After birth

Know how to help - and when to call the vet

What to expect in the hours and days after birth

The queen will usually provide the warmth and nutrition the kittens need, but sometimes you will need to help, or call your vet for advice.

Things to do following the birth

Warmth is important as newborn kittens can lose heat very quickly. If the mother is attentive, she will clean the kittens and use her body heat to keep the kittens warm. If she is tired or disturbed she may ignore them, in which case you will need to provide warmth, either via a heat pad or a covered hot water bottle - no hotter than body temperature - and the kittens should be covered with a light towel or blanket. Keep the room temperature warm and the bedding clean and dry.

Feeding - the kittens should start to suckle from their mother almost immediately. If they haven't started after half an hour, gently guide them towards the teats. If the kittens don't start feeding, ask your vet for advice. You may need to start giving the kitten a substitute milk - but follow the instructions carefully.

Remember, newborn kittens cannot go more than a few hours without milk.

If the queen is calm and settled, you may wish to quickly and quietly check each kitten. Speak to your vet for advice if you have any concerns.

See also - Hand rearing

When to call the vet

After birth, there are a few problems that can occur:

  • bleeding from the vagina or unusual vaginal discharge
  • prolapse of the uterus (womb) - straining can occasionally cause the uterus to be pushed out
  • disturbed behaviour - normally queens spend most of the time with the litter for at least two weeks and are usually very calm after the birth. However, some queens may show disturbed behaviour:
  • severe disturbance, constant interruptions or pain can cause the queen to kill her offspring. The risk of this is reduced if mum is familiar with her environment, the surroundings are quiet and she is in good health. Be very calm and quiet and do not disturb a mother with very young kittens unless necessary and keep other pets away
  • if the queen seems to ignore or reject one of her kittens, putting some of the birthing fluids on the kitten may help her to accept it
  • if the queen is not comfortable in her environment, she may try to move the kittens in her mouth to a preferred location. It is important to ensure the queen has access to a warm, clean and quiet place. She may appreciate a cardboard box lined with soft blankets and sheets to hide the kittens in
  • mastitis - infection of a mammary gland that becomes hot, painful and engorged. The queen may be off colour
  • poor appetite, excessive drinking or vomiting
  • awkward or clumsy movement, twitching or collapsing

Talk to your vet if you notice any unusual behaviour.

If you need to take the queen to the vet, ask if you should transport the kittens with her. If the kittens are to stay at home, make sure they have adequate care, including warmth and food, while the queen is away.

Related topics

Birth and kittening - Topic

Pregnancy and caring for pregnant cats - Topic

Hand rearing - Topic