Your sweet, flippy, purry cat is a predator at heart. But because of her size, a cat is also prey for larger animals. Keeping these two facts in mind will help you support her as she gets ready to deliver her kittens.
If she were to deliver in the wild, your cat would scout her surroundings for several quiet, safe places, where she can give birth without predators noticing. These birthing areas are called ‘nests’ in the cat-birth world (man, I want to live in that world).
What makes a desirable nest in the wild? A good nest should:
- have easily accessible exits and entrances, in case she is ambushed and needs to quickly escape.
- be warm. Kittens cannot regulate their body temperature until they are three weeks old.
- have a cover or a top, protecting the newborn kittens from eagles, hawks and owls.
- be located in a quiet area where she can rest, recover, and nurse without being disturbed.
- be clean and dry. A soiled nest will harbor bacteria and cause infection, both for the mother and her kittens. A wet nest will chill the kittens.
Mimicking these conditions in your home will help your cat feel comfortable when she delivers.
Set up several nesting areas in warm, quiet areas of your home, away from the hubbub of your household. A large box set on its side, a deep under-the-bed-box with a hinged lid (or a blanket draped across half), a bathtub, an empty cupboard, or a pet playpen all work well. Ideally, you want something that contains the kittens for the next three weeks, while still allowing the mommy cat to get out to eat and take potty breaks.
As your kitty gets closer to her due date, she will poke around in cupboards, under beds, and behind chairs, looking for a good place to have her kittens. This is when you’ll want to confine her to the area you’d prefer she deliver in. If she delivers in a spot where you can’t reach, you won’t be able to help if necessary; cleaning, weighing, checking health, and socializing the kittens will be very difficult.
I prefer that my pregnant foster cats deliver in the bathtub in my master bathroom. Here is what my setup looks like:
Line your nest with warm, absorbent material. What kind of material to use? Here are some suggestions, from worst to best.
Some people will suggest you use shredded newspaper. Now, I ask you, who has newspapers laying around, enough that you can shred to fill a box or bathtub? And exactly how clean are these newspapers? Also, how comfortable does lying on wet, pulpy newspaper strands sound? I think we can do better than this.
Towels will work, but kittens cannot sheathe their claws until they are four weeks old. Be prepared to un-velcro the kitten-talons as needed.
Placing puppy pads over your material of choice keeps things dry during delivery, but they are not warm or snuggly. In fact, they are kind of loud and slippery. Mommy cats move around A LOT during delivery, and get frustrated if they’re sliding around on crinkly pads.
I like fleece and flannel the best: they are warm, soft, wash beautifully, come in a variety of colors to accent your kittens, and absorb fluid beautifully so your kittens aren’t laying around in, well, fluid. I choose lighter colors so I can see clearly: counting placentas and watching for excessive bleeding from your mommy cat is easier on pinks, tans and blues.
Here is a cross-section of the materials I use in my bathtub birthing suite:
First, I start with a clean, empty, dry bathtub. (Did I ever tell you about the girl who, upon learning that my foster kittens were born in my bathtub, asked why kittens needed to be born in water? Early Synchronized Swimming routines, I told her.)
A large, fluffy bath mat goes down first. The rubber baking keeps things from sliding around. It’s cushiony, warm, and absorbs fluid.
On top of the bath mat, I place an extra-large dog bed. Measure your bathtub so you know what size to get. I particularly like dog beds with sides: your mommy kitty will like having something to lean against while nursing, and the kittens can use it for mountain climbing as they wobble around. Because my bathtub is oval, I use this rounded-edge dog bed with sides. It washes beautifully and is super soft and plush. Your kitty will love it!
The top slice of my birthing-suite-sandwich is a warm but lightweight fleece blanket. Get several: if you layer them over the dog bed, switching wet linens out becomes super easy because there’s a dry one right underneath. Fold one side of the soiled blanket back, gently place each kitten on the clean blanket underneath, roll up and remove the used blanket, and you’re done. No moving the kittens out of the bathtub, and the new blanket smells as comfortable and familiar as the old one.
A separate fleece blanket is draped over half of the bathtub to provide a nice cave-feel for the new little family:
Now that you have your nest set up, your cat will ignore it until she is ready to deliver. In the wild, your cat would not want to leave her scent on her chosen nest. Potential predators will be thrown off if she sneaks into her nest at the last minute to have her kittens.