This article is to inform cat owners who have a cat with kittens, on how to care for the cat, and her kittens. If you have orphaned kittens, or kittens whose mother is not caring for them you need to bottle feed with KMR and should research how to do that. If your cat has not yet had kittens, read more on how to care for a pregnant cat.
When kittens are born their eyes are closed and they are fairly helpless. Their mother even has to help them to go to the bathroom, which she does by licking their bottoms. They nurse from her and sleep most of the time. Their eyes open between seven and ten days of age.
The kittens will start to move around more after their eyes open and will start to eat food, and use the litter box, somewhere between four and five weeks of age. Although they can leave their mother at six weeks old, they do best to stay with her until eight weeks of age and should have their first vaccinations three days prior to leaving their current home.
Where to Keep Mother Cat and Kittens
Generally people set up a room for the mother to have her kittens in well in advance. If you have not done so, or if she had her kittens someplace else, you need to set this up now, and move her, and the kittens, into the room.
Although the mother cat might want outside, she, and her kittens, need to be kept in a special room just for them. This could be a bed room, bath room, or spare room. The point is that she needs to be kept confined with the kittens, for her safety and theirs. This also helps with bonding. After two weeks she can be let out to wander the home for a short time, but should not be let out of the house at all.
The door to the room where the kittens are needs to be kept shut at all times or mother cat might try to move the kittens to an area where you cannot get them, and in some cases will put them in places that are not safe (on top of a counter).
If the mother cat goes outside, not only is she at risk of having something happen to her (it would be a terrible time for her to get hit by a car), but she could potentially carry diseases back in to her kittens, transporting bacteria and viruses on her paws and fur.
Mother cat should not be allowed out of the house until her kittens have left her and she has been spayed.
The room should be equipped with a nesting area, often people will use a large box, or drawer (removed from a dresser). Either can be lined with a few blankets. The edges need to be high enough that newborn kittens cannot roll out as they would get chilled if their mother didn't notice.
The food and water should be kept in this room.
There should also be a litter box for the mother – when the kittens are older you will want to add another litter box, with a low rim. The litter should be non-clumping. Clumping litter will stick to the mothers wet nipples and be ingested by the kittens.
Feeding a Cat and Kittens
From even before the kittens were born the mother (queen) should be on a good quality dry kitten food. Good quality means a meat source is the first ingredient, such as chicken meal, or lamb meal, (not chicken by-products, or corn). She should have free access to this kitten food at all times.
Mother cat should also have 2-3 servings of canned food a day. This should be a mush type food, not chunks in gravy. You can even add some water to the food to make it more soupy which will help increase her water intake and help her produce more milk. If she is thin you will need to increase the number of feedings per day.
Human Involvement and Other Pets
Although many people will say that you should not touch the kittens because the mother will kill, or ignore them, this is not true. In general there is no need to touch the kittens before their eyes are open (except to move them to the room where they are to be contained if this was not already established). Some people follow the rule that if they touch one kitten they touch them all, but this is probably not needed.
All other pets should be kept out of the room where the mother cat and kittens are. Any animal that goes outside could potentially bring diseases in with them. Tom cats often kill kittens to try to bring the mother back into heat.
All people who have been around other cats should wash their hands, and may even change clothing, before going in with the mother and her kittens.
Kittens should be handled daily from the time their eyes open, this helps socialize them to humans. They should not be taken out of the room where they are living until they are at least five weeks of age, and should be watched carefully around your home. They should not go outside at all until fully vaccinated (and ideally until spayed or neutered).
Rehoming is a tricky thing. If you put an ad for “Free to Good Home Kittens” how will you be sure the home really is good?
For their own safety the kittens should be vet checked, vaccinated, and dewormed, three days prior to going to their new homes. This will cost you money, but can be recovered by charging the same for each kitten. If a person objects to paying this (it would have cost them more to take an individual kitten to the veterinarian) they are probably not a good owner. Read here on how to wean kittens.
Alternatively the kittens can be taken to an animal shelter and surrendered. The shelter cannot guarantee every kitten will find homes, but they can screen potential owners to be sure they are qualified. If you have your kittens vaccinated prior to taking them to the shelter and bring health records for them, the shelter can move them into the adoption area quicker, and is not likely to euthanize already vaccinated kittens.
Finally – The mother cat needs to be switched back to regular cat food. Some people remove food for a day to help her to dry up.
Your female cat should be spayed before she is allowed back outside. In the United States over 3 million more kittens are born yearly than there are homes for. There is no need to allow a cat to continue to add to these numbers.