How to Raise a Litter of Kittens
How to Raise a Litter of Kittens
Is your cat pregnant? Did you just stumble upon a fresh litter of kittens (lucky you!)? Are you just curious?
I've had a hand in raising over 100 kittens throughout my 25 years of life. Kittens are my favorite thing in the world, and trust me, I want to make sure that they're well taken care of. I've gained a lot of knowledge with each litter, from when you should first handle the kittens to when you can find them a new home, and everywhere in between.
Are You Ready to Work?
It's fun work, I promise!
Raising a litter of kittens is a lot of work. As a kid, I never realized how involved it was because, well, I didn't have anything else to do. My mom was lucky enough to have summers off and I can remember her making my siblings and I sit down with a sheet of paper. "The Bored List," she called it. It was meant to be a list of things we could do when we were bored, but I remember one summer, sitting down to that sheet of paper about a week before the kittens were born. My sheet had one word on it: Kittens. That was my plan for the summer. Trust me, I didn't get bored!
The last litter we had, about 7 months ago, was my first litter since I moved away from my parents' house. I was working 75 hours a week, on third shift. Wow, was I sleep deprived for a few months! My live-in boyfriend took over about a third of the duties, but that was too much for him. He was ready to see them go around 8 weeks, but I would have gladly kept all 6 of them! The moral of this little story is that you won't even realize it's work if you love kittens. And I mean LOVE.
So the real question here is: Do you love kittens?
Because that's what it's going to take. Don't worry, I'm convinced everyone in their right mind loves kittens. How couldn't you?
Most Important Thing
If the kittens haven't come yet
Your pregnant cat will need somewhere safe to give birth. From my experience, she'll usually have decided a week or so before the birth where it will be. Every cat is different though! The most important thing to do, right now, is to offer some nice, safe, CLEAN options. Cat beds work nicely, but make sure they're very spacious. You mommy cat will be moving around a lot and you want to make sure she has room to do so without crushing any of her babies. I prefer an open-topped bed, so if your mommy cat needs any assistance during the process (this happened in our last litter!), you'll be ready and able. Remember, whatever option she decides on will get a little messy. It's a good idea to line it with a towel you're not too attached to or newspaper. Not only does is this easier to clean, it also decreases the spreading of bacteria, just make sure that you remember to swap out the towel/newspaper. I've found it is a little more comfortable with a towels, but your little kittens' claws can get stuck in the threads.
Another thing that not all people remember... Kittens are babies. That seems pretty obvious, right? Not so obvious is that you need to kitten proof your house. Make sure all heating vents are closer and there aren't any "traps" for your little kitties. Hide cleaning chemicals where they can't be reached by curious little whiskers. Use a baby gate to close off stairs; you don't want a little one to fall down them!
You're going to need this...
I've found a cozy cat bed with a cover is preferred by some mother cats. The cover and walls add to a feeling of safety.
But sometimes all you need is somewhere soft to curl up!
Your first and last moments with your kittens
My mom told my sister and I when we were very young that you shouldn't handle the kittens until their umbilical cord has fallen off. This is great advice for children. My sister and I, however, heard "electrical" cord. We were sure we would get shocked if we tried to touch those kittens. It worked better than my mom could have ever known, and gave the kittens a chance to get a little sturdier before our little hands were grasping them. For grown-ups, when you are first touching the kittens will be different in every different situation. If the mother cat is comfortable with you, it won't be a problem to assist her in the birth and touch the kittens during the first or second day. You won't want to handle them a lot during that first week or so, however.
When you send your kittens to their new home is somewhat up to you. You absolutely don't want to separate a kitten from their mother before 6 weeks, and most people wait until 8 weeks. If you don't feel they are ready, then continue weaning them and helping them adjust to solid foods. It's definitely not unheard of to keep the kittens for 12 weeks. One thing to keep in mind, as sad as it is to say, is your kittens might find homes a little more easily around 8 weeks. Cuteness can play a huge factor.
Keep Those Kitten Busy!
An engaged and playful kitten is a happy kitten!
This simple toy is one loved by cats of all ages!
I just love watching a kitty run in circles.
Who wouldn't want to cuddle up with this little cuddle pal?
Helping a kitten learn where scratching is allowed at a young age will save a lot of furniture down the road!
A kitten on catnip is an adorable thing to see!
The Basics - These should be obvious!
- FOOD! Kittens should be nursing for at least the first month, but they can continue well into 8 or 9 weeks. Around 4 weeks I usually start to introduce the kitten to some wet cat food. What always worked best for us was mixing some wet cat food with cream and heating it for a short while in the microwave. Not until it is hot, that will burn your babies! Just until it is around body temperature, like their mommy's milk! Your kittens might not be pros at eating solid food, but give them time and they'll definitely learn! As time progresses, you can start mixing crunchy cat food in with the soft food, but make sure you've waited until around 6 weeks, so the kittens don't choke.
- WATER! Don't be surprised when your tiny kittens aren't drinking water. They get everything they need from their mother's milk. Once the kittens are eating more wet/solid food, than nursing from their mother, they will need water to hydrate them. This shouldn't be a problem, because you'll already have clean water out for your other cats. However, you'll want to ensure that the dish is appropriate for your kittens. They haven't lapped up water before, and it has a bit of a learning curve, it seems. Introduce the kittens to the water and make sure they can fully reach the water.
- CAT LITTER! Your kittens won't be using a litter box for the first few weeks. The mother cat will take care of their bathroom needs. When cat's had litters in the wild, the mother cat couldn't risk her babies being found by the smell of their waste, so the mother cat eats it. It may seem a little gross, but the mother stimulates the kittens to eliminate their waste with her tongue. It's natural and shouldn't be punished. I've heard of a family trying to stop the mother from doing this. Don't do that! Remember, mother knows best. Once the kittens are moving around and starting to eat some wet/solid cat food, you can start litter training them. You want a small litter box (we actually usually used a shoebox) that you can place the kittens in it if you happen to catch them in the middle of peeing or pooping. They learn very quickly, but you don't want to start introducing them to the box AFTER they start to have accidents. Have a litter box available for them as soon as they start to walk around on their own. A VERY important note: Don't use clumping cat litter. Kittens will often try to eat the cat litter, and clumping cat litter can have detrimental health effects.
Also Consider This
- Birth Problems. While it's not necessary for you to take your cat to a vet for the birth, as long as nothing drastic goes wrong, there are still some dangers involved. You should feel confident in assisting her if she needs it. If you feel something is wrong, remember there are lives at stake. Keep your momma comfortable as long as you can, but PLEASE, again PLEASE, take her to see a vet if it is clear she is in distress. It should take up to an hour between kittens, but if it is more than 4 hours, you should take her to a vet. Read up on feline birth; there is a lot to learn. Most people are familiar with the puppies being born in 101 Dalmatians, when they believe a puppy is stillborn, but is revived with light rubbing and stimulation. This actually does work sometimes. The last litter I assisted in, the last kitten born was a very small, mainly black, tortoiseshell girl. She wasn't moving, and the mother was exhausted. She gave up on her. I grabbed a clean paper towel and slowly starting rubbing, making sure to remove any waste around the kitten's face. That moment when she started to move was one of the best in my life. She grew up to be quite the little fighter!
- Kitten Food. This should be relatively self explanatory. Kitten food has special nutrients that are needed in a developing kitten's body. You should also feed kitten food (dry or wet!) to a pregnant cat. We always took the kittens in stages: mother's milk, wet cat food mixed with milk, wet mixed with dry and milk, wet mixed with dry, and finally just dry food. It should take at least 8 weeks to get through this cycle, and your kittens will most likely still be nursing at 8 weeks. However how often they nurse will have drastically decreased. Remember, the most important thing is that they're getting enough food, so if they're not eating the dry food, keep feeding them wet food and mix the dry in very slowly.
- Kitten Toys. Your kittens will need enrichment, just like human babies! Kittens often play with each other (and their parents when they'll put up with it!), but cat toys are a great way to teach them. We had a variety of different balls: lighted balls, balls with bells inside, balls with treats inside, and bouncy cat balls. Little stuffed mice are also good for play hunting. Ensure that none of the toys have anything that might harm your kittens. When in doubt, keep it simple! It's a great idea to start the kittens young on using a scratching post, and it WILL make a huge difference in your furniture!
- Baths and Nail Clipping. I'm completely against de-clawing cats, but that doesn't mean you can't clip them. Make sure you are cutting after the quick, and your cat won't experience any pain, just like cutting our own nails. I've found if you start clipping your cats' nails when they are young, they will become used to it, and it won't be such a traumatic experience for them. Your kittens most likely won't need their nails cut, but start young, trust me! The same goes for baths. I started giving my little Charlie-boy baths early on and he's much better with them now. As a long haired kitty, it makes all the difference! Please don't try either of these with kittens younger than 6 weeks; that's just too little!
- Shots, Ear Mites, Eye Infections, etc. These are things you need to check with your vet on. Take your pregnant cat into a vet early on in her pregnancy to make sure everything is healthy. Your vet will tell you when to bring the kittens in and when to get their shots. Their health is so important, so please involve your veterinarian.
- Fixing the Kittens. Trust me, I know an "oops" litter can happen, but there are more cats in the world than there are homes for them. Please get your cats and kittens fixed. Some vets will fix a kitten as early as 8 weeks. Check around and see when you can get those little guys in! Let's all pitch in a hand to help cut back on cat overpopulation!
The Payoff - It's a huge one!
Love them, and they'll love you. How could you say no to love from this little guy?