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The Care of Mothers and Their Young

[The Adaptability of the Cat]  [The Responsibility of the Owner]  [The Care of Mothers and Their Young]  [When You Buy a Kitten]  [The Right Feeding of Cats]  [More Cat Articles] 

( Originally Published 1936 )

This book makes no attempt to deal with breeding as a science or as a business. Breeding is a big subject, and individual owners, keeping cats as pets or mousers, hardly need to go into its complexities. But pet cats and mousers do have kittens, and there are basic facts and simple rules which all owners of female cats should know.

A veterinarian who served for years in the clinic of a large animal hospital told me that he always tried to discourage owners from letting their cats breed, for so often it is the beginning of a vicious circle. Mrs. Puss has kittens; the owner keeps them till they get to be in the way, then gives them away to friends, to the butcher, to the grocer; the kittens perhaps stray away from their new owners and breed in their turn; and so the army of homeless cats is increased.

If you have a female cat, follow one of two courses. Either have her spayed, an operation which with modern methods is attended by little risk and which makes of her a quiet, satisfactory pet, or resign yourself to some annoyance when she is in season, and guard her from wandering at these times. With proper precautions breeding as a hobby is all right, and should raise the standard of pet cats.

When your cat desires to mate she shows it by great restlessness, by crying, and by treading the ground with both hind legs. Some cats begin to call at seven or eight months, but if you want your pet to develop into a strong cat and to produce strong kittens do not mate her till she is one year old. The male should be at least a year old too. Stud cats are at their best between one and three years of age.

Queens, as breeders call female cats, differ very much as to the frequency with which they come in season, but the average is about three times a year, and the period lasts from three to fifteen days. Some cats are almost unbearable at these times; others make very little fuss. Spring is the best time for mating. Then the kittens have the benefit of ripening warmth and sunshine. Breeding in the autumn is a mistake, as the winter is a bad time for growing.

If your cat is of a definite breed and color, say a Persian blue or cream or orange, a domestic shorthaired white or Maltese, a seal point or a blue point Siamese, get a sire not only of the same breed but of the same color. It takes an expert to experiment successfully with color crosses. If your female is deficient in any point, choose a male who is strong in that point. Suppose you have a Persian whose head is too long and narrow. Be sure that her mate has the broad head and short, blunt nose of the best Persians. By following this rule you stand a better chance of getting kittens of the right type.

Be sure that your cat is in good condition, and that the mate you pick is healthy. If you want the service of a pedigreed stud cat you must be prepared to pay, for it takes money to raise these cats. But with an unpedigreed cat of one of the fancy breeds you never know what weak points your kittens may inherit. Domestic short-haired cats are different, they have the strength of the peasantry, an elemental beauty, and some of the finest specimens come from the so-called alley cats.

Mating should take place from three to five days after your pet begins to call, and afterward she should be kept quiet, not handled much, and not allowed to roam. Pregnancy, which may be assumed when she ceases to call, lasts about sixty days, but kittens have been known to live that were born as early as the fifty-eighth day and as late as the sixtysixth. Never feed a queen so much as to make her fat. She needs about the same amount of food as usual for the first half of the time, only a little more raw beef. Three or four weeks before the event it is well to add to her breakfast and supper a meal at noon and a nightcap of warm milk.

Most of these little future mothers are quite normal, except that they drink more water. It sometimes happens, however, that a sensitive cat will be listless, develop nausea, and take dislikes to certain foods. But a little humoring will generally bring her through.

Like the provident creatures they are, cats begin in good time to look about for a proper cradle for the kittens. If they are left to themselves they are as likely as not to pick a bureau drawer with your best silk undies in it, so keep your bureau drawers shut, and provide a comfortable box in a secluded spot, not too warm, not in a draft, and shaded from the light for the protection of the babies' eyes. Line it with newspapers, which must be changed every day, and a clean, soft blanket of smooth material, free from fuzz.

Healthy cats rarely have any trouble when their kittens are born, and it is best not to interfere with them. Just watch to see that the first babies do not get cold and that the mother does not lie on any of them. But cats are careful mothers. Difficult births sometimes happen to cobby Persians if their pelvic bones are too close together, and then you will need a veterinarian in a hurry for a Caesarian operation. But to normal cats motherhood comes easy unless their vitality has been exhausted by too much breeding. One family a year is enough for any cat.

When the kittens have arrived, leave the mother alone with them for a few hours, then coax her from the box with some light food, say warm milk with an egg beaten in it. Pretty soon she will be eating eagerly, much more heartily than when she was a carefree spinster. Give her plenty of food. And a cat should not be expected to nurse more than four kittens; if she is debilitated one or two are enough. To guard against accidents it is a good plan, if the kittens are valuable, to have a wet nurse ready, a healthy cat who will not mind taking foster children with her own. If the strangers are smeared with her milk and slipped in when she is not looking, she will accept them and tend them as her own.

If the kittens are not valuable and you are not sure of good homes for them, the humane act is to destroy them, leaving one to nurse the mother and prevent caked breasts. Newborn kittens have hardly any sensibility, and a few drops of chloroform or submersion in warm water will end their troubles before they begin.

Speaking of caked breasts, if for any reason they occur they ought to be treated promptly, for they are painful and dangerous. Massage them gently till you have drawn out what milk remains, then cleanse them with warm water in which bicarbonate of soda or boric acid has been dissolved, and, finally, rub them with camphorated oil.

A wet nurse, we know, is the best substitute for the mother who cannot care for her kittens, but wet nurses are not always on call, and kittens can be raised by hand. Miss Doris Bryant, proprietor of Doris Bryant's Cat Specialty Shop in New York and a breeder of Siamese cats in her spare time, told me that she fed four orphaned kittens for the first six weeks of their lives on a formula she worked out, and they lived and became lusty cats. The formula consisted of two heaping teaspoonfuls of Squibb's Dextro-Vitavose mixed with one cup of whole milk. This she brought to a boil, adding a tablespoonful of limewater when it cooled. She gave the babies as much as they wanted, feeding them with a medicine dropper at three-hour periods, night and day at first. By degrees the intervals were lengthened. At four weeks they began taking beef juice, and at five weeks a little scraped beef. Even nursing kittens are better for some extra nutriment. Miss Elsie G. Hydon, of Bogota, New Jersey, whose Persians are famous, favors Mellin's baby food, prepared as for newborn infants; Cream of Wheat well cooked; and unsweetened evaporated milk, one part milk to two parts water, mixed.

At about nine days the eyes of the kittens, who are born blind, begin to unclose. If, as sometimes happens, they fail to open, they should be bathed with warm water and gently manipulated. Adhesion of the eyelids for an abnormal period is called ankyloblepharon, and sometimes an operation is necessary to correct it.

The box for the kittens' nursery should be roomy enough so they can crawl around in it freely. When they adventure out of it, give them a safe and pleasant place in which to mature. Some people think that cellars are good enough for kittens. I wish such people might be shut in cellars themselves. A garden is ideal for kittens in warm weather, but they can be happy in a room with a sunny window. If they have a good mother, and most cat mothers are efficient, she will attend to their manners, but if you expect her to housebreak them properly you must have the sanitary pan, with its clean sand or torn paper, near their box.

Weaning, which should not be attempted before the kittens are eight weeks old, may be started by taking them from the mother at night. Soon the saucer can be substituted entirely for the breast. Miss Hydon thinks eight weeks too early for weaning. She prefers kittens to nurse for three months.