten's face. Then gently rub the newborn to get it to start to breath.

Like any birthing process, there is pain involved, and you may hear some yowling. But if your cat seems to be in distress for a prolonged period of time without giving birth, call the vet. Another sign of trouble is if the cat is lethargic or if the labor lasts for over a day with no progress. This is definitely time to get the vet involved.

Helping Momma Get Used to the Babies

Most cats are natural mothers, but there can be exceptions. If this is the first litter for your cat, particularly if she is a very young mom, she may seem as if she does not know what to do with her babies. If she ignores them, try putting the mom and the babies in a small-enclosed area like a closet or a small bathroom. Because there will be nothing else for mom to do, she may take an interest in her kittens and start to nurse them. One of my foster cats seemed very nervous and would not lie down with her litter. I found that if a human were petting her, she would lie still, giving her babies a chance to nurse. Fortunately, if you have to do something like this, it probably won't be for long. Once the mom figures things out (usually by day two) things will be smooth sailing. Just remember, it is important to do everything you can to get the mom to take charge; bottle-feed the kittens only as a last resort. Their mother's milk is much better for them-and bottle-feeding a litter of kittens is a tremendous amount of work.


Try to keep the babies in a nice warm area. It's okay to use a heating pad set on low to keep them warm. Be forewarned, momma cat may try to move her babies and hide them somewhere else in the house. If you want to keep them in one place, reserve a room of your house as the cat nursery and shut the kitties in. Just make sure that you provide as much food and water as the mom wants, and, of course, a litter box.

Don't be afraid to handle the babies from the moment of birth, as long as the mother is comfortable with it. Kittens that are handled often and early make wonderful pets. Around the age of 6 to 8 weeks, the kittens will be ready for adoption. You on the other hand, may be so attached to them that you won't want to give them up. I know it's happened to me a time or two, which is why I now have four cats!

Keeping Your Cat Safe Indoors

Most people think cats are only at risk if exposed to the big wide world lurking outside the front door, but this is simply not true. There are many dangers inside your nice warm home where you might think keeping your cat safe is relatively easy. Take a good look around your house going room by room considering the dangers, and the associated safety precautions that you would to for a human toddler. Apply the same for your cat.

Garden Sprays

Garden sprays and pesticides are an example of chemicals that may carry a label stating 'keep away from babies and small children' should also be considered dangerous to cats. For example, slug pellets are lethal to a cat. Instead of using this product try using a small container buried into the ground and filled with beer. Snails and slugs are attracted to it and will drown.

For other pests such as aphids and greenflies, use diluted liquid dish soap, which is just as effective at killing such garden pests. Hormone weed killers are good for keeping your cat safe, being generally harmless products.

Kitchens

Kitchens are usually the focal point of any household and a cat will usually want to take part in the everyday ado of meals being cooked, people chatting and the warmth that comes from all that goes on in the kitchen. All cats like to feel like they are part of the family. Just the same as you would do with a human toddler, never leave pots and pans unattended.

The interesting cooking smells will attract your cat and invite him to investigate. This could result in a burn or scalding or at the very best, your supper disappearing. Cover the eyes on the stove after you finish cooking with a pan of cool water until the eye has completely cooled, to absorb the heat. With a little thought and effort, keeping your cat safe indoors in the kitchen can be accomplished.

Bathrooms

bathroom

Bathrooms pose the danger of drowning by water to your cat. Never leave the bath unattended without shutting the door so the cat cannot get in. There is also danger with the toilet if you use the chemical blocks that clean with every flush. Most of these are very highly toxic to cats, so always keep the toilet lid down if you are going to allow your cat access to the room.

Washing Machines & Dryers

Washing machines and dryers also pose a fatal attraction for your cat. If you have one of the front end loaders your cat will be fascinated by the washing going round and round in the machine. Mine finds the spin cycle particularly interesting! Never leave the door open, as your cat will see the warm appliance as a perfect place to happily jump into and go to sleep. It would then be too easy to throw in the laundry and switch on the machine, resulting in one very clean but very dead cat.

The same is true for the dryer. Always run your hand through the machines if the door has been left open before loading the machines. Put a sticker on the machine to warn any others who may have use of it as well as a precaution.

For some reason cats seem to be attracted to the dirty laundry and will even sleep in the laundry basket. Check your laundry basket before you put it into the washing machine just in case there is a cat lurking in the depths!

Disinfectants

Disinfectants are another hazard for your cat. Cats like to walk around the kitchen surfaces and are probably fed in the area too, so it's hard to keep off the work surfaces where food is being prepared. It's important to use disinfectant on these areas, but which products to use that will keep your cat safe? Cats can absorb all kinds of poisons and toxins through their paw pads. Some disinfectants contain phenols and cresols, which can be lethal to cats.

Check the labels on all your disinfectant products. Some do not state all of their ingredients, so you should avoid all of these for keeping your cat safe indoors. Choose only those you know to be harmless.

Open Windows and Balconies 

Open windows and balconies pose other dangers to cats. Felines who are confined to living indoors need fresh air and will soon realize how to get out of an open window. It's simple to make a wooden frame covered with wire mesh that will fit over a window frame, if your windows are not equipped with fitted screens. This will allow fresh air to circulate and your cat to be safe. Your cat could easily jump over the side of a balcony or to a nearby tree. Chicken wire on a wooden frame works quite well and can be covered with climbing plants as an added bonus.

Chemicals

Chemicals of all kinds are kept in your home, the obvious ones being cleaning products and do it yourself products such as glues and solvents, paint thinners, paint and turpentine. All these substances should be kept out of the way of cats, the same way you would for small children. Keep all these products in a room where the cat will have no access to it. All paint products, wallpaper paste, and wood preservatives contain fungicides and antibacterial agents that are lethal to cats. Keep your cat out of the room being redecorated until all of the fumes have had time to dissipate. Make sure that floors have been mopped before allowing your cat access into the room as they can absorb these through their paw pads as well.

Houseplants

Houseplants can also present a hazard for your cat, such as mistletoe and poinsettia, which are poisonous. Laburnum seeds are fatal if eaten by your cat, and there are others, which can cause serious stomach upset. Most cats know instinctively when a plant is poisonous and will avoid it. Check plant guides to see if the plant s you have in your home and garden are safe.

Other dangers lurk in almost every room in your house. Anywhere there are electrical power points and appliances, electric cables and wires seem to have all been made as a cat toy to your cat and he will love to chew through them. These can be placed into cut sections of garden hose to protect your cat. Other common household threats such as sewing boxes, rubber bands and paper clips can be harmful if left out into the reach of your cat.

The best advice I can pass on to you would be to treat your home as if you had a baby or small toddler running around loose in it. Get down on your hands and knees so that you can be at your cat's eye level and see what he can see. Keeping your cat safe indoors just takes some basic common sense. Be aware of the risks and ensure that your cat enjoys a long and happy life.