I was asked last night if I’m ready for the Big Event. It occurred to me that some of you might be interested in what goes into the delivery of your kitten(s), or those of you who might just be interested. Probably many of you remember a litter of kittens born at some point in your past lives–under the house, in the back bedroom, in the shed or the barn? When I was a child we had a number of litters born in our home and though my memory is dim, this is what I remember: a cardboard box of some kind lined with newspaper, rags, or towels, usually placed in a closet. My mother and us ‘kids’ would check back every now and then and say “she’s got one more!” If it was late at night, we might go to bed, then race back in the morning to see what the final count was. I don’t remember ever seeing my mother interfering or helping the queen in any way, though I could be wrong about that. She was not a breeder, but we had several intact non-pedigree Siamese cats who had kittens on numerous occasions. Of course you can imagine my view on THAT at this juncture in my life.
Fast forward fifty years, and here I am. It’s a whole new world than yesteryear. Every breeder has her/his methods, theories, and ways of doing this. and I take my techniques from those who have gone before me and written about it or been willing to discuss it with me. I continue to adapt according to my circumstances and my cats. The hardest thing for me to learn — okay ONE of the hardest things for me to learn — has been that every delivery is different and every queen is different. The second most difficult thing for me to learn has been to interfere as little as possible. A very wise breeder wrote that a queen who is allowed to do her job is going to be more vested in the kittens, but the breeder absolutely must be on hand to assist if she wants as many kittens as possible to make the journey safely. I firmly believe this and yet I’ve seen kittens delivered via “C” section cared for by their post-surgery mother without a hitch, so that too is going to depend on the individual queen.
The upcoming “I” litter will be my thirteenth litter and Sahara’s forth. They should arrive sometime next week (June 13 – 16). One to two weeks before the due date, I like to have the birthing nest set up so that the garage smell has time to wear off and the queen can inspect it. I’ve tried a number of “nesting” boxes and have settled on the large folding, soft-sided dog kennels. They are large enough for me to partially get into with the queen if necessary and they segue in to a nice little kitten bed in which the queen feels safe with flaps that can be lowered.
After each birth, I clean and pack everything into storage bins so that it will all be ready for next time. This includes a printed checklist of everything I might need. Highlights from the list are as follows:
Hemostats (2) for clamping umbilical cords, and a pair of scissors. Theoretically it’s best to allow the queen to sever the umbilical cord by chewing it in half, but if this is not done, then tying it off with dental floss and cutting is recommended. I tried dental floss and failed miserably. We are talking Slime City at this point with cords like a strand of gossamer hair. Hence the hemostats.
A bottle of iodine and an empty container in which to put a small amount. Iodine is dabbed on the ends of the cut umbilical cords to prevent infection.
A tube of Nutrical – a very tasty syrup like substance I can give the queen for energy, moisture and nutrition if necessary.
A heating pad which goes under one corner of the birthing area to keep newborn kittens warm. I also have a small heating pad in a cat carrier near-by on top of which I load a pile of small towels. I use the warm towels to wipe down and stimulated kittens as necessary and the cat carrier is ready if a trip to the vet is required. I also have a supply of hand warmer paks such as skiers might put in their gloves. Once opened, they stay warm for a long time. Keeping a new born warm in the event the queen as to go to the vet is essential.
In the nest I use moisture proof pads designed for baby cribs. One is tied securely to the bottom of the kennel, because the queen will dig it out and end up giving birth on the bottom if allowed. On top I layer cloth baby diapers and have another large pile ready outside the kennel near-by. As they become wet or soiled in the kennel I attempt to replace them with clean, dry ones without disturbing the queen.
A journal and pen. Notes are taken at each birth as to what happens and when. Sometimes I can even read it later.
A lantern-style flashlight which I can move around as necessary. The first thing I learned is you can’t see a thing and on top of that the birth is almost always at night.
Many breeders have a second little bed set aside and warmed to keep newborn kittens in so as to keep them out of the way while mom is delivering the rest of the litter. I did try that as it seems to be recommended. This was another of my failures. The babies screamed like tiny banshees and mom forgot all about what she was doing in an attempt to save them. Now I keep a warm area for them in the nest near mom and try to keep them out of the way. This is NOT easy! It’s amazing how strong and active kittens can be right out of the womb.
You can imagine what a war zone this looks like when all is over. And I’ve only hit the highlights of my list. What I do specifically during a normal, uneventful birth, is to make sure that the kitten is breathing first and foremost. I will often sneak the corner of a warm towel in to make sure that the face is clean and I can see the kitten gasp, then leave the queen to do the rest. If she leaves any work for me such as cutting the cord or disposal of the placenta, then I take care of that, plus general clean up and housekeeping.