Essential pet advice with vet Jo Gourlay

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Following on from the series of articles a few months ago on breeding from your bitch we now turn our attention to cats.

We will look at the differences between the reproductive cycles in dogs and cats, consider if it’s actually a good idea to be breeding at all, as well as discussing how to look after a pregnant queen.

The first thing to under­stand is how queens (female unneutered cats) differ reproductively from both humans and bitches. A key distinction is that cats ovulate (produce an egg) in response to mating rather than have a regular, predictable cycle. In addition, cats will intermittently come into heat from about January until the autumn unless they mate. This combination of being receptive to mating over a substantial part of the year, alongside ovulating after mating, enables cats to become pregnant comparatively easily. Owners are often caught unaware by this, especially as cats as young as four months can become pregnant. If you do not intend to breed from your cat it’s really important to discuss neutering with your vet early on to prevent accidental pregnancies.

This leads to the first question you need to ask: should your cat have a litter of kittens? My personal opinion is that unless you are extremely confident about finding permanent, good homes for all the kittens, then the answer should be no.

There are already thousands of lovely unwanted cats struggling to find good homes. Pedigree kittens may be more likely to be successfully sold but there are other issues to consider. For example, many pedigree animals will have been sold on the “Not-Active register” or are endorsed as “not for breeding”, which means if they go on and have any kittens they will be ineligible for registration with the relevant breed society.

It’s not just about finding homes though: the cat must have a good temperament, be fit and healthy, and free of any hereditary problems (things it could pass on to the kittens). The age of the cat is important as very young or aged cats have a higher risk of complications during the pregnancy and birth and may struggle with rearing their kittens. Other important factors are the financial and time commitments required by the owner.

It’s not only the expected costs (additional and ideally specialised food during pregnancy and lactation, worming, bedding and heating, to name but a few) but also the potential expense of an emergency caesarean. If, for some reason, the mother rejects her young, dies or is too unwell to nurse them, they will need hand-rearing, which involves feeding them every two to three hours – day and night. Even with an ideal result of a straightforward delivery and healthy mum and kittens, the time commitment required to look after them properly is substantial.

Next week we continue on this topic moving onto looking after the pregnant queen before then tackling what to expect at the birth and in the first few weeks afterwards.