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Letting a cat become pregnant and have kittens may hold some appeal for some people. They may want to allow their children to witness the “miracle of life” or think they may enjoy being by their cat’s side as she goes through pregnancy and delivers her babies. Sounds good? Well, life is more complicated than that.
In reality, there are quite a few possible complications in pregnancy and birth which can kill the mother cat and/or her kittens if left untreated. Unfortunately, sometimes even careful supervision and the best veterinary care are not enough to save their lives. If you’re considering allowing your cat to become pregnant and have kittens, please carefully read this article and give this more thought. Hopefully, realizing the full extent of what could go wrong will help you change your mind. As you read on, please remember there is one simple way to save your cat from these life-threatening complications: Prevent her from getting pregnant in the first place by having her spayed. It could very well save her life.
Many things can go wrong with a pregnancy, birth and raising newborn kittens. If you do not spay your cat and allow her to breed, you should be ready for dealing with any of these situations, in terms of time, money and emotional stress.
Warning: The following contains graphic descriptions. It may be disturbing for some people so if you’re squeamish you may want to stop here.
1. Your cat could get sick.
The body’s immune system is partially suppressed during pregnancy. This leaves your cat more vulnerable to all kinds of infection. Bacteria, viruses and fungi are always lurking in the environment and once your cat’s defenses are weakened due to pregnancy, the risk for infection is much higher.
What you can do: Make sure your cat is up on her shots before she becomes pregnant. Keep your cat’s environment clean and as stress-free as possible. Stay vigilant for signs of health problems and keep in close contact with your veterinarian and be prepared to spend money on veterinary care.
2. The kittens could get sick while still in the womb.
Once the mother cat becomes infected with a pathogen – sometimes without showing any symptoms – she may pass it on to her unborn kittens. Not all infections are contagious in utero but many are. The fetuses could become sick with feline leukemia virus, panleukopenia (parvo), toxoplasmosis, coronavirus or FIV. Some of these infections may kill them, while others could cause birth defects.
What you can do: Try your best to keep the mother cat healthy (as described earlier) and be prepared to deal with the other complications later on.
3. The kittens could die and become stuck in the womb.
Kittens sometimes die before being born. They can die from infection or due to a congenital defect. Usually, the pregnancy will be spontaneously aborted at this point. However, sometimes a kitten dies inside the womb without triggering a miscarriage. It could literally rot away inside the mother, requiring immediate veterinary intervention and a c-section to remove the putrefied body. Other times, that tiny dead kitten can remain stuck in the womb without decomposing. Such a body may become calcified only to be discovered during a future spay surgery.
What you can do: Monitor your cat’s pregnancy and if you suspect something has gone wrong, get her to a veterinarian. Pay special attention to smelly secretions as these could be an indication of a dead kitten inside the uterus. Have the funds ready for an emergency c-section to save your cat’s life.
4. Your cat could get eclampsia.
Eclampsia is a dangerous medical condition caused by severe loss of calcium and hypertension. Symptoms include trembling of the muscles, high fever, loss of appetite, agitated behavior, excessive panting, and difficulty walking. Left untreated it could be fatal.
What you can do: Monitor your cat’s pregnancy and if you suspect something is going wrong, get her to a veterinarian sooner rather than later. Make sure you have the funds for proper medical care in advance.
5. Your cat could have a miscarriage.
Cats can miscarry their pregnancies altogether for various reasons. Owners may have no advance warning, waking up one morning to the gruesome sight of dead cat fetuses on the floor. The fetuses may be deformed or simply too young to even look like kittens. Not a sight for the faint of heart, be they children or adults.
What you can do: Provide your pregnant queen with quality nutrition and medical care and be prepared to face the possibility of losing the litter even with the best of care.
6. Your cat may need to have a c-section.
Sometimes a cat goes into labor but no kittens are coming out. The only way for the kittens to be delivered is through a c-section, where a veterinarian will cut through the mother’s abdomen into the uterus to deliver the babies. If a c-section isn’t performed in time, both the cat and kittens could die.
What you can do: Be prepared for emergencies. Have your veterinarian’s contact details including the phone number for the emergency clinic in your area. Have the funds for paying for a c-section ready (it can cost between $500 and $1000).
7. Your cat can bleed to death during or right after birth.
During the birth process, the cat’s uterus expels the kittens along with their placentas and a certain amount of blood. Sometimes something goes wrong and the bleeding doesn’t stop. A placenta may be rooted too deeply in the uterine wall and without immediate veterinary help, your cat could die of blood loss.
What you can do: Follow the birth process carefully and be prepared for emergencies. Count the number of kittens and placentas as they are delivered and make sure all placentas come out. Have your veterinarian’s contact details including the phone number for the emergency clinic in your area. Have the funds for paying for emergency vet care.
8. Your cat can get an infection called pyometra.
What you can do: Pay close attention to the health of your cat. If you have a female cat who is not spayed be aware of the risk for pyometra and consider spaying her to prevent this deadly disease from setting in.
9. Your cat could have problems with milk production.
Your cat may not be able to produce enough milk to feed the kittens or even any milk at all. The medical term for lack of milk is agalactia and it can happen when the kittens were born prematurely or if the mother is malnourished and under stress. When there is not enough milk, the condition is called dysgalactia and it can happen when the cat has too many kittens to care for (usually more than four).
What you can do: Be prepared to feed the newborn kittens. Learn all about newborn kitten care and know that you might be called on to take over at any point, including feeding newborns every two hours. Have the right equipment on hand before your cat goes into labor.
10. Your cat could suffer from “baked breasts”.
What you can do: You’ll need to apply warm compresses to ease Kitty’s pain. Symptoms, besides the visual, are general discomfort and tenderness to the touch. If your cat experiences visible discomfort when nursing, and the warm compresses don’t help, seek veterinary advice right away as your cat could be developing mastitis (mammary infection).
11. Your cat could have a mammary infection.
If bacteria make their way through the nipples into the breast, your cat can develop an infection of the mammary glands, medically known as mastitis. This puts the mother cat and the kittens at immediate risk and calls for emergency veterinary intervention.
What you can do: Monitor the mother cat’s medical condition, including her nipples and breasts. If they seem red, swollen or if there’s a discoloration of the milk, consult with your veterinarian immediately. Your cat may need antibiotics and the kittens may need to be switched over to hand feeding.
12. Your cat might eat her newborn young kittens.
Nobody knows why this happens but some cats, especially inexperienced mothers having their first litter, may kill and even eat one or more of the kittens. Sometimes the kittens are fully ingested and “disappear” while other time, tiny body parts are left behind for shocked owners to discover.
What you can do: Provide your cat with the best possible conditions. Make sure she can raise her kittens in a quiet environment, free of stressful disturbances. If you notice stress levels going up, keep guests (especially children and other pets) away. Read more about stress here: Is Your Cat Stressed Out
13. Your cat might give birth to deformed kittens.
There are many kinds of possible birth defects in kittens. Some are visually horrific such as an incomplete skull, a head full of fluids, or absent eyes. Others are invisible at first but prevent the kitten from digesting food or developing properly. Such kittens may be born dead or die after birth, some sooner rather than later.
What you can do: Not much. If your cat gave birth to a visibly deformed kitten, please get it to a vet to be assessed and be euthanized if nothing can be done to help it. Some birth defects may require surgery to fix so be prepared to pay for an expensive procedure.
14. Your cat could give birth to premature kittens.
If your cat doesn’t carry her pregnancy to the full term of at least 64 days, she could give birth prematurely. Preemie kittens are extremely fragile and may not survive, depending on how far along in their development they are. They could die within hours or days of birth.
What you can do: Experienced rescuers may be able to help you care for premature kittens so it’s best to contact a local rescue organization and ask if they can put you in touch with such a person.
15. Your cat could reject one or more of the kittens.
Rejection of a kitten (one or more) can happen if the mother is inexperienced, stressed, malnourished or sick. The mother cat can also sense if a kitten is sick or deformed and push that kitten out of the nest. Sometimes there is no known reason for the rejection. A rejected kitten could soon die without nursing. If left away from the mother cat for too long, a newborn kitten could die from hypothermia too.
What you can do: Monitor the kittens and their interaction with the mother. If you see any of the newborn kittens away from the mother cat, be prepared to step in and take over as you may need to hand rear that kitten in order to save its life.
16. The kittens could become very sick.
Even when a cat gives birth to healthy kittens, they may still become sick. It could happen during the first week or two, or later on when they are a couple of months old. Just like babies, kittens are far more susceptible to disease and require intensive veterinary care in case of infection.
What you can do: Keep the area around the litter clean. Wash your hands before and after handling the kittens, especially if there are other cats in your household. Carefully monitor the kittens’ development and have a weight chart drawn for each one. If you notice anything wrong or if a kitten fails to gain weight, consult with your veterinarian immediately.
17. Fading kitten syndrome
It is estimated that only 75 percent of kittens make it into adulthood. Many kittens die in the first weeks of their lives, often for mysterious reasons. When the reason for death is not known, it’s referred to as “Fading Kitten Syndrome”.
What you can do: Read more about the syndrome and what you can do to prevent it: Fading Kitten Syndrome: 11 Things You Need To Know
Still want your cats to have kittens?
If you absolutely insist on allowing your cat to give birth, make sure you are fully prepared in advance. Have sufficient monetary funds set aside both for routine checkups and for emergency care. Talk to your vet and find out in advance how much you would have to pay for the following –
1. A full checkup prior to mating, including making sure your cat is up on her shots.
2. Routine checkups during pregnancy, including ultrasounds or x-rays.
3. A c-section and other emergencies.
4. Veterinary care for the kittens.
Also, talk to your vet about how to arrange for emergency visits and discuss costs and payment methods in advance.
Provide quality cat food, preferably food formulated for pregnant and lactating queens, and arrange for a safe quiet environment for your pregnant cat.
Hopefully, this article will convince you that allowing your cat to breed is risky – and expensive! – business. The best way to prevent the life-threatening situations described here is by spaying your cat and never allowing her to become pregnant. She will live a longer, healthier life and you will have a pampered cat to enjoy without dealing with the gory aspects of pregnancy and birth. If you allow Kitty to have babies, you’ll also be adding to the problem of cat overpopulation, taking away homes from kittens in shelters.
Please share this article with others and help us deliver the message that bringing kittens into the world is not something that should be taken lightly!
If your cat is pregnant and you need advice about dealing with one of the situations described above please post about it in the Pregnant Cat & Kitten Care forum.