While mixed-breed kittens are as charming as pedigree kittens, they are more difficult to sell or give away, so think carefully before allowing your mixed-breed queen to mate.
Kittens are cute and delightful, but before deciding to let your mixed-breed cat have a litter, ask yourself how likely it is that you will find good homes for them. Remember that every year thousands of unwanted kittens are destroyed by humane societies.
There is no evidence to suggest that having a litter is physically or psychologically beneficial to your female cat, so don’t feel that she is being deprived if she is spayed when she is six months old. If you have six to eight friends waiting eagerly for kittens from your cat, then you can probably allow her to breed with a clear conscience. If your cat is pedigree and you breed her to a pedigree tom, you should be able to place the kittens.
This body posture, known as ‘lordosis’, is typical of a female cat in season.
Ask the breeder of your cat or the owner of the sire if they have lists of people waiting for kittens.
If you do decide to breed from your cat, try to delay the event until she is at least a year old. Although cats can breed at six months, they do better if allowed to mature first.
Cats that are in season may scent-mark objects in the home by spraying them with urine or rubbing against them.
When your cat first comes into season (also called ‘on heat’) you will notice a distinct change in her behaviour. She will become excessively friendly, roll around on the ground and yowl in a tone that you have never heard from her before. When rubbed on the back she will raise her hindquarters and tread with her hind limbs.
If your cat is not pedigree and is at the right age to be bred, all you have to do is let her go outside once she is on heat, and a roaming tom cat will quickly find her. Before you do this, ensure that she has had all her vaccinations and has been wormed and treated for fleas.
The typical mating sequence. The male holds the female’s neck, and as he dismounts, the female will usually turn and spit or hiss at him.
Cats are induced ovulators, which means that mating triggers ovulation (shedding of the egg from the ovary). They often mate with several toms during their season and as a result the kittens may have different fathers. Once a female has been successfully mated she will stop showing signs of heat.
If your cat is pedigree, you will need to keep her indoors, because tom cats from miles around will camp on your lawn and fight under your windows. Other bad news is that your female will come into season every three weeks from late winter/early spring until she is mated.
To arrange for a suitable mate for her, consult the breeder of your cat or contact your local Cat Fancy Association. Try to view the tom before sending your cat to him. Make sure the breeder is registered and that the tom is certified free from disease and is fully vaccinated. It is customary to send the queen to the tom because the tom may be distracted in unfamiliar surroundings, and some queens will attack toms that are suddenly introduced to their territory.
Gestation (time from mating to birth of kittens) lasts for 56 to 63 days. During this time the cat should be fed good-quality food on demand. Commercial foods are available for pregnant and lactating cats, and it is probably easiest to use these. If you choose to feed a home-prepared meat diet, you will need to provide a calcium supplement. See your vet for advice on this. Your cat should also be wormed monthly and treated for fleas with a topical treatment that will not harm the kittens (check with your vet).
Pregnant queens usually remain agile and playful until they are close to giving birth.
The birth process – giving birth, eating the afterbirth and suckling the kittens.
During your cat’s pregnancy, get her accustomed to the area in which you would prefer her to give birth. This may be a specially prepared box or basket in a spare room or the bottom of a wardrobe. She needs a place where she can feel secure and relaxed, and it should also be easy to keep warm and clean. It is helpful to have her sleeping in this area throughout her pregnancy.
About 12 hours before giving birth your cat will seem restless and agitated. She may eat less than usual, and may vocalize and seek human company. Encourage her to stay in the kittening area, and if necessary sit with her as time permits and encourage her to relax.
Eventually the birth contractions will start, and at this stage most cats are best left alone. Check on her every 20 minutes, or allow one person to remain in the room with her. Some cats, especially Oriental types, may panic during labour, especially if it is their first. They may abandon their kittens and follow their owner around crying. These cats may need to be sedated, so it is best to contact your vet.
Kittens are born at varying intervals, most within 30 to 60 minutes of each other. Occasionally several hours may lapse between kittens. If the cat is not distressed and is not straining, you need not be concerned. If she seems weak or distressed and is not interested in the kittens she already has produced, call the vet. If she is straining for longer than 20 minutes and no kittens are produced, seek veterinary assistance immediately.
Cats are wonderful mothers and rapidly clean the kittens and eat the placenta (afterbirth). Many cats purr blissfully throughout the whole procedure. If for any reason your cat doesn’t clean the kittens at the time of birth, you will need to intervene. Use clean hands to clear the membranes from around the kitten’s mouth and a rough towel to firmly rub its body. Holding the kitten head-down helps to allow fluid to drain out of its airways.
The kittens should feed naturally within 10 to 20 minutes of birth. If any seem to be having difficulty then have them checked by your veterinarian. Allow your cat unlimited access to food and water while she is feeding the kittens.
Kittens can start on solid food at two to three weeks old. Provide commercial kitten food for them. You might also offer commercial kitten milk. Do not offer cow’s or goat’s milk because these contain the milk sugar lactose which the kittens may not be able to digest properly.
Provide two litter trays and change them regularly during the day. Kittens will naturally start using litter trays from three to four weeks.
Your nursing cat should be wormed monthly and the kittens should be wormed every two weeks until they are three months old, starting at two or three weeks. Flea treatment of the mother should also be continued during feeding, using a product that is non-toxic to the kittens. The kittens will not need separate treatment until they are weaned.
Kittens may be weaned from seven to eight weeks old. Your cat will be spending less time with them by this stage and they will be taking lots of solid food.
It is important that kittens receive human contact between the ages of two to seven weeks. If they do not they will be shy or aggressive towards people and it will not be as easy to find them a home. The more exposure they have to novel, non-threatening stimuli, including other animals and noises, the more easily they will settle into their new homes.