Managing Queens – Gestation in CatsAs more interest is put into neonatal survival, the more we understand how vital the mom's health is. Live kittens are the goal, but this can be difficult with 50 percent of kitten loss happening at birth. As owners, we do not get a chance to save these kittens, so managing the queen during gestation leads to more live kittens birthed.
Appropriate litter size leads to healthier moms and babies. Single-kitten litters have the highest mortality rate, and five-kitten litters have the lowest mortality rate (Peterson). We have seen this in other species, as well. They often have single kittens because of embryo loss in gestation.
Nutrition RequiredA study of 477 kittens showed 60 percent of those with low birth weights failed to survive to weaning. Marginal diets and vitamin deficiencies lead to poor uterine health, interference with blood flow to placenta, and poor nutrition and oxygen to the embryo. As a result, kittens are born weak or smaller than normal, which decreases their nursing ability. There is also a chance that they will be born dead. Since kittens have little glucose reserves, anything that interferes with early nursing contributes to kitten death. Nutrition is important in another area—overweight queens have smaller litters and the highest mortality rates. The goal of feeding a queen is to have kittens that will fight to live.
Prenatal vitamins maximize red blood cells and kitten size in a gestating mom. Kittens are born with all the RBCs they will have until six weeks. Anemic kittens are weak and slow to nurse, and anemic moms wear out in labor. Prenatal vitamins such as Breeders' Edge® Oxy Mate™ allow for improved queen health, which in turn makes birthing more effective and timely. The result is more live kittens.
Stress: Big Issue in QueensStress-free gestation avoids embryo loss and early labor. Blood spotting is common the first week after breeding, but spotting between the second and eighth week gestation is a problem. Most queens are so clean that little is seen besides neonate loss (small litters). Dominant female fighting or stress of any kind leads to placenta separation, oxygen shortage and nutrition issues.
A stressed female leads to early delivery and weak, low-birth-weight kittens. Queen roommates should not be changed during gestation, and any fighting or dominance behavior should not be tolerated. Queen dominance behavior causes submissive queens to have silent heats, nutritional issues from eating last, and daily stress. Stress embryo loss makes the submissive queen a challenge to manage effectively in colony housing. Once bred, housing submissive queens by themselves during gestation should result in a successful litter born.
Another issue is safety of mom. When mom is comfortable with the safety of her kittens and knows "you have her back" so to say, she stays with the kittens and mothers them. If she is not comfortable, she is moving them, mouthing them, stepping on them and not nursing them. Get mom ready with a queening area during the last two weeks of gestation and be sure to keep the distractions to a minimum. Show her love so she knows you "have her back." When she feels comfortable with the safety of the queening area, she will also be comfortable with your assistance if needed.
Queens are much more sensitive to stressful gestation than other mammals. In the queen, stress and dominance behavior will lead to spotting blood (placenta issues) and weak, small kittens. With 50 percent of our kitten loss happening at birth and small kittens having a 60 percent chance of not making it to weaning, managing the gestating mom for health is time well-spent. The short story is, treat her like a "queen" and she'll bless you with live, healthy kittens.
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Donald Bramlage, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, Former Director of Veterinary Services at Revival Animal Health
Donald Bramlage, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, practiced veterinary medicine for 30+ years and is known for his work in managing parvovirus. He received his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from Kansas State University in 1985. He served as Revival's Director of Veterinary Services from 2011 until his retirement in 2019.
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