Besides an actual pregnant cat, these are the supplies you’ll need for kitten birth:
Weigh the newborn kittens as soon after delivery as the mom will let you, preferably within the first 24 hours. I do it when I change the soiled bedding after delivery, or when mom cat leaves the nest for a potty break or any other kind of break, actually.
How do we know if a nursing kitten is getting enough milk each day? We use math and a scale. Most domestic shorthair kittens weigh between 80 and 100 grams about birth. A kitten who is getting enough to eat will gain between 6 and 10 grams every 24 hours. If a kitten is fussy, acts frantic, won’t settle down and sleep, and is not gaining weight, it’s time to step in with some supplementing feeding (which we’ll discuss below).
Most mom cats are fine if you handle their kittens slowly, gently, briefly, where they can see what you’re doing, and if you tell them quietly what you’re doing as you’re doing it.
Place the scale on a solid, flat surface inside the nest, if possible, so you’re moving the kittens just inches instead of up and down. A small bowl or receiving blanket placed on the scale (hit tare to zero-out the scale before weighing the kitten) helps the kitten feel secure; a squealing, scared kitten will make mom cat very grumpy.
Keep a notepad and pencil next to the scale near the nest. Give each kitten her own page, where you note her birth date, time, birth weight, and any distinguishing features if the kittens look alike. Weigh the kittens at the same time each day, and jot the dates and weights on her sheet. Some fosters use a spreadsheet, but I already used the word ‘tare’ in a sentence so I’m technical-ed out for the day
2. Several polar fleece blankets.
While you can use any blankets you have around the house, I like polar fleece best because it’s warm, and it absorbs fluids. And cat delivery is very fluid-y.
While mom cat is laboring with its siblings, a newborn kitten can be kept warm and dry on a clean part of the blanket. Keep folding the dry parts over the wet parts during delivery, and you can keep the nest comfortable for mom and babies.
I prefer lighter colors so I can keep an eye on mom cat’s post-partum bleeding as well. Color and texture are easier to see on a lighter colored blanket, and are good indicators of how she is healing internally.
Newborn kittens cannot regulate their body temperature until they’re about three weeks old. A cuddle safe disc warmed up in the microwave, then tucked into the bedding, keeps kittens warm. Even before they can walk, kittens can scoot, and having a cuddle safe disc in the bed will help them find a warm spot if they’ve crawled away from their mom. Have a couple on hand, so you can easily swap them out as they cool.
You may be tempted to use a standard heating pad, but don’t. A kitten’s skin is extraordinarily thin, and can burn easy. Electric heating pads are just too hot for kittens. A cuddle safe disc releases a gentle, safe, long-running heat that warms the blankets to just the right temperature.
4. KMR (Kitten Milk Replacer)
KMR is like baby formula for kittens. Powdered PetAg KMR is generally recognized as superior to other brands. Some people prefer the liquid kind: it’s slightly more expensive, but the convenience might be worth it to you.
Bottle feeding kittens is beyond the scope of this article. Others have more expertise, so definitely do a Google search if you end up needing to supplement a kitten.
When I bottle feed kittens, I use this Miracle Nipple Mini set.
When would you need to bottle feed kittens who are with their mom?
- If a kitten is not gaining weight (6-10 grams every 24 hours), she will need a few extra feedings.
- If the mom cat has more than six kittens, you may need to supplement a few of them.
- If there is a runt, she may need help bulking up.
- A kitten who is not getting enough to eat will lack the energy to fight for a spot at the milk bar. She may just fall asleep, and skip a feeding. This kitten will need to be placed on a nipple at every opportunity, and supplemented with KMR if she fails to gain weight.
A few things to keep in mind if you need to provide supplemental feedings:
- The bottom four nipples on a nursing cat will fill up faster than the top four. If you have a kitten struggling to gain weight, try to place her on one of the bottom four nipples when she eats.
- When choosing which kittens to supplement, you have a few options. A mother cat’s milk is superior to KMR. Bottle feeding a larger, more vigorous kitten may free up a bottom nipple for a smaller kitten to nurse on. Larger kittens often will latch onto an artificial nipple quicker, and can be easier to supplement than a weaker kitten.
- Tube-feeding is also an option. Warmed KMR is delivered via a tube straight to a kitten’s tummy. Because a kitten doesn’t have to nurse or work for it, it can reserve critical energy for growing and gaining weight. Tube-feeding trickier to get started, but is easier to administer once you’ve figured it out. Talk with your vet or shelter to get the supplies and training to tube-feed a kitten.
- Kittens who are used to nursing from their mom may have nipple confusion when confronted with an artificial nipple. Syringe or tube-feeding are good options for supplementing nursing kittens.
Another use for KMR is for the mom cat. She needs fluids, protein, and nutrition to recover from labor and delivery. A dish of prepared KMR mixed with soft kitten food is an excellent Nursing Mommy Slurry, and will give her the energy she needs to care for herself and her kittens. My post-partum cats get a dish of slurry every day; more than that can cause diarrhea.
5. Latex gloves
These are helpful when handling newborn kittens. I go through several pairs during delivery. I slip on a pair when I need to move a newborn kitten onto dry bedding while mom labors with its siblings; if I need to tear an amniotic sac around a kitten’s mouth; if I need to cut an umbilical cord; and when I weigh them for the first time.
Obviously, latex gloves help keep a sanitary environment. But they also give you some traction if you need to handle wet, slippery things. Dropping newborn kittens is frowned upon in these parts. And all other parts, actually.
6. Miscellaneous Supplies
- Notepad and pencil to record weights and other identifying information.
- Sharpies, in case the kittens appear identical. Place a different colored mark on their armpit. Indicate their color on the notepad.
- Soft velcro collars can be helpful if you can’t tell the kittens apart as they get older. I like these ones because they’re soft, adjustable, and if it gets stuck on something, the kitten can pull it off. But in general, I never use collars.
- Some people have blunt-ended scissors and plain dental floss on hand to tie off and cut umbilical cords if necessary. But I don’t, and here’s why.
When a cat breaks the umbilical, she first clamps down on it with her teeth to stop the blood supply. Then, she tears it with her teeth. To mimic this, some people will tie a piece of floss around the cord to stop the blood supply, then use sterilized, blunt-ended scissors to cut it.
This sounds good on paper. But if you’ve ever actually seen an umbilical cord still attached to a tiny, wet, newborn kitten, you’ll know that it’s minuscule, very slippery, and the kitten it’s attached to is very wiggly. Tying anything around it sounds like a nightmare; having any kind of scissors, even blunt-ended ones, around wet, wriggling kittens sounds even worse.
So, if mom cat needs help with an umbilical cord, here’s what I do: I wait until the cord turns gray-ish. This means there’s no longer any blood flowing through it. This can take awhile, but there’s no hurry. Now that the kitten is breathing and nursing, it no longer needs a cord to give it nutrients from a placenta that isn’t attached to anything.
Donning my beautiful latex gloves to ensure everything’s sterile, and to help with traction, I use my fingernail to gently clamp, then tear, the umbilical cord at least an inch or two away from the kitten’s belly. Fingernails mimic the mom’s teeth better anyway, and my hands are easier to control than tools.
7. Emergency Funds and Phone Numbers
I talk more about this here, but keep adding to your emergency fund as you get closer to the due date.
If you’re fostering a pregnant cat for a shelter or a rescue, know what their emergency protocol is, and have their after-hours numbers handy.
If this is your own cat, ask your vet how to get a hold of her in case of an emergency, and get the phone numbers of a backup vet if necessary. Also, reach out to local 24-hour, emergency vet clinics. Having these numbers available will help ease your mind, and a calm mind is exactly what your cat needs you to have if she’s in trouble.
OK! You’ve gathered your supplies. Now you’re ready for Setting Up The Birthing Suite.