A typical mother cat, also called a "queen," wants to be totally in charge of her kittens for the first weeks after delivery. Although queens are capable of caring for their litter unassisted, it's good for you as a pet owner to understand the usual behaviors of a mother cat who just gave birth. That way, if something is wrong, you'll know and can help to prevent a potential tragedy, such as the death of a kitten or even the queen. You should observe the new mother briefly a few times a day while keeping your role minimal during the first two weeks after birth.
Keep Kitty Safe
Your cat's goal is to keep her kittens safe. Her instinct is to stay with them in a quiet and private place. There, she can relax and not worry about any dangers. Ideally, you would have prepared a nesting place, such as a cardboard box with towels, for your cat to deliver and then care for her newborn kittens.
Behavior Immediately After Birth
The first thing a mother cat does after birth is to remove the amniotic sac that is around the kitten's face. She does this by licking it, which causes the kitten to start breathing. The queen usually chews through the umbilical cord and eats the placenta. She repeats this process for all the kittens.
Kittens should nurse one to two hours after being born. Since they don't open their eyes for about a week, the queen usually lies on her side to make it easier for her babies to discover where they should nurse. After about two to three weeks, the kittens typically initiate the nursing sessions, at which time, the queen lies down in nursing position. Beginning when her kittens are 4 to 5 weeks old, the mother starts to initiate weaning by being less available for her kittens. Kittens are weaned between 8 and 10 weeks old.
The queen licks the genital area of each kitten to stimulate elimination and to clean her kittens after elimination. She also eats any fecal matter to keep the nesting area clean. When the kittens can move around and leave the nesting area, the queen stops licking the genital area.
Some queens act aggressively to you or to other animals after giving birth. This is instinctual, so you should not punish your cat for hissing or scratching at you or your other pets during this time. The queen is trying to protect her kittens. Be patient and kind toward your cat, and keep your other pets away from a queen who shows that she is uncomfortable having them nearby.
When to Intervene and Call Your Veterinarian
Most cats do not have problems after giving birth, but some do. Each day, you should watch for warning signs that something is wrong:
- The queen neglects her kittens.
- The queen isn't nursing or grooming as she should.
- The queen acts aggressively toward her kittens.
- The queen isn't eating.