A feral cat is either a domestic housecat who has been abandoned or gotten lost and returned to wild behaviour, or the offspring of such a cat.
How Does a Feral Cat Live?
Domestic cats may not have the properly honed hunting instincts necessary to fend for themselves, despite what many people think.
They are opportunistic, scavenging scraps from dumpsters and accepting hand-outs of cat food where they find them.
Female ferals are constantly pregnant or trying to nourish their kittens on a starvation diet, and males risk injury in violent cat fights.
The average feral cat only lives for three years.
A feral colony is a social group of cats who avoid human contact, and breed with each other to create a growing population of homeless cats.
As they are often nocturnal, you may not be aware of their presence or total colony size.
Adopting a Feral Cat
Feral cats are not good candidates for adoption unless someone is willing to spend considerable time with them. Taming feral cats sometimes takes years.
Ever seen a cat wandering through your yard and wondered if it had a home? When you start to see it on a regular basis, do you assume it does or doesn't? The cat could, in fact, be feral. Feral cats are, by definition, ones that have reverted to a wild state after being lost or abandoned, or were born outdoors and have never known domesticity. There are various levels of feral, depending on how long the cat has been on its own or if humans have inflicted harm on it. Alley Cat Allies estimates there are more than one hundred million feral cats in the United States. Areas where there is a transient human population often has a feral cat problem. One example is our own Elon University area. There are other examples in our city, as well as the county.
These cats often suffer from disease and injuries. They live life on the run from other animals and humans. In some communities, neighbors view feral cats as a nuisance and complain to animal control. Traditionally, animal control has caught and euthanized them because they are not adoptable. This does not help the problem because, in nature, when a vacuum is created, it gets filled by other animals (in this case cats) wanting to take advantage of the food source. If these cats are not spayed/neutered, they will breed and fill the site to however many cats it can sustain.
It has finally been realized that the real fix to the problem is to humanely trap the resident cats, have them spayed or neutered, "tip" their left ears (so other caretakers and veternarians know they have been sterilized), and released back to the same area. No cats are killed unless they are suffering from health problems.
When this is done, a caretaker must be responsible for the colony (this is referred to, according to Alley Cat Allies, as a "managed colony.") These sterilized, vaccinated feral cats are then provided food and shelter from inclement weather. The caretaker(s) ensures the cats remain healthy and do not need medical attention. Feral cats live an average of two years, but feral cats in a managed colony live an average life span of five years.
A person who undertakes this sort of activity deserves our admiration. Transporting "wild" cats can be a disturbing pursuit and is not for the meek. These folks know it is worth it, though, when they think of all the innocent cats they save by doing this. Caretaking is a year-round responsibility and involves more than tossing some food out.
Those cats at your friend's farm? The ones they don't feed so they'll "mouse?" They need to be fed as well. They also need (and deserve) health care. Otherwise a disease could spread to all of them, causing a painful death. These cats also need to be spayed or neutered.
TNR has proven successful in controlling the numbers of cats in communities while being humane to the animals. It is effective and efficient. This solution successfully decreases the population, reduces birthrates, and improves the overall health of the colony.
The HSAC has humane traps available for loan (with a deposit) if you are interested in spaying/neutering feral cats and want to maintain a colony. Give us a call at (336) 438-2023.
Check out the following resources on feral cats:
Last year about 17 million dogs and cats were turned over to animal shelters. Out of every 10 that were taken in, only one found a home. Of the rest, some 13.5 million had to be destroyed.
Feral Cat Awareness
A feral cat is one that has had little or no human contact and is usually unapproachable by people. These felines differ from housecats who are allowed to visit the outdoor environment, as well as from those stray cats that once had owners and were abandoned or became lost. Ferals take a significant amount of time to be loving companions, if ever, but they still deserve the care and respect of humans. They have been born into or adapted to outdoor life without human contact, living together in loose families organized as colonies, and can do well in urban as well as rural areas.
If you notice feral or stray cats in your area and have decided to open your heart to help, there are several things you can do. First, contact your local and state animal control officials to learn what local laws/ordinances may apply. For example, in some states if you feed a feral cat, you own it.
In urban and suburban areas throughout the country, a typical scenario plays out. A young female cat slips into a garage or under a porch and has her litter of kittens. The residents are understandably not very happy with this situation and gather up the kittens to take them to the local shelter. If the mother cat can be approached and lured into a crate, she might go, too.
If not, she will abandon her nest once the kittens are gone, but she's likely to stay on in a neighborhood that has provided her with food, shelter and water. In a remarkably short period of time – as little as nine weeks – she may be back with yet a new litter.
Somewhere between the pampered pet cat and the self-reliant feral (which may, in fact, be vaccinated and neutered/spayed by the local humane society) is the most maligned, least understood of all the felines: unowned cats for whom no one takes responsibility.
A castration (neuter) is the surgical removal of the male reproductive organs. The operation removes the two testicles.
What Are the Indications For Performing a Castration?
This operation is indicated to prevent pregnancy, remove diseased or cancerous testicles, reduce male behavior such as urine marking, territorial aggression and roaming, and markedly decrease the risk of acquired diseases of the male reproductive system. The neuter operation essentially removes the possibility of testicular cancer and reduces the risk of prostatic enlargement.
What Preoperative Examinations or Tests Are Needed?
Preoperative tests depend in part on the age and general health of the pet. In young cats, minimal tests are needed provided the pet has been vaccinated, dewormed, and proven healthy based on clinical examination. Often simple blood tests, such as a packed cell volume or blood count, are done prior to anesthesia.
In older animals, it is common to perform a routine blood count, serum biochemical tests, urinalysis and possibly a chest X-ray or EKG prior to anesthesia. These recommendations vary on a case-by-case basis and depend on the overall health of the pet.
What Type of Anesthesia Is Needed?
The procedure requires general anesthesia to induce complete unconsciousness and relaxation. In the usual case, the pet receives a pre-anesthetic sedative-analgesic drug to help him relax, a brief intravenous anesthetic to allow placement of a breathing tube in the windpipe, and subsequently inhalation (gas) anesthesia in oxygen during the actual surgery.
How Is the Operation Done?
Following anesthesia, the pet is placed on a surgical table, lying on his back. The hair on the scrotum is plucked and the skin is scrubbed with surgical soap to disinfect the area. A sterile drape is placed over the surgical site. Your veterinarian uses a scalpel to incise the skin over one testicle. The testicle is then removed from the scrotum and the major blood vessels and vas deferens are ligated (tied off). This may be done using suture material or the vessels and vas deferens are tied in a knot. This procedure is then repeated on the second testicle. The incisions in the scrotal sac are left open to drain and heal without sutures.
How Long Does the Operation Take to Perform?
The procedure takes about 20 minutes to 45 minutes to perform in most cases, including the needed time for preparation and anesthesia. In older cats the procedure can take longer.
What Are the Risks and Complications of a Castration (Neuter) Operation?
The overall risk of this surgery in a healthy young pet is very low. While there are no published statistics, the risk of death is probably less than 1 in 500. The major risks are those of general anesthesia, bleeding (hemorrhage), postoperative infection, and wound breakdown (dehiscence) over the incision. Overall complication rate is low, but serious complications can result in death or the need for additional surgery.
What Is the Typical PostOperative Care?
Postoperative medication should be given to relieve pain, which is judged in most cases to be mild to moderate and can be effectively eliminated with safe and effective pain medicines. Generally young cats begin to act normal within 24 to 48 hours and are released the same day or the day following surgery, and it is difficult to determine that they just completed surgery. The home care requires reduced activity until the stitches are removed in 10 to 14 days. You should inspect the incision line daily for signs of redness, discharge, swelling, or pain, and prevent your pet from licking the incision.
How Long Is the Hospital Stay?
The typical stay is one day.
An ovariohysterectomy (spay) is the surgical removal of the female reproductive organs. The operation removes the two ovaries, the uterine horns, and the body of the uterus.
What Are the Indications For Performing an Ovariohysterectomy (Spay)?
This operation is indicated to avoid heat (estrus) cycles, prevent pregnancy, remove diseased or cancerous female reproductive organs and markedly decrease the risk of acquired diseases of the female reproductive system. The spay operation essentially removes the possibility of a severe infection of the uterus (pyometra).
What Preoperative Examinations or Tests Are Needed Before an Ovariohysterectomy (Spay)?
Preoperative tests depend in part on the age and general health of the cat. In young cats, minimal tests are needed provided the pet has been vaccinated, dewormed and proven healthy based on physical examination.
Often simple blood tests, such as a packed cell volume or blood count, will be done prior to anesthesia. In older cats, it would be common to perform a routine blood count, serum biochemical tests, urinalysis and possibly a chest X-ray or EKG prior to anesthesia. These recommendations vary on a case-by-case basis, and depend on the overall health of the cat.
What Type of Anesthesia Is Needed For an Ovariohysterectomy (Spay)?
As in a human patient, the procedure in cats requires general anesthesia to induce complete unconsciousness and relaxation. In the usual case, the cat will receive a pre-anesthetic sedative-analgesic drug to help her relax, a brief intravenous anesthetic to allow placement of a breathing tube in the windpipe, and subsequently inhalation (gas) anesthesia in oxygen during the actual surgery.
How Is the Ovariohysterectomy (Spay) Operation Done?
Following anesthesia, the cat is placed on a surgical table, lying on her back. The hair is clipped over the middle of the abdomen and the skin is scrubbed with surgical soap to disinfect the area. A sterile drape is placed over the surgical site. A scalpel is used to incise the skin at the middle of the abdomen, and then the abdominal cavity is opened. The organs of the female reproductive tract are identified and the major blood vessels supplying the ovaries and the uterus are ligated (tied off). This must be done before these organs can be removed. Sutures (stitches) that dissolve over time are used to tie off the blood vessels and also to close the uterus above the cervix. Sometimes, surgical staples or clips are used. The abdominal incision is then closed with one or two layers of sutures (stitches). The outer layer of skin is closed with sutures or surgical staples; these need to be removed in about 10 to 14 days.
How Long Does the Ovariohysterectomy (Spay) Take to Perform?
The procedure takes about 30 minutes to 45 minutes to perform in most cases, including the needed time for preparation and anesthesia.
What Are the Risks and Complications of an Ovariohysterectomy (Spay) Operation?
The overall risk of this surgery in a healthy young cat is very low. While there are no published statistics the risk of death is probably less than 1 in 500. The major risks are those of general anesthesia, bleeding (hemorrhage), postoperative infection and wound breakdown (dehiscence) over the incision. Overall complication rate is low, but serious complications can result in death or the need for additional surgery.
What Is the Typical Postoperative Aftercare For an Ovariohysterectomy (Spay)?
Postoperative medication should be given to relieve pain, which is judged in most cases to be mild to moderate and can be effectively eliminated with safe and effective pain medicines. Generally young cats are acting normally within 24 to 48 hours and are released one or two days after surgery. It is difficult to determine that they just completed surgery. The home care requires reduced activity until the stitches are removed in 10 to 14 days. The incision line should be inspected daily for signs of redness, discharge, swelling or pain.
How Long Is the Hospital Stay Following an Ovariohysterectomy (Spay)?
The typical stay is one to two days. The spay may be combined with a declawing operation and this may require an extra day in the hospital to allow bandage changes of the paws.
It's time to start thinking about spaying or neutering your cat. But, you are not quite sure if it is the right thing to do. If you're wondering whether you should just leave your cat as nature intended, consider the positive and negative aspects of spaying and neutering before making your decision.
First, what does neutering mean? Neutering is a procedure used to "de-sex" an animal. This procedure has been used to control animal population growth, reduce unwanted sexual behavior in pets, and decrease or eliminate the possibility of certain disease conditions later in life, such as pyometra or infection in the uterus.
Castration is a term used to describe the removal of the gonads (testicles) in male animals. Spaying is a term used to describe the sterilization procedure of females. The procedure of spaying most often consists of removal of both the ovaries and uterus, which is called an ovariohysterectomy
Both procedures are performed under general anesthesia and both involve a surgical incision.
Neutering is done most commonly at or around six months of age. However, many veterinarians perform this procedure earlier – as early as 8 to 10 weeks in some situations. Early neutering can be done safely and has a number of advantages, especially in cases of pet adoption.
Spaying – The Positive Side
Pregnancy is the period of gestation when the young are developing in the mother's uterus. Normal gestation in cats is 58 to 68 days (the average is 63 days).
The litter size in cats varies from one kitten to more than 10. Litter sizes are often smaller in young and old animals and largest when the mother is around three to four years of age.
Conditions that may be confused with pregnancy include mastitis (inflammation of the mammary glands), mammary gland neoplasia (cancer), abdominal enlargement due to fluid accumulation or organ enlargement, or pyometra (infection of the uterus).
What to Watch For
Estrus in the queen (female cat) is defined as the time during the reproductive cycle when she displays interest in mating. Estrus begins when the queen allows the male to mount and breed, and ends when her receptive behavior ceases. In cats, mating behavior is required to induce ovulating.
Domestic cats usually reach sexual maturity (puberty) between five to 12 months, at which time they experience their first estrus. The adult cat is seasonally polyestrus, cycling repeatedly (about every two to three weeks) throughout the breeding season (mid-January to August), unless interrupted by pregnancy or illness. Several major phases compose the estrous cycle, and variations in the level of normal circulating hormones contribute to these different phases.
Pregnancy and giving birth can be a frightening, confusing and painful experience for both you and your cat. However, understanding proper pregnancy care can help make the process go more smoothly and help you know what is normal. It can also help you to determine when it is time to get the veterinarian involved.
Many people consider the time from breeding to delivery to be gestation but this is not completely accurate. The true definition of gestation is the time from conception to delivery. In the queen, a female cat, gestation is 63 days. Knowing the exact time of conception, however, is difficult since a queen can be receptive to the male before and after ovulation. For this reason, the time from breeding to delivery is usually somewhere between 58 to 70 days. Your veterinarian can help narrow this time frame by examining the cells of the vaginal wall.
Be aware that because your queen bred, this does not mean she is pregnant. For confirmation of pregnancy, an examination, with ultrasound and possibly x-rays by your veterinarian is suggested.
Once pregnancy is confirmed, proper care of the mother-to-be is very important. Before breeding, make sure she is up to date on all her vaccinations. It is not recommended to vaccinate your cat during pregnancy. Also, make sure she is dewormed and tests negative for feline leukemia and feline immunodeficiency virus.
After breeding and conception, the nutritional demands of the mother increase. This need for more increased calories and increased food continues throughout pregnancy and nursing. At the time of breeding, begin slowly changing the queen's
Preparing for Delivery
As the time of delivery approaches, you way want to make a queening box to provide a safe, clean and comfortable area for your cat to deliver. Queening boxes should be easily accessed by the mother but escape-proof for the new arrivals. You can use wood, Formica or any easily cleaned building material. Some people use small plastic children's wading pools. Whichever type of box you choose, make sure it is large enough for the queen to stretch out comfortably. Make sure the sides are just low enough for the mother to step over and place the box in a warm, dry, draft-free area. If possible, try to choose a quiet and secluded area. Initially, place newspapers on the bottom of the box for easy clean up.
Once all the kittens are born, place blankets or towels to provide some footing for the kittens. Be aware that you must get the queen used to the queening box before the birth. If not, she may make her own decision on where to have the kittens – and this may be a closet, a pile of fresh clean laundry or even in the middle of your bed.
An additional suggestion is to have your cat examined by a veterinarian toward the end of pregnancy. A thorough physical exam, along with ultrasound or x-rays can help determine how many kittens you can expect. This way, you will know when she is done delivering and not just in another resting phase between kittens.
Labor and Delivery
As the time of delivery approaches, twice daily monitoring of the queen's body temperature will help alert you to the impending birth. About 24 hours before the beginning of labor, there will be a temporary drop in the body temperature. Normal temperature is 101 to 102.5. Twenty-four hours prior to labor, the temperature can drop to 98 to 99 degrees.
Labor Stage I
After the temperature drop, stage I labor begins. This is the time when the queen becomes restless and anxious. You may notice panting, pacing, refusal of food and maybe vomiting. Nesting behavior begins. This is the time to place her in the queening box (hopefully she is already accustomed to the box). After getting settled in the queening box, you may notice her dragging clothing or fabric to the area to form a comfortable bed. You may want to remove any clothing as queening begins or these pieces of clothing may be permanently stained.
This stage of labor typically lasts 6 to 12 hours. At the end of stage I, the cervix is completely dilated. If your cat has not started queening within 24 hours after starting stage I labor, veterinary assistance is recommended.
Labor Stage II
Stage II labor is defined as the part of labor when the kitten is delivered. Visible contractions begin. The abdomen tenses and the queen begins straining. This action will appear similar to the queen trying to have a bowel movement.
The first kitten should be delivered within 1 to 2 hours of the onset of contractions and straining. Veterinary assistance is strongly encouraged if the first kitten is not delivered within 2 hours after the onset of contractions.
After delivery of the kitten, the queen may enter a resting phase that can last up to 4 hours but typically only lasts about 30 minutes. Active straining will begin again and more kittens will be delivered. If you know there are additional kittens yet to be born and the resting period is longer than 4 hours, veterinary assistance is necessary. This resting phase may not occur after each delivery. Sometimes, several kittens may be born rapidly.
Labor Stage III
After delivery of a kitten, the queen may enter stage III labor. This is the time when the placenta, or afterbirth, is delivered and usually occurs 5-15 minutes after delivery of the kitten. If multiple kittens are born rapidly, several placentas may be expelled together. After the passage of the placenta, the queen will return to stage II labor. She may continue the resting phase or begin contracting. Throughout queening, the queen will fluctuate between stage II and stage III labor until all the kittens are born. It is very important to keep track of the number of placentas. There should be the same number of placentas as kittens. If a placenta is retained in the uterus, the queen will eventually become quite ill.
As soon as the kitten is born, the mother should immediately start cleaning the kitten. She should lick the kitten vigorously, remove him from the amniotic sac if it is still present, and chew the umbilical cord. She may even ingest the placenta. This is not necessary and, sometimes, can lead to vomiting and diarrhea. Prompt removal of the placentas can get them out of the way and help you keep track of how many placentas she has passed.
Those kittens that are born still in the sack need immediate help. If the mother does not open the sack and begin cleaning the kitten, it is up to you to help. Tear the membrane of the sack and begin cleaning and rubbing the kitten with a clean dry towel. You may have to clean other kittens if the mother is not showing much interest in her newborns. Tie off the umbilical cord about 1 inch from the belly wall using string, thread or dental floss. Cut the cord off on the other side of the tie. Clean and rub the kitten vigorously until you hear crying. Place the kitten back with the new mom and make sure she allows her kittens to nurse.
Being prepared to assist and understanding newborn kitten care is essential to help the mother and her babies through these first steps of life.
Your cat has just delivered a litter of cute and cuddly kittens. You can trust that she will likely take care of them, but who will take care of Mom? The answer is you!
Fortunately, most queens (female cats) need little help. All they ask for is peace, quiet and privacy as they deliver their new babies and take care of them. But, you should still be there to help if necessary.
Queens are very protective of their young. It is wise for only one to two people to check on her. Parading various friends and neighbors through the house to handle and play with the new kittens is stressful on the mother and can potentially spread disease to the kittens. For their safety, visiting should be delayed until the kittens are at least 4 weeks old.
During the birthing process and immediately after, most queens are not interested in eating.
However, within 24 hours after the birth of the last kitten she should begin eating again, and most likely will eat a lot. Nursing a litter of kittens takes a lot of energy and the queen must eat enough to provide for her newborns; In fact, they should be fed as much as they want to eat.
Feeding a high quality cat food may be sufficient but many veterinarians recommend feeding the new mother kitten food or a specially made nursing (lactation)
New mothers are usually very nervous about their babies. For this reason, many will not leave their side for at least the first 24 hours. The cat will do without food or water and some won't even leave to visit the litter box. For this reason, it is important that the new mother has food and water kept close by. Also, have a litter pan just outside the weaning box. After about a week, the new mother will feel more relaxed and may venture out a little more, but food, water and a litter box should still be kept nearby.
After about a week, the mother cat may begin to cycle again. If a male is around, it is possible that the queen will mate and may become pregnant right away. Having a second litter three months after the first litter is not healthy for your cat. It is important to keep her protected from the male.
Discharge from the vagina should be minimal. The queen should keep herself clean and you will likely not notice any drainage. Still, you should check her daily to look for any vaginal discharge. Also check the breasts for excessive swelling, discharge or pain. Make sure your cat is eating plenty of food and the kittens are active and gaining weight. If you notice any abnormalities, contact your veterinarian.
Your cat just delivered a litter of adorable kittens but how can you tell the boys from the girls? It can be difficult to distinguish between the genitals of male and female kittens, especially when the babies are only a few days to weeks old. By learning about the reproductive anatomy of cats and comparing between male and female kittens, you have a better chance of telling them apart. Be aware that even breeders and veterinarians have made errors when trying to sex very young kittens.
All kittens should be born with two anatomical openings just below the tail. One is the anus and the other one is the genital area. The primary way to tell a female kitten from a male kitten is by comparing the distance between the anal opening and the genital opening. Rarely, a kitten may be born without an anus. This is a birth defect and is considered very serious and life threatening
If you notice that your kitten only has one opening under the tail, contact your family veterinarian and have the kitten examined as soon as possible.
For male kittens, the space between the anus and the tip of the penis is longer than the space between the anus and the vagina. This extra space allows for the testicles to descend out of the body cavity and into the scrotal sacs later in life. After about 4 to 6 weeks of age, the testicles can be palpated. They would feel like small peas in the space between the anus and penis.
For female kittens, since there are no testicles, the space between the anus and vagina is short. The shape of the vaginal opening is a vertical slit, unlike the small circular opening of the penis.
Comparing kittens of different sexes can help you understand and learn how to sex males and females. Remember, comparing kittens of the same age will give you a much better understanding than kittens of vastly different ages.
Also, if there are any calicos or tortoiseshell kittens in the litter, chances are, these are female.
The first few weeks of a kitten's life are crucial. They are fragile, helpless creatures who rely on their mother for nutrition as well as social education. Kittens that do not survive the first few weeks have been called "faders" or afflicted with "fading kitten syndrome." About 20 to 40 percent of all kittens born will not survive past 12 weeks of age. After reaching 12 weeks, most kittens will continue to grow and develop.
Causes of kitten death in the first 12 weeks of life are generally linked to problems associated during development in the uterus, with the birth process or around the time of weaning.
Uterine Development Problems
Birth defects, which includes both genetic as well as drug or environmental causes, account for a large number of fading kittens. The easiest birth defect to detect would be malformation of the head, limbs, genital or anal area as well as a cleft palate.
After birth, close thorough examination of the kitten, including examining the roof of the mouth, can help pick up on any potentially fatal birth defects.
Pregnant cats that are fed a low quality diet have a higher incidence of fading kittens. The kittens can be born weak, diseased and underweight. Some kittens will suffer from uterine malnutrition due to competition between other developing fetuses in very large litters.
Birth Process Problems
The delivery process can be quite traumatic for both the queen and the kittens. Extended labor and difficulty passing the kitten can result in potentially fatal injuries. Cannibalism at the time of delivery can also occur, leading to kitten death. Neglect of the newborn either due to a nervous, high-strung new mother or due to illness usually results in early kitten death.
In kittens, blood type problems can be devastating. If the mother and the kittens do not have the same blood type, serious illness including death can occur in the kitten. This phenomenon is not common since the majority of cats have similar blood types. Unfortunately, blood type concerns do occur more frequently in purebred cats. If the queen and kittens do not have compatible blood types, death of the kitten can occur within days to weeks of nursing.
Once the problem is diagnosed, future litters should be removed from that queen and orphan-raised. There is no treatment for the kittens already afflicted with the illness associated with blood type incompatibility. Other problems during nursing and weaning that can cause kitten death include various infectious diseases, bacterial and viral, as well as parasites.
Diagnosing Fading Kitten Syndrome
Kittens that do not survive beyond 12 weeks of age are generally diagnosed with fading kitten syndrome. These kittens can slowly deteriorate, stop nursing, and grow profoundly weak and thin. The exact cause of the fading kitten is usually not determined. If more than 20 percent of the litter is affected, submitting a recently expired kitten for post mortem examination to determine the cause of death may be helpful in preventing additional kitten losses.
Finding the cause of the fading kitten syndrome will help determine if any treatment will help. Birth defects and severe traumas are difficult to treat with a good outcome. Bacterial and viral infections can be treated, and with aggressive care, some of these kittens can survive. Expect your veterinarian to recommend hospitalization, injectable fluid support, antibiotics and assisted feedings. If the kitten does not survive, post mortem examination in order to help the remaining litter is recommended.
Early detection of fading kitten syndrome is essential. Thorough exam at the time of birth to detect any developmental defects is important. Daily weights are also crucial in monitoring the kitten's development. Make sure the queen is fed a high quality pregnancy diet and then a high quality nursing diet. Monitor the kittens closely for signs of trauma, cannibalism, weakness or neglect. Prompt veterinary attention for those suspect kittens is necessary.
Certain numbers of kitten losses are unavoidable. Feeding the queen a high quality pregnancy diet and keeping her quite and calm can help. Detecting early signs of fading kitten syndrome with prompt veterinary care can help reduce the number of kitten deaths.
You have done everything right. Your cat has had a successful pregnancy and delivered healthy adorable kittens with no problems. You may think it is now smooth sailing until weaning time. Unfortunately, your queen has to make it through nursing before you can breath a sigh of relief.
The two most common complications that occur during nursing are eclampsia and mastitis.
Eclampsia in animals is not the same as in people. In women, eclampsia is related to problems with blood pressure. In cats, eclampsia is related to blood calcium problems. Queens with large litters or nutritional problems may develop eclampsia. Their body calcium is donated to the milk to give the babies the best nutrition. This has a detrimental effect on the mother. Low blood calcium will result in muscle tremors or seizures. Without treatment, eclampsia can become life threatening.
To help prevent eclampsia, make sure the queen is eating a high quality nursing food, and be sure to discuss the need for supplements with your veterinarian. Any sign of muscle tremors or abnormality should prompt you to seek veterinary assistance.
For more information, please click on Eclampsia.
Mastitis is an inflammation or infection of the mammary gland. The milk becomes infected and may cause illness in babies that nurse on the infected gland. Without treatment, the infection can make the mother quite ill, and the babies will suffer from maternal neglect and poor nutrition.
To prevent mastitis, keep the queening area clean. Make sure the mammary glands and nipples are clean. Any abnormality should prompt you to seek veterinary assistance.
For more information, please click on Mastitis.
As the weather warms and the days grow longer, predictably, veterinarians experience a rash of phone calls from panicked owners concerning the sudden onset of odd behaviors in their pets. Oftentimes, they report a decreased appetite, whining, crying, frequent urination or odd postural reactions. A spring virus? An injury? Infection? The first question asked by your veterinarian will likely be "Is your pet spayed?" If the answer is "No," then read on for a lesson in your pet's reproductive cycle.
Your cat's reproductive cycle is stimulated by the longer period of daylight as winter turns to spring and is regulated by hormones produced both in the brain and in the ovary. These hormones not only produce the changes in the reproductive organs needed for pregnancy but cause some dramatic departures in your pet's normal behavior as well.
Hormones influence fertility and reproductive behavior in both the dog and the cat, although their heat and reproductive cycles vary by environmental and breeding behavior.
Feline Reproductive Cycle
There are basically three phases to the cat's reproductive cycle: the follicular, luteal and quiescent phases. Each phase is under the influence of the dominant hormone produced. It is really an amazing system of timing and feedback from the brain to the ovary and back.
The cat's ovary is a collection of eggs in different stages of maturation. Each individual egg is enclosed in a tiny fluid filled sac called a follicle. A hormone produced by the pituitary gland at the base of the brain sends a signal for the eggs to develop within their follicles. This hormone is called follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and causes the eggs to mature. Once the eggs have fully developed, they too have the ability to produce their own hormones. Follicles produce a hormone called estradiol 17B, and it is the dominant influence on the follicular phase of the reproductive cycle.
In the luteal phase, the pituitary gets busy again and secretes a hormone called luteinizing hormone(LH). Unlike the dog, cats are "induced ovulators," which means that it is the act of mating that stimulates the release of luteinizing hormone and ovulation. If your cat is not bred, this cycle may repeat itself several times. LH acts on the follicle to stimulate ovulation, the time when the egg breaks through the follicle so that it can be fertilized. The egg then begins to travel down the Fallopian tube and the empty follicle undergoes its own physical change. It becomes a "corpus luteum," the Latin name for "yellow body." It is named so because once the egg has ruptured, the follicle enlarges and turns an easily recognizable yellow color in contrast with the less mature follicles. The corpus luteum has its own job to do, and that is to produce progesterone, the hormone of the luteal phase.
Since cats have multiple births, several eggs mature and are released at the same time. If fertilized, the eggs implant on the uterine wall. This implantation results in a continued release of progesterone, the hormone responsible for maintaining pregnancy. If none of the eggs is fertilized, the body becomes aware that no eggs have implanted and progesterone is no longer released. This results in the quiescent or quiet phase. This stage may last several weeks, during which the cat shows no signs of sexual behavior.
Most cats cycle throughout the spring, summer and fall, but it is safe to say that a cat's reproductive cycle is unique to the individual. There can be variations in the number of heat cycles per year, the level of behavioral change and interest in mating.
If your pet is bred and a pregnancy results, the average length of gestation is 63 days. This may vary a bit, but most people start to count the days of gestation from the day of the first breeding. If you only suspect your pet may be pregnant and want to know for sure, your veterinarian can help make that determination.
During your pet's pregnancy, progesterone is the dominant hormone and is essential for maintaining the proper conditions in the uterus for the growth of the babies. About 10 days before kittens are born, the progesterone level falls and estrogen levels start to rise. As these hormone levels change, you can see physical and behavioral changes that signal labor and delivery. Your pet may seek seclusion, exhibit nesting behavior and her appetite may decrease. She may be restless. Mammary glands distend and you are able to express milk. A general guideline for monitoring the arrival of kittens: When your pet's rectal temperature falls below 100 degrees Fahrenheit, you can expect the onset of labor within 24 hours.
If the names of some of these hormones seem familiar to you it's because the very same hormones also regulate the human female reproductive cycle. While women are not constructed for litters the way dogs and cats are, the reproductive physiology isn't very much different. You may have more in common with your pet than you thought.
Before breeding your cat, learn what is involved in mating, reproducing and delivering healthy kittens. Sometimes, breeding isn't a good idea.
The Male (The Tom)
Puberty in a male cat, called a tom cat, sets in at 6 to 8 months of age when he is able to fertilize a female cat. The male's reproductive life can last 14 years or more. If you want to breed your male cat, he should come from a healthy litter of good size and be born of a female cat who had no difficulties giving birth or rearing the litter.
The Female (The Queen)
Once the breeding season begins, in general around January or February, the female, called the queen, will go into heat multiple times until the end of the breeding season in October or November. The heat cycle is greatly affected by the ratio of daylight to darkness and by temperature
In cat colonies, for example, with 14 hours of light and 10 hours of darkness, as well as constant temperatures, female cats will be in the breeding cycle year-round.
The female is able to bear young as early as 7 to 9 months of age and is fertile another 7 to 9 years. Usually after that, the cat can no longer bear kittens, although there are exceptions. Like the male, the female should come from a good-sized, healthy litter with a mother that delivered with ease and showed regular heat cycles. A good history should be obtained and a complete physical exam performed in order to help detect genetic disorders or illness.
In about 20 percent of females, the actual heat is preceded by a period of up to 2 days where the cat does things like rubbing herself against objects, persistent meowing, treading in place and rolling on the floor. However, she won't let the tom mount her. In unsuspecting owners, the cat can seem to be in pain, when in fact, it is just raging hormones and no pain is involved.
The heat cycle in a cat lasts between three and 20 days, on average, 5 to 8 days. The interval between the end of one heat and the beginning of the next heat lasts 3 to 14 days in general, with an average of 10 days. In other words, the female cat cycles every 12 to 20 days during breeding season.
There are certain hormonal changes in the cycling queen until she mates. Estrogen is responsible for the queen's going into heat and progesterone is necessary for pregnancy. When the estrogen concentration rises, the queen goes into heat, and when it drops, the heat ends. Until the queen is mated, this rise and fall of estrogen will continue.
Since the female is less sensitive to environmental changes when in heat, she is brought to the tom for breeding. Once the cats get together, the mating process doesn't last very long – only about half of a minute to about 4 minutes. First the male bites the female's neck, mounts her and positions himself on top of her. He then thrusts his pelvis into her and finally penetrates her, which usually only lasts about 4 seconds.
During this last phase or shortly thereafter, the female will scream and attempt to break free by turning, rolling or striking the male with her paw. Then she will have a so-called "after-reaction" where she'll roll or thrash and clean herself. This after-reaction may last up to 9 minutes.
The time intervals between matings may be as short as 5 minutes or as long as half an hour. A female may allow up to 30 matings, and studies have shown that if only one single mating is allowed only 50 percent of the queens will get pregnant. Queens are not too particular. They will allow mating will various males and this can result in a variety of different fathers for the same litter. Each kitten has only one father and kittens within the same litter may all have different fathers.
The duration of pregnancy is 64 to 69 days. The diagnosis can be made either by feeling the abdomen of the queen or by ultrasound. An experienced person will be able to feel the pregnant uterus at about day 16 of pregnancy. At this time the uterus will feel like a string of pearls. After the 20th day of pregnancy one can easily feel the fetuses in a relaxed queen.
Ultrasound is a helpful tool in determining pregnancy and for checking the development and the heart rate of the fetuses, and it can be performed from day 26 of pregnancy until birth. Some queens will show enlargement and a pink color of her mammary glands as early as the 18th day of pregnancy.
Spaying (ovariohysterectomy) is a surgical procedure in which both ovaries and most of the uterus are removed from the body. It is most commonly performed to prevent reproduction, which consequently helps to control pet overpopulation.
Ovariohysterectomy may also be indicated for:
Pre-operative evaluation involves a thorough physical examination and may include blood tests.
When the ovariohysterectomy is being performed for reasons other than to prevent reproduction, such as in older animals with tumors or pyometra, other diagnostic tests may be necessary to exclude concurrent problems that might increase the risk of anesthesia.
The surgery is performed through an incision on the abdomen and both ovaries and the uterus are removed. Some veterinarians use sutures to close the skin incision, while others use absorbable sutures beneath the skin surface.
After your cat returns from the hospital, keep her quiet and indoors for approximately two weeks to allow her to heal. Do not allow her to be excessively active and prevent her from "rough-housing."
Monitor the incision daily for signs of redness, swelling or discharge. Do not allow your cat to lick or chew at the incision. If you find that it is impossible to stop your cat from doing this, obtain an "Elizabethan" collar that is placed around the neck to prevent her from being able to reach the incision.
Skin sutures, if present, will be removed in 10 to 14 days.
A cesarean (C-section) is a surgical procedure in which unborn kittens are surgically removed from the uterus. It is performed when an animal is having problems while delivering the newborns and is typically an emergency (not an elective) surgery. For certain breeds prone to dystocia (difficult birth), such as Persians, a cesarean may be planned.
Sometimes, the pet can also be spayed following the surgical removal of the kittens. This prevents future pregnancies and eliminates the risk of future cesarean surgeries.
Determining the need for a cesarean requires a few tests. Your veterinarian may perform digital vaginal palpation to evaluate maternal pelvic abnormalities, the size of the fetus and to attempt manual removal without surgery. If the kittens are too large or the pelvic canal too narrow for passage, a cesarean is recommended.
Abdominal radiographs may also be done to evaluate the size, location, and number of kittens in the uterus. Abdominal ultrasound examination may be done to evaluate the viability of the kittens. If these tests indicate that the kittens are too large or are in distress, an emergency cesarean would be recommended.
Surgery is the final step after medical management has failed to assist the pregnant pet to deliver naturally. The mother must be carefully anesthetized in order to perform surgery safely while minimally affecting the unborn kittens.
The surgery is performed through an incision in the cat's abdomen and the surviving kittens are allowed to nurse normally as soon as the mother is out of surgery.
Home Care and Prevention
After your pet returns from the hospital, she will need to be kept quiet indoors while she heals (approximately two weeks). It is important that you prevent excessive activity and "rough-housing."
The incision should be monitored daily for signs of excessive redness, swelling, or discharge. Do not allow your cat to lick or chew at the incision, and if this is impossible, you should obtain an "Elizabethan" collar that is placed around the neck to prevent access to the incision.
Some vaginal discharge is expected for a few weeks after pregnancy and C-section.
The only way to prevent the need for C-section is by avoiding pregnancy in your pet. Early spaying of your animal will make it impossible for her to become pregnant.
If the ovariohysterectomy was performed for non-reproductive reasons, further treatment and/or monitoring may be necessary.
Last year about 17 million dogs and cats were turned over to animal shelters. Out of every 10 that were taken in, only one found a home. Of the rest, some 13.5 million had to be destroyed.
The suffering and sorrow associated with pet overpopulation is overwhelming. And yet, much of it could be eliminated by simple operations. Spaying and neutering surgeries are performed under general anesthesia and are quite painless. By neutering pets, people can prevent numbers of unwanted and homeless creatures.
Spaying Your Female Cat
Avoiding unwanted litters is good for both animals and people. Keeping the pet population in check increases the chance of adoption for already homeless animals.
A spayed female is a more pleasant pet to live with. There are no late night howls and no annoying advances or serenades from neighborhood males.
What's more, her chances of leading a healthy, happy life are improved, including a reduced susceptibility to mammary cancer and uterine infections.
Neutering Your Male Cat
Neutering discourages "wandering" which all too often leads to fights, car accidents and the spread of disease. It eliminates foul smelling sprays as your cat stakes out his territory in and around your home. It also reduces male tendencies toward overly aggressive behavior and the likelihood of his developing prostate infections and cancer.
Sterilization and Your Cat's Disposition
Cats that have been spayed or neutered are not only healthier, they're easier to get along with - both for people and other animals. They tend to be more gentle and affectionate. Neutered cats are not inclined to be inactive or overweight, though special care should be taken when feeding them.
What About Your Kids and Baby Cats?
Worried that your children will miss out on the opportunity to see kittens born? Chances are, they'd miss it anyway. Most litters are born when you are not around - often in undiscovered hideaways. Of course, schools offer excellent films and books subjects so the opportunity to learn about birth is still there.
If you've ever had to find homes for kittens, you know it can be difficult. Even if you do find homes, you can never be certain the animals will still be welcome when their cuteness wears off. And too many of them often go on to add to the overpopulation problem by having litters of their own.
Animal shelters try very hard to place homeless pets. But they receive thousands of kittens from well-meaning pet owners who had no luck trying to place them. And there are thousands of older pets whose owners got tired of caring for them. Sadly, these newly homeless creatures wind up competing for adoption with those who have been waiting in shelters for homes of their own. There aren't enough homes for all the existing dogs and cats, much less those yet to be born.
What About Paying for Neutering?
You can't afford not to. If you're unable to place even one of your cat's offspring, raising the kitten for only one year will cost you far more than the price of sterilization surgery. In order to encourage more people to have their pets spayed or neutered, contact your local Spay/Neuter Assistance Program or any participating veterinarian.
71% of cats and kittens entering U.S. animal shelters
420,000 kittens can be produced from one female cat and
her offspring in 6 years
Feral cats are homeless cats, many of whom were born in the wild; others are pets who were abandoned or have become lost. They are for all intents and purposes wild animals. Those adult stray cats which were once owned, or feral cats of quiet temperament, may sometimes be tamed with patience. However, the feral kitten is often easily tamed if it is captured young enough. Considering the short miserable lives that feral cats suffer, those kittens which can be tamed and adopted by humans are indeed lucky.
Feral moms usually give birth in quiet unseen spots where kittens will not be visible for several weeks. With no human contact they will be totally wild. When kittens begin to romp and play, they are first noticed by humans but are not easily captured. They may be captured in humane traps (available from the Feral Cat Coalition) and should be taken from the mother at 4 to 6 weeks of age. Older kittens can also be captured and tamed but the process gets slower and less successful the longer the kittens stay in the wild. They should not be taken from the mother before they are old enough to be weaned at about 4 weeks. Kittens taken too young are vulnerable to disease and may not survive. The mother cat should also be captured and spayed to prevent future litters.
The process of taming kittens can take from 2 to 6 weeks (longer for some exceptionally skittish kittens) depending on their age and state of wildness. Individuals can differ greatly in temperament even within the same litter. Some may tame up immediately and some may take quite a long time. Any person attempting to tame kittens should be totally committed and patient. The taming process is certainly worthwhile. You are saving lives and producing affectionate loving companions.
The steps involved in the taming process are:
1. Containment (I) in a cage or large pet carrier
2. Periodic and brief handling with a protective towel
3. Containment (II) in a small room
4. Exposure to other humans
5. Placement in suitable adoptive homes
A feral kitten may hiss and ‘spit’ at humans. They are usually terrified of humans. The kitten which acts the most ferocious is just the most scared, but it is capable of giving you a nasty scratch or bite and will probably try to escape if given the chance. Remember that to the kitten you may be a predator; the kitten may think it is fighting for its life.
ALL BITES ARE SERIOUS. IF BITTEN SEEK MEDICAL ATTENTION AND QUARANTINE THE KITTEN.
Feral kittens should be checked out by a veterinarian and tested for diseases contagious to other cats before you bring them home. Keep them isolated from your pet cats, wash your hands, and wear a smock (or change clothes between handling visits) to protect against the spread of disease from the kittens to pets or from pets to kitten.
If a trap was used to capture the kitten, transfer the kitten to a cage or a pet carrier large enough for a small litter box and bedding. Place it in a small room away from family pets and children. Be careful not to allow the kitten to escape during the transfer process.
For the first two days, do not attempt handling. The kittens must learn to feel safe. Visit them frequently and talk to them quietly, but resist touching. Always move slowly.
Food and water and bedding should be placed in the cage or carrier. Many cages and carriers have food and water bowls attached to the doors so that you can feed and water the kittens without having to place your hand inside. If you do not have a cage, or your carrier is too small for a litter pan, place the kittens in a small room, like a bathroom, in the carrier. Place the litter box in the room and leave the carrier door open so that the kittens have access to the box.
Some people use worn clothing as the kittens’ bedding to get them used to the smell of humans.
After 2 days, select the least aggressive kitten, place a towel over it, and pick it up in the towel. If the kitten stays calm, pet it gently on the head from behind. Never approach from the front. A hand coming at the kittens frightens them which may cause them to hiss or bite.
If the kitten remains calm, grip it securely by the nape of the neck, put the towel on your lap and set it on the towel. Stroke the kitten’s body while speaking in soft, reassuring tones, then release. Make this first physical contact brief. Go through this process with each kitten. After all have been handled, give them a special treat. Baby food or Hills "a/d" brand canned food off a spoon is always a great ice-breaker. Repeat this process as frequently as possible.
Brushing with a soft pet brush imitates the action of the mother grooming the kittens and will help the kitten start to transfer its need for parental love to you. It is also extremely important for the health of the kittens to remove fleas as soon as possible. Kittens become anemic from flea infestation and can easily fall prey to illnesses in this condition. Combing with a flea comb also helps the bonding process.
Never stare at the kittens for prolonged periods. This is aggressive body language to cats. Avert your eyes frequently and lower your head often to display submissive behavior. This will be less threatening to the kittens.
Play with the kittens using "kitty tease" toys (a tiny piece of cloth tied to a string which is tied to a small stick) or lightweight cat toys. Don’t leave the "kitty tease" alone with the kittens as kittens will often swallow string. This can be fatal.
If there is one that is not becoming tame, place it in a separate cage in another room, away from the others. This will allow you to work with the baby more frequently and will increase it’s dependence on a human. It will also prevent perpetuation of wildness in the littermates. All members of some litters must be isolated as not to reinforce wildness in the group.
A large room may overwhelm a timid kitten and cause increased fear. Bedrooms can be a problem. If kittens become frightened and go under the bed it can be difficult to get them to come out and stressful for them if you force them out.
Also try to kitten-proof the room as much as possible before letting the kittens out into the room. Seal up any nooks and crannies where frightened kittens may enter and become trapped or inaccessible to you. Bathroom sinks often have spaces between the kickboard and the cabinet just large enough for the kitten. Block access to behind bookcases and heavy furniture behind which the kitten can become wedged. Be careful of open toilets and anything which could be climbed and pulled down on top of the kitten causing possible injury. Protect vulnerable knick knacks, clothes, and plants (some poisonous) from curious kittens.
When screening prospective "parents" remember that the kitten will do best if there are no small children in the home. All the work you have done can be easily shattered by normal kid activity and noise. This is vital to remember when placing the kittens for adoption. The most suitable home is a calm environment so the kittens will feel secure. The ideal home is one which will keep their pet indoors and will take 2 kittens together (actually easier to care for and more fun to watch) or that will have an adult home during the day.
Be sure that you inform the adoptive family that the kitten must be neutered. This can be done as early as 8 weeks of age. You may want to ask for a refundable deposit from the adoptive family to encourage them to neuter. Or you may want to neuter it yourself and ask the new owner to reimburse you. Many forms and contracts exist for doing this. For example, FOCAS, the Humane Society, and the Department of Animal Control all have such agreements.
IT IS IMPORTANT TO MAKE SURE THIS CAT DOES NOT HAVE BABIES, OR YOU MAY FIND YOURSELF TRYING TO FIND A FAMILY FOR ITS KITTENS.