KittenFilter Question: How Do I Help These Cats?
February 25, 2023 3:51 PM   Subscribe

My housemate's cat gave birth to kittens last night, in a bag of my housemate's abandoned jackets- which had been stuffed underneath a dresser. We're generally avoiding that area until the kittens are old enough to be put somewhere else, like a crate. What else can we do to make sure that the cat and all of her kittens are okay?

A quick look-up suggested that we shouldn't disturb the kittens for two weeks, but we kind of already did: my housemate (against my advice) pulled out the bag to see the kittens and put them back without much care. Once I made sure that they weren't inadvertently smushed into a bad place (because bag under a dresser), I tried to give them a *little* room and backed off. There's a heating vent right next to the dresser, which I pray helps the kittens stay warm: despite the heater being on regularly, the house still gets drafty.

Mama cat also doesn't seem to be eating, and vomited twice a few hours ago. I can't tell if she's with the kittens without bothering the bag again, and I don't want her to think they're suddenly unsafe where they are.

Assume housemate won't prioritize taking the cat and kittens to a vet unless it's dire/absolutely necessary. They only acquired a cat to deal with mice, and haven't done a lot of research into cat care - e.g., they started feeding this cat chicken baked with onion powder until I caught it.

I can call a vet in the morning for more tips, I'm sure - I'm just worried that the kittens won't make it for some truly avoidable-ass reason. Thanks for the help in advance, everyone.
posted by Ashen to Pets & Animals (17 answers total)
Newborn kittens don’t have a lot of space between alive and dead. If moms not eating, then the kittens won’t eat. Won’t be long before you have dead cats.

posted by shock muppet at 3:55 PM on February 25, 2023 [14 favorites]

As shock muppet says, kittens, especially in the first week, are super fragile and go from okay to dead really quickly. My understanding is that they also can't regulate their body temperatures at that age, which is why they're often kept in incubators for the first week or two. Given your house is drafty, I wonder whether it might be an idea to try to pop a heating pad (on low, probably, don't want to burn them either) under where they are. I'll defer to others with more first-hand experience, however.

Depends a lot on the specifics (how friendly/freaked out mama cat is, etc.), but I wonder whether it might be an idea to try to bottle-feed the kittens. I believe you use KMR (here), but - although having watched way too much TinyKittens for my own good - I've never actually done it before so I can't give particular advice. But as I understand it, if they're not eating every few hours, they're at serious risk of rapid decline. But I don't really know the ramifications of bottle-feeding them in terms of how mama cat is likely to react, so perhaps others can advise.
posted by ClaireBear at 4:09 PM on February 25, 2023 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you for the answers so far. To clarify: mama cat seems kinda spooked already. I just tried to bring her wet food to see if she'd eat that, and found that a) she'd moved the kittens a bit, b) she was stress purring, and c) remembered that just after we found the kittens, she'd basically avoid going near the nest unless the room was empty.

I don't currently have the money on hand for a vet visit tomorrow, but I absolutely will advocate for them to my housemate - who does.
posted by Ashen at 4:15 PM on February 25, 2023 [1 favorite]

One more idea. I definitely agree with vet asap, but if you are unwilling/unable, you could call now to see if there are any animal shelters who could either take the kittens right now, or provide advice. I am a little bit doubtful that they would be able to take the kittens at such short notice, but I think it would be worth a shot: there's an off-chance that they may have a foster available who is experienced with this sort of thing. If they don't have a foster available, they might be able to line up a foster in the next few days (that's the typical timeline for this sort of thing, at least where I am). Especially if mama cat is doing her mama cat jobs, it would be preferable if she comes along, since that will make much less work for the foster: otherwise the foster will need to feed and potty them every few hours, as well as work harder to keep them warm.

Also wanted to stress that after the kittens are weaned, it's imperative that mama cat is spayed before she becomes pregnant again (which can happen very quickly - as in, weeks). There are often low-cost clinics that will neuter/spay cats. This exact same situation is going to keep happening every few months until she is relieved of her reproductive organs. Not spaying/neutering cats is the source of much suffering in the world: millions kittens are born every year, the majority of which die, often after starvation and/or illness. I'm not trying to make you feel bad, especially since it's not your cat, but it would be a great kindness if you could ensure that she gets spayed. Even from simply a practical perspective, it's going to be easier and cheaper for her to be spayed than have to take care of litter after litter 4-5 times a year.
posted by ClaireBear at 4:23 PM on February 25, 2023 [5 favorites]

Kittens are very fragile, but they also are fairly resilant too. Last year ended up having a litter of, feral kittens born in an unheated Chicago garage at a time when it was still very cold out. Mom cat, who was feral broke in decided to have them in very inaccessible rafters. Without much intervention from us once we found out (the first week or two we likely didn't even know they were there) they did just fine.

Leave out measured food for mom with water nearby that you can monitor ideally without acknowledging the kittens. Keep the place nominally heated and give her space to feel safe and comfortable.

If the food and water are disapearing, mom is doing her thing.

With your fears of mom not eating, You might be able to get a vet to do a house call (mobile vet) if you live in a big enough city, so that your not moving the lot at once, and you really don't want to seperate kittens from mom.

Good luck!
posted by AlexiaSky at 4:37 PM on February 25, 2023 [5 favorites]

You should consider getting kitten food for the mother. It's what's recommended for pregnant and nursing cats. try to leave the cat alone as much as possible. Make sure there is warmth get a space heater for the room.

You might want to put out a box with towels and the mom may move her kittens there on her own. That will give you a better opportunity to observe as needed.
posted by brookeb at 4:40 PM on February 25, 2023 [9 favorites]

Mama cats will often move their litters shortly after giving birth - it’s an instinctual attempt to distance the babes from the smells of birth which could attract predators. I agree with providing a box (or better, several different boxes) with towels and blankets inside that are safe places for her to move them to.

Agree also on giving as much food and water to mama as she will eat. Kitten food, like others have said. We fostered a pregnant mama cat a couple years ago. She had seven kittens and she did a beautiful job mothering them but she was HONGRY. I think at one point we were giving her like six? cans of wet food per day?

And if you want these kittens to be well-socialized to humans, don’t be afraid of handling them within reason. Don’t like, take them far away from mama, but don’t be too hesitant to touch them or pick them up briefly. If mama trusts you at all, she will probably not freak out too bad if you interact with the kittens. Cats do often live in colonies and raise babies communally, so it’s not so very unnatural for a member of the colony (you) to help out and check in.
posted by fancyoats at 7:35 PM on February 25, 2023 [8 favorites]

Best answer: Thank you so, so much for asking. I am very worried about your mom cat. She may need help urgently. Not only does she deserve good care, but the whole family there pretty much depends on her.

Mom not eating is very very bad - Mom cats are always extremely hungry and eat ravenously. They need calories almost like they need air.

Are you sure she's not eating? Have you tried canned/wet food? Have you tried cooked plain chicken, or canned tuna?

If she's not eating, and she's vomiting, there could be a birth complication -- possibly a stuck kitten, or placenta, or something. She could be in pain - pain can cause vomiting. So can infection.

You need to get her some help right away if she really hasn't eaten anything since giving birth.

Is her behaviour markedly different? Birth hormones apparently affect different cats differently, so new wariness could be that -- but if she loved and trusted you before, and she's avoiding you even when she's not with the kittens, that could be another strong sign that she's feeling awful.

Make sure that you always talk to her, and around her, in a high gentle voice (yes, like baby talk) -- this is actually very helpful for reducing their stress; as it sounds more like a cat voice and less like a scary big low-voiced predator.

If you possibly can, find a position where you can watch the kittens for a while with the mom (you'll have to find a way to do this unobtrusively -- you might have to make a little pile of laundry to conceal most of yourself). Are any of the kittens latching on and drinking milk? It's possible that there is a little milk in Mom to give them, but there won't be much if she's not eating -- and making that milk will _also_ deplete her.

If they are moving around and trying to latch on, but not getting any milk - emergency.

Take videos of this if you can - if you're like me, you won't really be sure what's going on, but an expert will be more confident.

Things you can get for Mom at a pet store - some high-calorie emergency food gel (comes in a tube); extremely delicious food; and there is special canned food made for kittens and nursing mothers. If she's actually vomiting, though, none of this will help.

Finally: here is some new specially-created music that's been tested and proven to reduce cat stress. If you end up waiting for a callback or something, might as well see if it helps -- I think it probably will. My vet plays it for the cats they have staying in the hospital.
posted by amtho at 11:41 PM on February 25, 2023 [11 favorites]

OK, I've calmed down a bit. Apologies if I freaked you out. I see that you're not totally sure that she hasn't eaten, and it sounds like she's moving around, so it's probably not that bad.

I recommend getting some really good food and putting it near her, and taking a photo of it, so you can compare the dish later to be sure whether she's eating or not. Find out definitively whether she's eating or not.

Also: check the vomit if you can - is there any chance it's just hairballs?

Also: if you set up the food dish somewhere that's out of sight of the kittens, you might be able to quickly go check on them while she's eating.

Finally: keep an eye on her. See if she seems overly lethargic. She probably looks a little haggard just from giving birth, but note this so you'll know if she starts looking worse.
posted by amtho at 11:48 PM on February 25, 2023 [3 favorites]

It's possible that this is okay - you should monitor the mom cat though - cats need to eat every 24hrs or else there liver starts getting clogged and then they die. A good test is something that's very appealing to cats, like canned tuna fish (get an oil-free version), or cat treats from a pet store. If you are absolutely sure she is not eating, then see if any vets will look at her for you on a sliding scale - some vets will do this.

But yes, as others have said:
-Give the mom space/ do not disturb the kittens (kittens need mom's milk every 3hrs)

-Put a space heater in the room to keep it warm

And if you want these kittens to be well-socialized to humans, don’t be afraid of handling them within reason.

-I am not an expert, but according to people who are, this isn't quite right - it's best to not handle them until their eyes open (10-14 days). After that, you want to start small - if touching them stresses mom out, they might learn that humans = stress, which is not the message you want them to learn. So move slowly, get mom's approval (with a treat/pet), and then briefly hold them to start.
posted by coffeecat at 7:38 AM on February 26, 2023 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Call the animal shelter in your area and ask them for advice on supporting the cat and her kittens. They may be able to provide some technical help at no cost.

The cat will need good nutrition, and lots of it, to nurse the kittens for 6 - 12 weeks. All the weight they gain for 6+ weeks comes from nursing, so she needs high quality calories. Here's some info about newborn kittens. Is the nest cozy and safe? What about when they start exploring?

If you support the cat well, and are calm, she's likely to be able to care for the kittens successfully.
posted by theora55 at 10:00 AM on February 26, 2023 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Re: socializing house-born kittens - just spend time near them, reading or on the computer, and honestly kittens will not be kept away if they don't see you as a threat :)
posted by amtho at 11:48 AM on February 26, 2023

Whatever happens, this is not your fault. You are being a lovely person by caring enough to ask for help.
posted by amtho at 4:46 PM on February 26, 2023 [2 favorites]

Best answer: put out a bunch of blanket/towel-lined boxes in different spots around the house so she has options and can pick the one in the environment that suits her best.

when we had a cat that needed to put on weight during hyperthyroidism treatments, we mixed up kitten milk replacer and put it out in bowls for her to drink like kitty Ensure. you could try putting out a bowl of that alongside the food and water to help mom injest more calories.
posted by Jacqueline at 9:27 PM on February 26, 2023 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you so much, everyone. An update, before I mark this question resolved:

Mama cat's been eating, and the kittens seem to be doing okay! Housemate got kitten food, tuna, etc., and we have a backup box for whenever mama cat wants to move her litter. She's more energetic, and even comes down to my room just to say hi when she hasn't seen me in a few hours.

I'll be taking all of your recommendations in and doing what I can to make it easier for her and the kittens. And I definitely needed the calming music recommendation: I've been trying to devise a way to make my imminent move less stressful for mama cat. I'd settled on just stopping by periodically to help her gradually adjust to my absence. And vice versa, *sigh*

Thanks again!
posted by Ashen at 9:28 PM on February 26, 2023 [7 favorites]

Oh, that's so good to hear. Thank you for following up.

Also: make sure mom has plenty of clean water to drink -- change it daily, and use dishes that are white or clear so that you can _see_ that it's clean. She's basically serving drinks from her body 24/7 - drinks need liquid.

See if you can turn your roommate on to the videos by The Kitten Lady. She does a lot of information giving about raising kittens, and she's charming and fun to watch -- and the information is well organized and sandwiched in with a lot of cute kitten footage. Also, her partner is a professional animal photographer, so the visuals are good too.
posted by amtho at 10:55 PM on February 26, 2023 [4 favorites]

Another comfort note: mama cats can get very, very hot - make sure she has someplace to cool off (maybe near that fresh water, maybe set up a small fan). This might be more of an issue as the kittens get bigger.

Also: Once they open their eyes, if you can set up an area around the kittens where they can safely play and explore without getting loose and going who-knows-where, it will let Mom take breaks without worrying too much about them. Y'all will be less anxious, too.
posted by amtho at 11:34 PM on February 26, 2023 [2 favorites]

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