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Foothill Felines Madison, beautiful Bengal queen

Foothill Felines Madison, a devoted Bengal mother.

This two-part article about breeding cats and raising kittens is based upon extensive research we have conducted, plus our own hands-on experience delivering over 100 litters as Bengal and Savannah Cat breeders. It is our hope that this information will be of real value to our readers, and will therefore ultimately benefit the health and well-being of many domestic cats and kittens around the world. Feel free to browse through this entire page; or, click on any of the following topics:  How Do I Know When My Cat Is In Labor??;   What Happens During Delivery?? ;   How Do I Know When My Queen Is Having Problems? ;  What Happens If My Queen Delivers A Premature Kitten? ;  What If My Queen Delivers A Stillborn Kitten?;  What Do I Do Now?


Each female cat, (called a "queen" when she is intact), is different, and even the same queen can have different experiences with each litter. How her labor will go will depend upon many factors, including her age, health, genetics, how many kittens she is carrying, the size and placement of the kittens in her womb, if this is her first litter, etc. etc. Some queens will become more agitated and restless when they are in early labor; some will have a slight mucous-y vaginal discharge; and you may also notice her trying to wash and clean her genital area more frequently. Once labor begins in earnest, signs will usually include nervousness and panting. The queen will often lose interest in food the last 24 hours or so before labor begins. She will also usually have a drop in rectal temperature below 100F (37.8C). The temperature drop may occur intermittently for several days prior to delivery, but it will usually be constant for the last 24 hours. When labor starts, some queens will go straight to their nest box and burrow down inside the towels; some will cry and want to stay by your side. Some queens seem to have relatively easy labors, while others really hurt and scream each time a kitten is born. When you can actually see your queen trying to "push" out a kitten, you will know for certain she is having contractions and is in "hard labor". Total time in labor can vary from several hours to 24 hours or more, with the mother cat normally having some breaks and rest from labor in between kittens.

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Foothill Felines uses NuVet Feline Nutritional Supplement. Click here for our order code and more product and ordering information.


~ From the minute you plan to start a cat breeding program, it's absolutely essential to begin putting your intact males and females on nutritional supplements. Breeding is very hard on cats and robs an enormous amount of energy and nutrients from their bodies. Click on image above for more information and to order this uniquely powerful nutritional supplement for felines at our Foothill Felines breeder discount (which is up to 50% less than what veterinarians typically charge). Used and recommended by Foothill Felines, just a pinch a day in wet and/or dry food provides vibrant results with all ages, weights and breeds of cats. Developed by scientists, veterinarians and formulators to enhance the health and lives of cats, this unique Nu- Vet supplement contains many important minerals, antioxidants, enzymes and vitamins INCLUDING taurine, calcium, blue green algae, brewer's yeast, and much more. Many studies show that the ingredients in this supplement are especially important during pregnancy to promote healthy kitten development in utero; build a substantial source of calcium levels in the queen which encourages easier labor and vital milk production, plus providing key nutrition support to help maintain strong immune systems in the queen and her kittens. ~


While most queens experience delivery of their kittens without complications, breeders will want to always be on the alert and be ready to assist their queens when needed. If there are going to be problems with the delivery, it seems to be most often the queen's first litter wherein problems are encountered. Kittens are usually born head first; however, breech presentations, in which the kitten is delivered tail-end first, occur about 40% of the time in cats and are also considered normal deliveries. Short-haired cats and cat breeds with slender or pointed head types seem to have the easiest and fastest deliveries, while domestic body type cats with the larger, round heads generally have longer delivery times. Each kitten inside the queen is enclosed in its own protective sac that is part of the placenta ("afterbirth"). The placentas usually pass after the kittens are born.

If the delivery proceeds normally, a few big contractions will push the kitten out from the queen; it should exit the birth canal within ten minutes of being visible (either the head or sometimes, in the case of a breech birth, you may be able to see the tail first). Following each kitten being delivered, the mother cat should lick the newborn's face immediately. (If she is too tired to do this, you must step in and remove the birth sac from the kitten's face or it will suffocate.) Her rough tongue is used to tear open the protective sac and expose the kitten's mouth and nose. This vigorous washing by the mother stimulates circulation, causing the kitten to cry and begin breathing, and also helps to dry off newborn. The mother cat will sever the umbilical cord by chewing through it about 3/4 to 1 1/2 inches from the body. Next, she will usually eat the placenta, which will usually either come out already attached to the kitten, or will be expelled separately. It is normal for the mother cat to eat the placentas, although not all queens do. It is thought that the placenta contains valuable nutrients, possibly laxatives, and important hormones that help to stimulate milk flow in the queen.

Foothill Felines Madison!!

Foothill Felines Madison

Each kitten, as we mentioned, is born enveloped in a protective skin sac, transparent and filled with fluid. When the kitten starts through the birth canal, this sac sometimes is forced through first, the result being that the water forms a sort of blister-like protrusion before the kitten appears. Sometimes the force of the queen's contractions makes the bubble very full of fluid and prevents the normal progress of the kitten through the birth canal. Should this occur, pinch the bubble, or sack, between the nails of the thumb and the first finger (you can also use a thin alcohol prep or a piece of sterile, dampened gauze) to break the sac gently. This allows some of the "water" to escape, and the kitten should then come rapidly as the pressure from the bubble is relieved.

It is normal for the queen to break open the placental sac and clean the kittens; however, first-time mothers may be bewildered by the whole experience and not know what to do. If the protective sac is not removed within a few minutes after delivery, the kitten will suffocate, so you should be prepared to intervene. The kitten's face should be wiped with a warm, damp wash cloth or clean gauze to remove the sac and allow the kitten to breathe. Then rub the kitten vigorously with a soft, warm towel, trying to simulate as much as possible the way the mother would normally wash her kitten with her tongue) to stimulate circulation in the kitten and dry it off. The umbilical cord which attaches the kitten to the placenta should be tied off with sewing thread or dental floss and cut with scissors sterilized with an alcohol prep or dipped in alcohol. The cord should be tied snugly and cut about 3/4 inch to one inch from the kitten's body. You don't want the cord so long that it gets in the way as the kitten moves around in the nest box; however, you definitely don't want to cut the cord too close to the kitten's body. Take your time, waiting several minutes after you have tied off the cord to cut it, and do so very carefully.

When you see and hear a newborn kitten with a raspy noise as it struggles to breathe, check first inside the kitten's mouth to make sure it does not have a cleft palate. (This condition is often accompanied also by a bubbling of air at the nose, and the inability to nurse due to the kitten not being able to get the proper suction action.) Sometimes, normal newborn kittens may aspirate fluid into the lungs, which you can help to remove ad follows: First, the kitten should be held in the palm of your hand with the kitten's face cradled between your first two fingers. The head should be held firmly with this hand, and the body should be held firmly with the other. Stand up, and use a slow, deliberate, downward swing motion with your hands so that the kitten goes down between your legs, then is swung up again. Gravity will help the fluid and mucus to flow out of the lungs. This process may be tried several times until the lungs sound clear. If the kitten is getting enough oxygen, it's tongue will appear pink to red. A bluish colored tongue indicates insufficient oxygen to the lungs, and the swinging procedure should be repeated.

Foothill Felines Madison chasing her kitten!!

A mother's work is never done ...Foothill Felines Madison
trying to catch and teach her young kitten some manners!

It may be helpful to have a smaller, clean, dry box lined with a warm towel for the newborn kittens. (A towel can be warmed gently in a microwave oven.) After the kitten is stable and the cord has been tied off and cut, it should be placed in the incubator box while the mother is completing delivery. (With a very experienced queen, you may not need to do this as she will know how to continue to care for her newborn kittens even during labor.) Warmth is essential for newborn kittens, so a heating pad or hot water bottle may be placed under the box, or a heat lamp may be placed nearby. If a heating pad is used, it should be placed on the low setting and covered with a towel and kept UNDER the box to prevent overheating. A hot water bottle should also be covered with a towel. Remember, the newborn kittens may be unable to move away from the heat source and can easily become burned. Likewise, extreme caution should also be exercised when using a heat lamp.

The mother and her litter should be examined by a veterinarian within 24 hours after the delivery is completed, especially if you are not experienced enough to know if all is well. This visit is to check the mother for complete delivery and to check the newborn kittens. The mother may receive an injection (usually Oxytocin) to contract the uterus, expel any remaining birth contents from her uterus, and stimulate her milk production. She will have a pink to red colored bloody vaginal discharge for 3-7 days following delivery, which is perfectly normal. However, if the discharge is extremely heavy, or if it is a green or black color, has a strong odor or any sign of pus, or if it continues for longer than one week, she should be examined IMMEDIATELY by a veterinarian as these could be signs of a serious infection.

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Foothill Felines Madison - her kittens are hiding from her!!

"Psssst ... she'll NEVER find us down here!! Hehehe!!"

While most feline deliveries are thankfully problem-free, if a queen is in HARD labor, with strong contractions and pushing hard for more than 45 minutes without results, you should definitely be concerned and phone your veterinarian for instructions. It may be a simple problem where your vet can even talk you through manually turning a kitten into a better delivery position. However, it could mean the kitten is just too large to deliver, or is wedged in the birth canal, or it could even mean a torn uterus. Sometimes a queen needs a C-section but sometimes she just needs more expert help than you can give. Occasionally, labor stops and the veterinarian will give Oxytocin and/or calcium injections to start contractions again. And, by the way, should your queen need to have a C-section, normally the queen will still be able to nurse her young. And provided your vet does not find anything wrong with her uterus itself during the surgery, an otherwise healthy strong queen may well be able to have normal deliveries in the future, although her pregnancies should always be monitored very closely.

The queen may deliver her kittens at approximately 15 minute intervals, or go four or more hours between kittens. (Our record here at Foothill Felines is **36 hours**!! And all kittens were just fine!!) As long as the queen seems comfortable - don't panic. An extended period of hard, unproductive labor with her straining and pushing is worth panicking about. If the mother does go a long time between deliveries, put one kitten at a time in for awhile for her to wash and nurse if she is willing. Sometimes the action of the kitten nursing will help her uterus contract and even facilitate the next litter-mate to be born. Professional assistance should be sought if any of the following occur: 1) Twenty minutes of intense labor occurs without a kitten being delivered; 2) Ten minutes of intense labor occurs when a portion of a kitten or a fluid-filled bubble is visible in the birth canal; 3) The mother experiences sudden depression or marked lethargy; 4) The mother's body temperature exceeds 103F (39.4C) (via a rectal thermometer); 5) Fresh blood discharges from the queen's vagina for more than 10 minutes.

Difficulty delivering, known as "dystocia", may be managed with or without surgery. The condition of the mother, size of the litter, and size and positions of the kittens are all factors experienced veterinarians use in making that decision. This is one of many important reasons not to let your queen struggle and get completely tired out before seeking veterinary help.

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Occasionally, a mother cat will deliver a litter several days premature. The kittens may be small, thin, and have little or no hair. It is possible for them to survive, but they require an enormous amount of care, since they are subject to chilling and are frequently very weak and unable to swallow. Some may be able to nurse but are so weak that they must be held next to the mother. Kittens that do not nurse can be fed with a small syringe, bottle, or stomach tube. The equipment and instructions for these procedures are available from a veterinarian. Premature kittens must be kept warm. The mother cat can provide sufficient radiant heat from her body if she will stay close to them, but you should not count on this, and should as an added precaution also provide ambient heating from a heating pad set on low, covered in a towel, and set UNDER the nest box. Too much heat can be just as harmful to these tiny creatures with their delicate skin as chilling, so any form of artificial heat must be carefully controlled. The temperature in the nest box should be maintained at 85 to 90F (29.4 to 32.2C), but the box should be large enough so that the kittens can move away from the heat if it becomes uncomfortable for them.

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Foothill Felines Madison - one of her daughters!!

One of Madison's beautiful daughters.

It is not uncommon for one or two kittens in a litter to be stillborn (dead when born). Sometimes, a stillborn kitten will disrupt the queen's labor, resulting in dystocia. At other times the dead kitten will be born normally, and the queen will continue with her labor and the delivery of the rest of her litter. Mother cats instinctively know when a kitten is stillborn, and they will usually ignore the kitten to save energy for caring for their viable off-spring. Although it is very distressing to have a stillborn kitten, there is usually no way to know the cause (unless there is an obvious abnormality such as "spinal bifida", which makes its presence known by a large hole in the kitten's back) without sending the fetus to a pathology laboratory for a complete autopsy which includes tissue cultures, and viral and bacterial cultures. Even then, sometimes there are no answers, although for breeders, the peace of mind from ruling out congenital defects and viral and bacterial infections in their breeding programs is often priceless. When the pathology studies come back with no known cause of death, the queen's hormonal levels (especially that of her progesterone) are the next possible area to explore for the cause of the stillbirth.

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Look Here!  WHAT DO I DO NOW? Look Here!

Besides enjoying your new kittens, watch over the mother cat carefully after birth for any unusual bleeding or discharge. Also be sure she is nursing properly and has plenty of high quality food to eat; she should eat as much as she wants. The first few days, the kittens will be receiving the valuable "colostrum" from the queen, which is a watery substance full of vital nutrients and antibodies. (If for some reason the mother cat is unable to provide colostrum to her kittens, see our article COLOSTRUM.) After the first few days, the queen's milk should come in, and be visible in her milk sacs. The kittens should have full bellies and not be crying constantly or showing other signs of distress. The first few weeks of life, kittens should basically nurse and sleep. The mother cat will take care of stimulating her kittens to urinate and have bowel movements, and she will clean their little bottoms herself. But if her milk does not come in, you will need to assist with bottle-feeding to save the kittens. When born, kittens should weigh about 3-4 oz., and they should then gain weight every day. By the end of the first week, they should have doubled their birth weight. When in doubt about the health of the kittens or the mother cat, ALWAYS seek professional, veterinary help IMMEDIATELY. And, be sure to read our article on Breeding Cats, Part I:  ESTRUS & PREGNANCY.

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wheel on the market, the Toy Go Round wheel!

~ Just like with human females, staying in shape has been proven to increase the ability for a queen to become pregnant, as well as her ability to carry a healthy litter full-term. Click on image above to learn about the incredible new exercise wheels for cats; the Toy-Go-Round wheels!! Great for relieving boredom, controlling weight, and keeping your indoor cat in top physical shape. They're simply the best designed, best built and best priced wheels we've found anywhere!! ~

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