Your “Queen” or pregnant cat is showing signs she is ready to give birth, so what do you do? If this is your first experience with feline pregnancy, there is no need to be worried, because your cat knows exactly what to do. Plus, your Veterinarian can coach you through the all of the stages and the signs of your cat’s pregnancy, so that you will be ready for the special day. However, a very important item to provide for your cat is a Queening or Nesting Box where she will feel safe and secure while birthing her kittens.
A few years ago, my family agreed to foster a pregnant stray cat named, Sweetie, who had been abandoned in the middle of winter when her family moved away. Neighbors who had been feeding Sweetie, suspected that she was pregnant, and called HART (Homeless Animals Rescue Team) https://hart90.org/ in northern Virginia, where my daughter and I were volunteers. It can be very difficult to find foster families for pregnant cats. It is a big commitment because once the kittens are born they need to remain with their mother and foster family until they reach an adoptable age. I agreed to take Sweetie home without taking any time to think. Although, I had many years of experience as a cat parent, I had no experience whatsoever with cat pregnancy.
The volunteer Veterinarian answered all of my many questions about the impending birth. Since Sweetie was a stray he could not be certain how far along she was in her pregnancy. He said it could be at any moment to a few weeks. I was so relieved Sweetie had been found in time and was not going to have her kittens outdoors in the freezing cold. The Veterinarian assured me that aside from rare complications, Sweetie would be able to handle the entire process on her own without human intervention. We simply needed to supply her with a safe environment, and to make sure that she had plenty of food and water. She definitely had a strong appetite!
We have a cat of our own, a female named Licorice, and the Veterinarian recommended keeping the two cats separated for the entire time we were fostering Sweetie. This was the safest situation for both cats, and later would ensure the safety of the kittens. We set up our finished basement as Sweetie’s home and divided our time between the two cats in our family. Licorice was not thrilled with the situation, but we made sure to give her lots of attention.
As her time approached, Sweetie began searching for that extra special place to have her kittens. I noticed she had been spending more and time hiding under the couch. I was not too keen on the kittens being born under my couch on my brand new carpet. Sweetie seemed to like this location though because it was dark and sheltered and tucked away. My main concern was for Sweetie’s safety and the safety of her kittens. I thought there was real possibility she might burrow up inside of the couch and make her nest there. In speaking with some of the other volunteers at HART I learned that if I offered Sweetie a Nesting Box, she would likely opt to use it, and my couch, my carpet and the kittens could be saved!
I did a little research and found out it was easy enough to build a Nesting Box. The box needed to be large enough to accommodate Sweetie and her soon-to-be arrivals, but also cozy and secure. She needed to have easy access to her food and water and the box needed to be warm and inviting.
Here is how I did it!
- I started with a medium sized packing box, 22” wide, 15” tall and 16” deep. Box size may vary depending on the size of your cat. Sweetie was a small to medium sized cat, even with her bulging belly.
- Then I proceeded to make some adjustments using scissors and some packing tape.
- I lay the box on its wider side and removed the two side and top closing flaps.
- I removed the top piece of the box so that it had a base, and two sides. It was a good sturdy foundation.
- Using the discarded cardboard, I added a peaked roof, so that it looked a little like a small cardboard house. This was strictly for aesthetics and not at all necessary.
- I used the additional cardboard pieces to make an extension from the base with low sides that Sweetie could easily step over but so that the kittens would not roll out.
- I was careful to make sure none of the tape had any exposed sticky sides where small furry friends could get stuck.
- The base of the box was lined with multiple sheets of newspaper and puppy pads. Then, I lay a soft towel over the top of the pads.
- I draped a second towel over the opening leaving a large enough hole that Sweetie could go in and out as desired.
It was a comfy, dark and I hoped an appealing space for our mother-to-be. Sweetie observed my activity with genuine interest and seemed to approve.
Then we waited. And we waited. And, we waited a little bit longer.
Sweetie continued to hide under the couch and in various other places around the basement. I panicked some and considered abandoning the Nesting Box. I decided to leave the box alone and tried to be patient. One day, Sweetie circled the Nesting Box a few times, and peered inside. Then miraculously, she went in and laid down. Over the next few days, she visited the box fairly regularly, and sometimes she even napped inside of the nest.
When the big day finally came, Sweetie went into the Nesting Box and remained inside. One by one, the kittens arrived! Sweetie carefully cleaned each one as they emerged, first one, then two, and then three. We grew a little concerned, because the Vet had taken an x-ray of Sweetie’s belly and we were all expecting four or maybe five kittens in her total litter. We began to worry that Sweetie was having complications and that not all of her kittens had survived. After an hour went by, another kitten was born!
Sweetie was a calico, so it was great fun to see the variety of colorful offspring she had. The first born was a dark orange, tabby male with short hair. The second was a “buff” lighter orange, tabby male with short hair. The third was a black, grey, and white, female tabby with medium hair. The last, but not the least, was a solid grey female with short hair. We did not rush to naming all of the kittens right away because we wanted to see what their personalities were like, and go from there. The exception to this was our tiniest, little grey, who took her time joining the rest in celebrating their birthday. We named her Sprout before we knew her gender.
After the births, Sweetie remained in the Nesting Box with her kittens for around the clock nursing. I needed to replace the towel and some of the papers and pads lining the Nesting Box, although the box was still surprisingly neat. The Veterinarian was right! She took care everything even the housekeeping. I waited about a week, so as not to disturb Sweetie and her kittens. Then, one day when she left the Nesting Box to go to her food dish and the kittens rooted around blindly searching for her, I carefully rolled up the old towel and some of the paper and replaced it with a clean towel.
As the kittens grew, we expanded the nest to become a secure playground for our new arrivals. We added more and more cardboard pieces to the nest until it became a cat compound. This allowed Sweetie to leave the box and take “Mommies time out” breaks from her kittens. After a few weeks, once the kittens were box trained, there was no containing them. They were literally climbing the curtains and the stairs. We dismantled the nest and opted for cozy cat beds, and a kitten proof room.
It was great fun and an amazing learning experience for my family to see the kittens, Sprout, Princess, Hobbs, and Lance born and grow to the adoptable age of 6-8 weeks.
Princess was our dainty girl, and very prim and proper in her play compared to her three siblings. Hobbs, the first born, was the perpetual ring leader of the group. He was the first to climb out of the nest. Lance was named by my friend who adopted both Hobbs and Lance. And Sprout made up for her smaller size with her tenacity of spirit. We have been fortunate to be able to see two of the boys, Lance and Hobbs, grow up. Princess and Sprout were adopted as pair by a nice couple. Sweetie, thankfully also found a home. Although it was hard to part with any of them, we are so pleased they all found forever homes.
If you decide to build a Nesting Box for your expectant feline, I am sure she will be extremely grateful for the effort. It is a simple craft that reaps big rewards!