Ready For Cat Mating
It is quite obvious when a female is ready for mating. She starts what is known as calling, although this can be more like shrieking or wailing in some breeds, such as Siamese.
Some Singapura content themselves with dainty little mews and miaows. The female displays some brazen behavior, rolling and dragging herself around the floow, flicking her tail and raising her rump to expose the slightly reddened area beneath. She may also lose interest in her food. If her behavior fools you into thinking she is unwell, try picking her up by her neck folds (as an interested tom would do) and stroke along her back. If she responds with pleasure, pads her feet and raises her tail, she is definitely in season.
The average age of sexual maturity in a female is around six months, but cats of oriental origin such as Siamese and Burmese can be as early as fourteen or sixteen weeks. British shorthairs and persians do not start calling much before ten months. Generally, tom cats become sexually mature a month or two later than females of the same breed. The time of year also has an effect on the first call. If due in autumn or winter, it may be delayed untul the warmer months of spring.
The cycle is approximately 21 days and females may come into oestrus (on call) for about three or ten days. They continue to be fertile until at least fourteen years of age.
It is best to let the young queen run through the first couple of cycles, until she is at least a year old, rather than put her to stud immediately. This gets the system going and reduces the risk of problems at birth.
Choosing the Male
Many breed clubs publish a stud list of proven males, but the breeder from whom you bought the female is likely to know of suitable mates. An experienced breeder if also likely to know about genetically compatible lines, and even if you have some ideas of your own, it is important to take expert advice.
If you go to a show to look for potential partners, fo not be tempted to go for the stunning new male grand champion. Other breeders may be clamouring to use him, but the wiser choice would be his father. Not only has he proved himself to be the sire of outstanding stock, but with a maiden queen, it is wiser to use an experienced stud for the first mating.
Before committing yourself to a particular stud, visit the breeder to check the conditions in which the maiden queen is to be kept. This is an opportunity also to ask vital questions about the number and the supervision of matings. Documentation on the participating animals that needs to be exchanged varies according to the conditions for entry to stud, but for your female include the following:
- registration and/or transfer
- up to date vaccination certificate
- current test certificates showing negative status for both feline infectious leukimia and femile immunodeficiency virus (FIV)
The stud owner may require the tests to have been carried out within the last 24 hours, although other accept tests within the past five to seven days. The conditions and fees should be agreed before taking the queen to the stud. Conditions of the mating might include an agrement that no males from a resulting litter will be used for breeding, or for the pick of the litter to be substituted in lieu of a mating fee. It is usual for there to be another free mating should the queen fail to become pregnant.
On a more informal level, the stud owner should want to know the pet name of the cat and teh diet she is used to. A siamese female in season rolls around and trashes her tail. Siamese are notorious for announcing their sexual readiness with loud and strident calling. When selecting a stud, always look for the best example.
The Cat Pregnancy
The average gestation period for cats is between 63 and 68 days. Occasionally, healthy kittens produced even at 61 days.
Kittens produced at or before this time usually require very specialized nursing, as key systems have not fully developed. Some females carry their kittens for as long as 70 days. In this event, the kittens may be marger than normal.
Signs Or Pregnancy
The first indication that a cat is pregnant (or in kitten) is when she does not come on heat two or three weeks after mating. Soon after this, there will be visible signs of pregnancy, the nipples become rather swollen and take on a deep coral pink tone, a process that is called pinking up. Very experienced breeders may know a cat in advance of this, as there is sometimes a ridging of the muscles of the cat’s stomach. A vet is able to confirm a pregnancy by feeling the cat’s abdomen after three or four weeks.
A pregnant cat should be encouraged to maintain a normal lifestyle. You can increase the amount of food you give her from about the fifth week of pregnancy, and introduce a vitamin supplement. In a feral state, a cat gorges itself as it does not know where the next meal is coming from. Your cat will let you know how much food she wants. Seek veterinary advice if you are in any doubt.
Climbing, jumping, running and hunting if the cat is free range, are all normal physical activities, even for a pregnant pedigree. Do remember, however, that allowing a pregnant female free range may expose her to other dangers. She may slow down a bit towards the end of her term, but activity ensures that good, strong muscle tone is maintained. This is essential for a ntural, successful birth.
After about four weeks, the queen’s stomach starts to distend, the nipples becomes very prominent, and she begins to look pregnant. By around 28 days, all the kitten’s internal organs have formed, and the embryos are about one inch long. The skeleton develops from about 40 days, and at 50 days, the kittens quicken, show signs of movement. Look for sippling, sliding motions along the mother’s flank, they are most noticeable when she is resting.
About a week before the birth, the queen starts looking for a nesting place. It is a good idea to prepare cardboard box house for the queen with lots of plain paper inside for her to tear up. If this is not done, she will do her best to get into wardrobes or closets, drawers, airing cupboards, anywhere warm and draught free. Towards the end of a pregnancy, most cats require more rest than usual.
Given a choice, your queen would probably nest in a most inconvenient spot. A kittening box is ideal for both mother and owner, but do make sure the cat is used to and comfortable with both the box and its location well before the birth.
The Kittening – How Do Cats Give Birth
Birth is an exciting but messy business, wich is why there should be a lot of padding in the kittening box and the area beneath and around the box should be easy to clean and disinfect without disturbing the inmates too much.
About 24 hours before the actual birth, the queen enters the first stage of labout. Outward physical signs are very few. There may be the odd faint ripple along the flank of the cat, and experienced breeders will note that her breathing through the nose has become shallow and rapid on occasion. Close examination reveals a flickering of the nostrils during these early, very faint contractions. Towards the end of this process, a small mucous plug may be found in the bedding, or adhering to the hair close to the cat’s vulva.
The next stage can take quite a long time, depending on the number of kittens. It is important not to panic, as long as the queen shows no signs of physical distress, all if going well. During this second stage, the classic signs of major contractions are clearly visible. The queen is breathing deeply and her whole abdomen seems shudder and ripple downwards.
Eventually, a membrane sac containing a kitten and fluid starts to emerge from the queen’s vulva and it may be possible to see the kitten’s head within the sac. Sometimes when it is said that the waters have broken. Often, the birth is so rapid that the kitten is born before the sac bursts.
The queen cleas the sac from around the kitten and immediately washes the newborn, particularly around the nose and mouth. This prompts the kitten to get rid of any amniotic residue from its respiratory system and it will often begin to cry. By this time secondary contractions have expelled the placenta (afterbirth), which the queen will instinctively eat. In a feral state, this would provide her with food and nutrients during the first couple of days after kittening when she needs to recover.
Hormones in the placenta promote milk secretion, and also help the uterus to contract, preventing a haemorrhage, which is a normal occurence after every birth. In the wild, such harmorrhaging could lead a predator to the kitten’s nest. The queen also chews through the umbilical cord. In a straightforward borth, the queen, even a maiden queen, will usually cope with everything. However, it may be that you will have to assist on occasions. For this, a range of equipment should be within easy reach. Mother’s first task is to take her newborn kitten and wash it thoroughly, especially around the nose and mouth to clear respiratory passages so that it can breath, and utter its first cries.
- disinfected, blunt ended scissors
- sterile surgical gloves
- kitchen towels
- hot water
- ordinary towels
- towelling face cloths
- water based lubricants
It is normal for some kittens to be born backwards, with hind feet being presented first. If the rump and tail rather than the stretched out hind feet are presented first, this is a breech birth and can be a problem. It is so easy to become impatient and want to get your hands in the nest to help out, but the real need to do this should be very carefully weighed up.
If the queen is contracting strongly, it is likely that she will be able to birth the kitten quite normally. This way round is just a little more difficult, as the head is not widening the birth passage so that the rest of the body can slide through. However, if the waters have burst and the kitten is taking a very long time to be born, there is a risk of brain damage or still birth and the kitten should be helped out as quickly as possible.
If the legs are coming first, quickly slip on the surgical gloves and smear a little of the lubrication around the vulva. Never pull on any part of the kitten, it is an extremely delicate organism capable of being very easily damaged. As the queen’s contractions push the legs further out of the vulva, use index and middle finger to scissor the legs right next to the opening of the vulva. As the contractions cease, the natural effect is for the legs to be drawn back into the vulva. The breeder;s fingers will hold the legs in position until the next set of contractions. Then as more of the legs appear, use the index and middle fingers of the other hand to repeat the process. Generally, once the hips have emerged, the queen can do the rest by herself.
In the case of a rump or tail breech birth, you may need to gently insert a lubricated finger beside the kitten and hold it as a hook. But it must be emphasized that, in most cases, the queen knows what is best and can manage by herself.
Apparent Still Birth
Sometimes a kitten will be born apparently lifeless. This may not be the case, it may not be breathing and be in a state of shock. If the queen does not immediately rasp away at the kitten’s face, it is your job to do it. To clear any excess fluid from the nose and lungs, hold the kitten in your hand with index finger going over and supporting its head. Gently swing the kitten downwards two or three times and then wipe and stimulate the face around the nose and nostrils. At the same time, rub its little body vigorously. In most cases this will get it going but you may have to resort to mouth to mouth resuscitation.
It may be that the kitten has suffered some form of foetal distress during the birth process and has, in fact, dies. The cause may be more serious, and a dead kitten should be laid aside carefully for a post mortem examination to establush the cause.
Even very experienced queens may become distressed and unable to birth their kittens. Because of this possibility it is wise to let your veterinarian know when the kittens are due. The most common form of distress is the lack of strong contractions. The vet may inject the queen with oxytocin, a hormone to improve contractions. If this does not work, birth by Caesarean section may be the only option. This is done very rapidly and with the minimum amount of anaesthetic, so that the queen is well able to look after her kittens.
One of the reasons why it is essential to examine the breeding record of the bloodline from which a queen is obtained is to check for any predisposition to the need for Caesarean sections.
Post Natal Care
The mother and her kittens need to be watched carefully at first, in case any complications arise. However, usually the mother is quite capable of looking after and training her kittens on her own. While it is rare for a healthy queen to encounter problems after pregnancy, a close watch should always be kept for the following conditions :
- Pyometra – an infection of the uterus characterized by a thick, off white discharge. This condition is not serious if caught quickly and treated with antibiotics. In a serious form, it will mean that the queen will have to be spayed.
- Enclampsia (milk fever) – caused by a dramatic fall in calcium levels in the queen who will begin to convulse. An immediate intra muscular or intravenous injection of calcium from the vet brings immediate recovery.
- Mastitis – the queen’s mammary glands become hard, lumpy and hot due to an infection. Treatment is with antibiotics. Temporary relief can be given by the use of warm compresses on the affected area.
- Lack of milk – the queen’s milk can dry up if she does not have sufficient wholesome food and drink, or the kittens are not sucking vigorously enough, or through mastitis. A homeopathic remedy such as Lachesis or hormone treatment may result ina return of the milk supple. If not, the kittens may have to ve weaned. This means two hourly feeds with a commercially available substitute milk. The vet may know of breeders who are specialists in the techniques of hand feeding.
Defects are rare. They include :
- Cleft palate or hare lip;
- Lack of eyes;
- Heart defects including hole in the heart;
- Umbilical hernia;
- Intestines on the outside.
How Do Cats Growing Up
If the litter is strong and healthy, the queen will require no assistance from you for the first two to three weeks.
However, do change the bedding regularly, provided this does not upset the mother, and make sure the mother has plenty to eat, she may need three times as much as usual. The kittens’ eyes open at around a week old and they will stop hissing at you every time you pick up them up.
It is important to handle the kittens from the start. Encourage them to become used to the human voice and contact by picking them up and stroking them gently and regularly, and crooning to them. Experts used to advise that queens and their newborn kittens should be kept in a warm, dark, secluded place. However, this is just about the nest way to make kittens nervous of people and activity.
Once the kittens are weaned they can be introduced into the wider home environment and visitors, even if this is from within the sanctuary of a kitten pen. Social contact increases their confidence to tackle new situations when they leave home at twelve to sixteen weeks of age.
The mother guides her kittens to her teats. They knead with their paws and then start to suckle. The colostrum milk of the first few days is rich in the mother’s antibodies and nutrients which protect the newborn kittens from infection. The kittens should be gradually weaned off their mother’s milk.
There is no specific time when this starts to happen, though they may begin to eat their mother’s food at three to four weeks. It is not unusual for a kitten to remain on mother’s milk for the first five weeks. Kittens must be fully weaned by 12 weeks, when they are ready to go to a new owner. They are actually capable of lapping water and of being on a solid diet by about six weeks.
The first solid food should be high quality canned kitten food, finely minced cooked meat or poultry, or flaked white fish. Variety will encourage broad taste and good habits in later life as well as a balanced diet. Avoid dried food at this stage, and feed the kittens small quantities four to six times daily at three to four weeks of age, gradually reducing to three of four times daily from then on.
Until they begin eating solid foods, the kittens do not need to use the litter tray pan. The mother cleans them herself. You may find that the kittens simply copy their mother and use the tray without any help from you. If not, you can try placing the kittens in the tray immediately after each feed. The tray should be in a quiet spot where the floor and surroundings can be easily cleaned and disinfected.
From this moment until the kittens leave to do to their new homes, your management of the environment is extremely important. Where there is a lack of hygiene, there is a risk of disease and infection. The kittens may also form bad habits which they will carry with them to a new home. Such a situation would be a poor advertisement for a breeder.