A lot of exciting things happen in the short period of time between birth and weaning. Things usually go just fine and the soft, bouncy kittens are weaned, then they’re off to start a new life! It is so much fun to watch them grow.
One needs to watch the kittens and Mom-cat closely so if things go awry, prompt attention at the veterinary facility can help get things back on track. In some cases, kittens may decline quickly and die due to a number of factors, and we term these “fading kittens”. Reasons for fading may include infections, blood type incompatibility, birth defects, poor mothering, and others.
Colostrum, the first milk contains important protection against disease and must be taken in by the newborn kittens as soon after birth as possible. By 12 hours, the intestine is starting to close off for protective antibody absorption, and by 16-24 hours of age, the intestine will not effectively absorb these protective components.
It is important not to be too intrusive around the birthing box since a nervous new mother cat may find that stressful, and handling of the kittens is unacceptable to some queens. She may get aggressive, move her kittens around, or abandon them if really stressed. Remember that the first few days are essential for proper bonding with offspring, so apart from making sure queen and kittens are healthy, and ensuring the nest is cleaned of birthing fluids eventually, resist the urge to get in the way until a routine is established. Mama cat will appreciate your good judgment here.
For the healthy newborns, growth is fast and furious! Queens are generally excellent mothers, and you need not help her! She is going to be kept busy with nursing, grooming, and training her kittens how to be cats. A queen will help her kittens understand where the litterbox is and how to use it, an outdoor queen may help her kittens learn hunting skills. Kittens will help each other learn how to interact socially. Play, and play fights both help them practice body language and appropriate behaviors they will need to communicate with other cats. Weaning can occur once the kittens eat solid food well, by about 7-8 weeks, but it is desirable to leave the kittens together and with mother until 12-16 weeks so that they can effectively learn life’s lessons about normal cat behavior etc. and are stronger and larger before the stress of separation.
Cats can be expected to grow at a fairly standard rate. Weighing them regularly can help to ensure that they are eating properly and gaining weight normally. Early weight gain is usually around 8-10 grams per day. A little kitchen scale will do the trick.
Check the queen regularly for the appearance of her mammary glands. If any unusual swelling, discoloration, or pain is present, contact your veterinarian immediately. Mamma cat should be eating vigorously, and the discharge from her birth canal (opening below the anus) should gradually taper off. Abnormal or excessive discharge at the opening of her reproductive tract, and a poor appetite or reduced kitten care may indicate problems with her recovering reproductive tract.
If either mom cat or babies are not looking right, don’t wait! Delaying care will only worsen things. The offspring should be observed while being weighed and if they are weak, feel cool, or are not gaining the expected amount of weight, take them into the hospital right away. The newborn does not have much capacity for springing back from stress or infection, so any problem can become progressive quickly if intervention does not occur. Once their eyes open, up until weaning time, daily handling is important for good socialization to people. Brief, gentle handling sessions at least a few times a day are adequate.
Veterinary health care starts before weaning, with routine worming of kittens. Check with your veterinarian for the prescription wormer that is appropriate. Worming treatments every two weeks for three treatments minimum are necessary to prevent zoonotic (shared by people and pets) parasites from getting established in kitten. Vaccination can also be discussed at that time.
It doesn’t take long for the babies to become little independent curious kittens!