The gestation period for a cat (length of time between conception and delivery) is about 63 to 65 days. The pregnant female is called a queen. A complete physical examination should be performed before intentional breeding. The queen’s viral status (leukemia and feline immunodeficiency virus) will be tested. Also, she should be screened and de-wormed for intestinal parasites that can be passed to her kittens. The veterinarian may choose to vaccinate the queen before breeding as well. For unintentional pregnancies, or if a cat is thought to be pregnant, confirmation should be made by a veterinarian and appropriate preventive care given. Cats will typically have litters of 2 to 5 kittens, and the number to expect during whelping can be determined by an x-ray about 1 week beforehand.
Pregnant and nursing queens should be fed free-choice high quality kitten food to provide the extra protein, fat, and calcium they will require to raise a healthy litter. Fresh water should always be available. A whelping bed can be made from a large box with warm blankets. Be sure it is large enough for the queen to arrange and groom her kittens when they are delivered. A heating pad is not recommended because the kittens will not be able to cool themselves by moving away from the heat source.
The queen may become especially needy during pregnancy, and this is normal behavior. Give her the extra attention she seeks. If she becomes aggressive however, it may be a sign of pain or complications with the pregnancy. Veterinary advice should be sought.
In may be necessary to assist the queen in cleaning the birth sac from the newborn kittens. Generally, she should not be bothered during labor; but if she can not tend to the kittens in a timely manner, remove the sac using a soft wash cloth to prevent suffocation. There will be amniotic fluid in the kitten’s mouth and lungs that can be aspirated with a bulb syringe or gently shaken out. Stimulate the kitten fairly vigorously with gentle rubbing until it begins squirming and crying; then allow the queen to finish grooming it.
Cesarean Section (surgical delivery of kittens) is rare in cats unless there are complications such as dystocia (an unborn kitten lodged in the birth canal). Phone numbers for an after hours veterinarian should be obtained in case emergency care is needed. Labor usually lasts a couple of hours. If more than 20 minutes of contractions elapse without delivering a kitten, or if a partial birth occurs and is not completed after 10 minutes of contractions, this is an emergency situation that requires immediate veterinarian intervention.
The decision to breed a cat should not be taken likely. Consider the hundreds of thousands of homeless cats that wind up in shelters or on the street every year. Spaying and neutering is the only way to avoid unwanted litters.