If you’ve never cared for a pregnant kitty or her litter of kittens before, it can be a very stressful and nerve-wracking experience, especially because the bundles of joy are so fragile and precious. You want to keep them safe and sound!
Cat mothers are notoriously protective of their young and will take care of them as best they can unless they have rejected one or more members of the litter, at which point you’ll need to intervene.
Making sure they’re getting enough nutrition and staying plenty hydrated is important, as kittens that aren’t properly fed will not survive, so monitoring mama cat and those kittens is imperative, especially in those early stages. Here’s how!
Feeding: how it works
Once they’re born, the kittens will spend the majority of the time they are awake nursing on their mother, for up to eight hours a day. They will typically for up to 45 minutes at every session, the greedy little things!
At first, a mom cat behaving properly will encourage her kittens to feed properly, and she should do this every couple of hours – spotting rejection behaviors is important and you need to immediately intervene if you don’t think she’s feeding her babies.
If the milk is being ‘let down’ or released as it should, each kitten will affix itself onto a nipple and stay there for a good while – you should be able to see them suckling if you watch the way they move their tiny tongues and miniature mouths around!
Similarly, whilst feeding, their ears may also move, and the kittens might knead their mommy’s belly whilst they feed, in an attempt to stimulate her milk ducts further and release more to fill those hungry tummies.
Following a full feeding session, each kitten will then return to a peaceful sleep, with a big old round belly and potentially some stray milk in the fur around their face and neck if they’re an especially eager feeder.
You might also observe mommy cat’s nipples, very gently squeezing one (taking care not to hurt her, and only applying as much pressure as the kittens would!) to see if it stimulates lactation – you’ll find those closest to the back legs easiest.
Observe the kittens
A very obvious way to tell your kittens aren’t being fed is if they appear distressed, aren’t sleeping as often as they should, or are consistently crying without pause – they’re usually too busy feeding to do any of this!
Kittens should be weighed every other day – or even every day! – to ensure they are healthy and growing as expected, as during the first few weeks of their lives, they’re expected to gain weight exponentially, effectively doubling their birth weights.
When you’re weighing, it’s important to keep the kittens as close to mama as possible. Bring the scales as close as you can to her nest, weigh each cat individually and then immediately return them to their spot once done.
On average, a healthy kitten weighs around three and a half ounces when it is born and should grow by around half an ounce every single day, so long as it is being properly fed!
If their weight is not continuously increasing, seems to stay the same, or is decreasing, it’s very obvious there is a problem, and both mom and her babies should be taken to your vet as soon as possible.
Signs a mother has rejected her babies
Whether she believes they aren’t going to thrive and wants to prioritize her more viable kittens, has given birth to a large litter, or is unwell, it’s possible a cat might reject her kittens, and it happens more often than you’d think.
If you can’t quite tell whether feeding is going on, or you’re trying to work out if mama cat is behaving as she should, here are the behaviors (or lack of!) you want to look out for to identify a mom that’s rejected or is in the process of rejecting her young:
Ignoring one or more kittens, refusing to allow them to nurse, or even purposefully moving them away from the nest, is a clear indicator of rejection, as she does not see them as a part of her litter.
Avoiding paying any affection or attention to her kittens and acting stressed, irritated or grumpy instead of snuggling down to keep everybody warm is a sign things are going wrong, too.
Similarly, if she appears to hiss at or try to bite or scratch one or more kittens, this also suggests she’s rejecting them, though do make sure you can tell the difference between thorough grooming and a cat attack!
Failing to stimulate the kittens into peeing and pooping, by licking their belly, genitals, and butthole (yes, we know it sounds weird) every couple of hours, is another sign of rejection, though this is usually paired with the above too.
As we’ve said, mewling kittens who are calling out for attention, especially if it’s more than one and they don’t show any signs of stopping, can also indicate an issue and should never be ignored – though we don’t know how you ever could!
What to do in the event of rejection?
When a mama cat is failing to perform her duties, you’re going to need to care for those babies yourself, making sure first to take a trip to the vets and see if there’s an underlying reason for the rejection: do not put them back in the nest!
An attempt to force your mother to accept one or more kittens will only stress her out and is rarely successful – it could even cause her to reject more or the rest of the litter, so really, just don’t do it.
Your mission now (following the vet trip, and ensuring you take their advice over ours ultimately) is to take over everything your mama should be doing for the foreseeable few weeks. You may have to call in sick to work!
Not only will you have to hand feed every single kitten (oh no, what a terrible and painful activity to have to partake in!), but ensure they are kept nice and warm with plenty of blankets and hot water bottles.