So you want to become a cat breeder… now what?

by Carissa Altschul

Disclaimer: Any medical advice given in this article should be referenced with your vet before beginning treatment. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect any official policy or position of the Cat Fanciers' Association or the Persian Breed Council.

Birthing Your First Litter

Assuming all goes well and your female “takes”, she will need special care, especially toward the end of her pregnancy. At about 7 weeks, a heavily pregnant female will need to be confined for her own safety (and that of her kittens.) Again, please see the article on caging on recommendations for pregnant females. If it is possible for you, see if you can attend a birthing with your mentor breeder (or any breeder who would be willing to allow you to view/attend a birthing.) This can prove invaluable when it’s your turn. Also have a number of your mentor breeder to call should have you any problems during the birthing process when it’s your turn.

At 63-70 days, your female should go into labor. She may or may not give you warning signs. She probably will give you many sleepless nights. Hopefully she will have her babies at a time you are home to assist, as first time moms, especially Persians, tend to not break the sacs on their kittens and leave them to drown. For the birthing process, you will need:

  • Lots of paper towels. I do mean LOTS.
  • A hemostat (clamp)
  • Clean towels (lots) for bedding changes
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Scissors (sharp)
  • Bulb syringe
  • Cal-pho-sol or similar product/syringe to administer
  • A strong stomach if you are not good with blood
  • Mentally prepare yourself that it’s possible you will lose kittens during this process, or that you might have one or more kittens born with birth defects

On the onset of labor (true labor – with contractions that make the whole cat move, or cry out, not twitching you think might or might not be contractions), note the time. It’s important. If a female is in heavy labor for 2 hours and has no progression (no kitten, or a bubble that doesn’t change), you are going to need to get a c-section.

Hopefully, progression will go smoothly. The first bubble you see generally is the “water”. It will break and then you will either see nothing for a while, or a baby sac – which appears as another bubble – will be right behind it. NEVER try to break a bubble. The mother might do it herself, but don’t do so yourself. Patience is important. Don’t lift her tail and check every 30 seconds. Give her time. Be patient.

Correct presentation should be head first. Usually the mother can get the baby out quickly once the head is out. Be patient (I’ll keep repeating this.) Don’t pull on the baby! When the baby is completely out, you can use some paper towels to wipe away the fluid (and break the sac if it didn’t as the baby came out) from the face of the baby. Don’t attempt to take the baby away, as the placenta will probably still be in the mom. Once you are sure the baby is breathing and the excess fluid is wiped off, let the mother lick the baby and give her some time. It’s very important to NOT PULL on the cord. The placenta will come out when it’s ready. If you pull and rip the cord, there is a good chance the placenta could be “retained” and cause a severe infection for the mother. Sometimes the cord rips on it’s own – make sure you count placentas later to ensure you have the same number of placentas as you have kittens.

Once the placenta is out (usually a few minutes after birth), you can choose to let the mom try to eat it, or you can remove the kitten at this time and take care of it yourself. If the mother eats it, it is good for her to get that nutrition, but I sometimes worry about the mother hurting the baby or chewing the cord off too close. Before you remove it, take a good look at the belly to make sure the skin is sealed around the placenta. There is always a chance the kitten didn’t form correctly and what you assume is cord is actually intestine. This doesn’t happen often, but it can happen. The cord should be whitish in color with a clear vein/artery running through it. Intestine is thicker and pink.

To remove the placenta, you should clamp the cord with the hemostat (or pinch with your fingers if you don’t have one) about an inch or so from the belly of the kitten for about 30 seconds to 1 minute. Then cut the cord (with scissors you have cleaned with the rubbing alcohol and allowed to dry) on the placenta side of the clamp. Leave the clamp on for another minute or two and dispose of the placenta (or you can offer it back to the mother... chances are she won’t want it.) At this time, you can sex the kitten, dry it off a bit more, and look for defects. In addition to the afore-mentioned problem with intestines/belly, look for a cleft palate. Gently open the mouth (I sometimes use a q-tip for this so I can swab out excess fluid that might be in there). The roof of the mouth should be solid. This can be hard to tell sometimes if you have never looked in a kitten’s mouth. Check all the kittens and compare. If a kitten has a cleft palate, it will not live long term. You have a hard decision to make. You can take the kitten to your vet to be put to sleep before it suffers, or you can let it linger for 3 or more days before eventually it will die (usually from aspiration pneumonia).

Should a kitten present breech (butt first), you might have to assist in the birthing. But carefully. It is helpful to have a 2nd person. If the kitten ends up about ½ to ¾ of the way out and the mother isn’t getting farther, you will have to pull the kitten the rest of the way. The mother isn’t going to like it, because she’s already in a lot of pain and you will (temporarily) make it worse. She’s likely to try to bite you; this is where the 2nd person comes in (to hold the mother to keep her from biting you.) Never wrap your hand around the kitten to pull! Instead, you must grasp the skin along the spine line (which isn’t going to be easy – it’s going to be slippery with birthing fluids and blood) and pull down and out. She’ll fight you. You’ll feel like you are hurting the kitten. But it must come out – and time is of the essence. Apply a firm, gentle pressure – don’t jerk the kitten. When the kitten comes out, there is a good chance the cord will rip, but equally likely the kitten will not be breathing. Immediately wipe off the face and swab out the mouth. Use the bulb syringe to suck out as much fluid as possible from the nose and mouth. Rub the kitten briskly (but don’t press hard) along the spine line to help revive it. As the kitten begins to breathe, chances are that more fluid will come out and will to be sucked out with the bulb syringe. There is also a chance that the kitten will not revive. If you cannot get the kitten to breathe in the first few minutes, then it probably will not revive. Even if you do get the kitten to revive, it might not stay alive for long. If it has aspirated fluid during the birth, it is at high risk for pneumonia and probably should be put on antibiotics immediately (amoxi drops or clavamox drops are both good choices.)

Labor for every cat can be different. Some mothers will have all their kittens in 1-2 hours, some will have one kitten, then take a break for 2-3 hours, then go back into labor to have another. This can be very frustrating! As long as the mom is out of active, heavy labor, try not to panic. If at all possible, refrain from moving a cat near or in labor. Moving them generally puts them out of labor and can significantly increase the likelihood of c-section and decrease the chances of survival for the kittens.

The cal-pho-sol (or equivalent) is vital for every breeder to have. It is used to treat eclampsia, or “milk fever.” This is a potentially life-threatening disorder that can happen to nursing females. In simple terms, their bodies run out of calcium. But you can’t just give them a shot of calcium; that could kill them. Instead, you use a balanced mixture provided in cal-pho-sol. Eclampsia symptoms vary, but generally the female isn’t acting “right” – her balance might be off, rapid breathing, high fever. Since the shot is safe to give even if she isn’t experiencing eclampsia, you can give a 3 cc shot if you suspect it. If her condition improves within 30 minutes after the shot, you know she is experiencing eclampsia. Seek veterinary attention immediately once you have her stabilized. You can sometimes avoid eclampsia by making sure the mother has a lot of calcium-rich foods before birth and also in the weeks she nurses the babies. Goat’s milk and cottage cheese both work well.

While I have presented several horrible situations that can arise during a delivery, not every delivery has a problem. Many happen without a problem and you have a happy, healthy litter to admire and love.

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