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Being a pet parent is rewarding, but there’s a special thrill that comes from being a kitten grandparent. Whether the mother is a pet or a neighborhood stray, both she and her kittens need a human who knows what to do after a cat gives birth.
This cat pregnancy primer and Kitten 101 overview will help. It provides answers to common kitten care and cat pregnancy questions, including what the pet parent needs to do and what the mother already knows.
Make sure the newborns have a cozy nesting box to rest in after the birth. The box’s walls should be high enough to keep the kittens from climbing out, but low enough that even a tired cat can get out easily.
Also, try to use a box wide enough that the mother can rest away from the kittens, but not so big that the kittens can’t easily get to her.
Newspaper at the bottom of the box will help control odor. If warm water bottles or a heating pad set on low can go on top of that, the kittens will stay warm even when they’re away from their mother.
The temperature of the box should be between 85 and 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Don’t let it get too warm, lest the kittens get burned.
Finally, pad the box with plenty of soft towels, blankets, and mattress pads. Don’t use ones with holes in them, since tiny kitten paws and heads can easily get caught.
Naturally, mother cats are tired and spent after birth. Make sure she has plenty of water and food nearby, so she doesn’t have to exert herself to stay healthy.
Nursing mother cats need extra nutrients. Increase their usual portion and consider switching to, or adding in, kitten formula food. If she needs encouragement to eat more, try adding canned tuna, salmon, or chicken.
Put the litter box far away from the food, but not so far that she struggles to reach it. The litter box can go outside the nesting box at first, since kittens won’t start using it until they’re about 4 weeks old.
As long as they have a safe place to stay, a mother cat will usually do everything her kittens need, including cleaning them and drawing them close to her body for warmth.
The mother cat should start nursing her babies within an hour or two of birth. If that doesn’t happen, which may be the case if she is too tired, gently guide the newborn kitten to the nipple to suckle.
If mom refuses to nurse or kittens continue to struggle with nursing, contact a vet immediately. Fuzzy members have access to 24/7 Vet Chat for any questions or concerns that may arise. Giving the kittens substitute milk may be recommended. Don’t just give them cow’s milk or plant-based milk from the fridge. Get replacement kitten milk from a nearby pet store or ask the vet for recommendations.
If possible, weigh the kittens after birth, and then every day or so thereafter. Check on them regularly and make sure they look healthy, which means:
Moist, pink gums
If anything seems amiss, don't hesitate to consult with a vet.
Mother cats are usually attentive and take good care of their babies, but there are times when that doesn’t happen. Sometimes it’s because the mother is too tired and weak from a difficult birth.
As soon as the kitten emerges, the mother cat should tear open the baby’s membrane sac and clean their nose and mouth so they can breathe. If that doesn’t happen, a pet parent can gently assist cleaning the kitten’s face with a dry towel.
Also, if the mother cat doesn’t chew through the umbilical cord herself, contact a vet right away for guidance before stepping in to assist.
It is rare, however, If the mother cat needs human help for these early after-birth steps, keep an eye on her. She might continue to neglect her kittens, in which case they’ll need more intensive hand-raising.
Caring for a litter of kittens is a big job. Online vet chat is a great way to get help and cat medical advice along the way.
To learn more about what to do after a cat gives birth, become a Fuzzy member today and access 24/7 Live Vet Chat. Members of the Fuzzy Vet Team are available any time to answer a variety of cat health questions, including how to take care of newborn kittens.