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Vida Mia of Foothill Felines with her Bengal kitten litter
Starbengal Vida Mia of Foothill Felines is a wonderful Bengal mother.

Feel free to browse through this entire page; or, click on any of the following topics: Introduction;  False Pregnancies;  Hormonal Imbalances & Cysts ;  Failed Pregnancies; Reabsorption & Abortion;  The Role of Nutrition;  WhelpWise® Monitoring System

Look Here!  INTRODUCTION Look Here!

This article is being written to provide information for breeders. It is important to note that while it may seem as though making kittens should be as easy as putting a male and a female cat together, there is far much more involved in the process. The breeder must understand that they are fully responsible for the outcome of any breeding or attempted breeding, and that their responsibility is threefold - to protect the health and life of the queen; to protect the health and life of the tom or stud male cat; and to protect the health and lives of any kittens born from the pairing. This may seem a bit simplistic, but in a time where so many animals are euthanized because proper homes cannot be found for their unique needs, creating or attempting to create more of these living creatures demands that we as compassionate human beings take responsibility for our actions to ensure that our animals do not come to any preventable harm or suffer in any way from our actions. Breeding is an enormous responsibility, and not one to be undertaken lightly. One must be prepared for the worst outcome, while of course we certainly always are hoping for the best outcome.

Most veterinary surgeons have been taught since their time as university students to spend more time preventing feline pregnancies rather than encouraging the active breeding of cats, due to the facts already mentioned above. Therefore it is not surprising that there is still very little documentation available about the fertility and pregnancy processes of felines. As of the past few years, more studies have been done to understand the feline reproductive system better, and to make more information available to veterinarians, breeders and other concerned people. As with the male tom cats, fertility issues can be very confusing, and not always easy to understand or to solve. We will try to address some of the more common issues in this article.

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Look Here!  FALSE PREGNANCIES Look Here!  

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The feline is very unique in it's reproductive system in that the female cats, called queens, are "induced ovulators". What this means is that the act of mating itself is what causes the female cat to ovulate (to release her eggs for fertilization). Because cats are induced ovulators, all breedings which would be considered 'sterile' (i.e., no live kittens are conceived) thus lead to what is commonly called "false" pregnancies. Also, the typical procedure of vaginal cytology may not, in the case of queens, be a reliable source for exploration or confirmation of reproductive function. One the positive side, the use of progesterone assays can in fact prove that the female cat has ovulated (thus confirming that a mating has taken place).

What happens during a "false pregnancy"? Certain actions of progesterone can cause very similar changes in the queen to those which occur in normal pregnancies. The act of mating causes the stimulation of progesterone and voila! We have what appears to be a pregnant queen. In a normal pregnancy, the eggs are fertilized in the oviduct and at about 4 to 5 days after mating, they arrive in the uterus. Implantation does not begin until about 14 days after mating. At about 20 days into the pregnancy, some experienced veterinarians can "palpate" the queen's abdomen and detect the fetuses which are by that time about the size of medium peas. The best time to try to palpate a queen though is at about 4 to 6 weeks into the pregnancy, at which time the fetuses are anywhere from the size of walnuts to small eggs. In a false pregnancy, the progesterone levels are about the same, and the queen will also go through the phenomena referred to as "pinking up" at about 3 to 4 weeks after the mating, when her teats show a marked reddening and an increase in size and swelling. The progesterone also causes fat deposits and water retention which can cause considerable enlargement of the abdomen, which also mimics a true pregnancy. Usually, a false pregnancy lasts from 3 to 7 weeks, and most often ends with the queen coming back in season and beginning to show the signs of being in heat, calling for a mate, etc. Most false pregnancies do not cause the queen to have milk production or secretion, and most queens can be bred again after they complete their false pregnancy. If the cause of the sterility is not yet known, it is probably wise to try breeding this queen to a different tom cat, to see if this makes a positive difference (hopefully it will) in the outcome of her mating and pregnancy.

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Exactly all the ways that hormones are involved in feline fertility are still not well known; however, their importance in the ability of a queen to conceive and carry a healthy litter to term ... and then to properly care for her newborn babies is definitely critical. There is some study of the role of progesterone in particular in maintaining a successful pregnancy. It is thought that single fetuses may not produce enough progesterone to maintain a normal pregnancy, and this may be the reason why single kitten litters are rather rare, and if they are born and survive, why the queen may not be as likely to be as nurturing and may, in fact, come back into estrus sooner. Progesterone injections have been tried for some queens with a track record of difficulty maintaining normal pregnancies, and even a progesterone implant has been attempted, with some success. Progesterone has such a short half life in the cat that multiple and frequent injections would be required (hence the idea of the implant). Some scientists believe that a different hormone can play a role in determining how maternal a queen may be, and that hormone is testosterone. In the mother cat's womb, male fetuses start producing and secreting testosterone sometime around the middle of their gestation. This testosterone is secreted into the amniotic fluid surrounding each of the embryos/fetuses in the litter. When a female embryo is implanted into the uterus between two male embryos, there is evidence to support the theory that this female, due to early exposure to the male hormone testosterone, may have a higher likelihood of becoming a more aggressive, less nurturing queen as an adult.

Cysts are actually quite common in cats, and their presence creates a very real opportunity for hormonal imbalances. When young queens are spayed, parovarian cysts are often encountered. These cysts are variable in size, and actually can get quite large; they are filled with fluid and most offten attached to the uterus, the broad ligament or the oviduct. True ovarian cysts are usually found in more mature queens of breeding age and older. In some breeds of cats, such as the Bengal, it is thought that these type of cysts can occur when the queen is not spayed and yet kept from mating until after one year of age. Spontaneous cysts, detectable by several ultrasounds, can prevent pregnancy as cysts of this nature are replaced by another as soon as one goes away. Most experienced Bengal breeders do not let 3 or more heats go by without breeding their queens for optimum fertility results. Should a queen develop ovarian cysts, it is usually best to spay her. Fortunately, this will prevent her from complications, and give her a healthy start on her life as a retired pet. Breeders must understand that not all female cats are meant to be breeding cats, and while most cats reproduce relatively easily with few complications, there are those cats who encounter difficulties. Even if a breeder is finally successful in getting a queen like this to conceive and ultimately to have a successful, full-term pregnancy, it is possible that these problems may occur again over time in the generations of offspring to follow.

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The distressing signs of reabsorption and abortion are not always as clear-cut as we may think. Sometimes, partial pieces of reabsorbed placenta or fetus may pass along with the rest of a healthy litter of kittens at normal birthing time. Especially in the cases of large litters, a certain amount of this sort of reabsorption/abortion is actually considered normal, part of the natural way of preventing "over-crowding" and increasing the survival chances of the healthiest kittens. As with all living creatures, a certain amount of natural reabsorption/abortion occurs when there is something wrong with the fetus or placenta -- again, Nature's way of natural selection. These types of loss of the fetus are not considered to be the result of reproductive problems. Usually, after calcification of the fetus is well established, it is not possible to have reabsorption take place. While this cannot currently be confirmed by medical studies except with the mouse at this time (it is called the 'Bruce effect'), there is a phenomena which can cause a queen to reabsorb her litter if she is exposed to the pheromones of another whole male tom cat other than the one to whom she is currently bred.

Viruses can play an important role in why a queen might reabsorb her litter. In particular, the feline leukemia virus (FeLV) has been shown to cause queens to reabsorb fetuses. There is evidence that FIP can contribute to this problem also; however, FIP seems to affect young kittens more than older cats, and it may be that the not-yet-clear link between FeLV and FIP may in fact be causing the reproductive problems. Severe respiratory problems in queens can also cause them to abort or reabsorb their kittens. Bacterias can cause reproductive problems, but it is difficult to know precisely what forms of bacteria are responsible for reproductive failure. This is due to several factors including the fact that the vaginal flora of a cat is not indicative of what is going on in her uterus, and the bacterial flora itself varies throughout the reproductive cycle. And, it is important to remember that even if specific bacteria are isolated, they may actually be a secondary issue to another, more dominant problem such as FeLV. There are forms of chlamydia which can cause reproductive problems, and no doubt there are others which will be uncovered as more studies are conducted.

There is another rather common cause for reproductive problems in female cats, called Chronic Endometritis. This condition can vary in severity and symptoms. This condition can also lead to the dreaded "pyometra" if changes are severe and the beginning fetuses do not survive what has become a hostile environment inside the queen. In mild cases the placenta may continue to function well all the way up to close to the time of kittening, where the condition is then manifested by the birth of kittens which are stillborn (dead at birth, but usually full-term or close to it). When this condition becomes chronic, it is probably due to the queen's hormones having created a uterine environment suitable for the development of secondary bacterial infection. Often the only way to confirm chronic endometritis is by direct examination of the uterus itself, possibly by endometrial biopsy or exploratory surgery, or during a C-section. If a queen has just a mild case, it is possible that she may be able to breed again, if she is given several heats without being bred to try to clear herself of this infection. In severe cases, the queen will not breed again. Since uteruses with a high level of progesterone seem especially susceptible to infection, this condition definitely contra-indicates the use of progesterone injections or implants to try to restore fertility. If you are a breeder and have a litter of still-born kittens or partially re-absorbed kittens, you should strongly consider taking the kitten's bodies in to your veterinarian to be sent out to a high quality laboratory for complete analysis. At the lab, specialists can examine each organ carefully for any congenital problems or irregularities in development, cross-section all the tissue and culture and grow out these cultures in a sterile environment to look for all the known types of viral and bacterial infections.

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Foothill Felines Manzanita with her newborn Bengal kitten
DCH Foothill Felines Manzanita with one of her newborn Bengal kittens.

Look Here!  THE ROLE OF NUTRITION Look Here!

Foothill Felines uses NuVet Feline Nutritional Supplement. Click here for our order code and more product and ordering information.


~ From the minute you plan to start a cat breeding program, it's absolutely essential to begin putting your intact males and females on nutritional supplements. Breeding is very hard on cats and robs an enormous amount of energy and nutrients from their bodies. Click on image above for more information and to order this uniquely powerful nutritional supplement for felines at our Foothill Felines breeder discount (which is up to 50% less than what veterinarians typically charge). Used and recommended by Foothill Felines, just a pinch a day in wet and/or dry food provides vibrant results with all ages, weights and breeds of cats. Developed by scientists, veterinarians and formulators to enhance the health and lives of cats, this unique Nu- Vet supplement contains many important minerals, antioxidants, enzymes and vitamins INCLUDING taurine, calcium, blue green algae, brewer's yeast, and much more. Many studies show that the ingredients in this supplement are especially important during pregnancy to promote healthy kitten development in utero; build a substantial source of calcium levels in the queen which encourages easier labor and vital milk production, plus providing key nutrition support to help maintain strong immune systems in the queen and her kittens. ~

It is known now that severe deficiencies in calcium, iodine and vitamin A (and some studies add copper to this list) can impair reproduction function in breeding queens. However, since most breeders feed their queens and toms a scientifically formulated diet of high quality ingredients, chances are slim that nutrition is the primary culprit when the queen has reproductive problems. The Winn Feline Foundation conducted a study in 1998 about the value of dietary copper intake in queens, and this has yielded very interesting results. Basically, the study demonstrated that queens consuming a diet with increased copper sulfate had the highest rate of conception (87%) and conceived more quickly (16 days vs. 47 days, mean) than queens who consumed diets with increased copper oxide. Some of the clinical signs of copper deficiency in the queens fed the copper oxide included underweight and stillborn kittens; abnormal coat color; twisted limbs and tails, and collagen abnormalities.

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We wanted to let you know here about a wonderful monitoring system which can be extremely useful especially when going through a pregnancy with a high-risk queen. Taken directly from their website at, we will let them tell you about this remarkable service. I was first introduced to them by Dr. Autumn Davidson, feline fertility specialist at the University of California at Davis.

" Until recently the lack of technology, methods, protocols and support systems made whelping a "stand back, cross your fingers and hope every thing comes out OK" experience. Many old wives tales exist about when a whelping should occur and how a normal whelping should progress. Whelping management and interventions by yesterday's standards were frequently based on subjective symptoms such as panting or nesting rather than accurate objective information on uterine contractions and fetal heart rates, placing the breeder and veterinarian in a passive rather than active role in the whelping process."

"In almost every whelping there is a period of time when the breeder will wonder what is actually occurring either with the labor process itself, or concern about whether the pups/kittens are alive and well. The WhelpWise service was developed specifically to address the puzzling times surrounding a whelping by providing the breeder with accurate information on presence or absence of labor, and assessments of fetal well being as detected by the monitoring equipment. Uterine contraction and fetal heart rate monitoring equipment provided through the WhelpWise service will allow the breeder to know when labor has begun, and directly monitor the heart rates of the puppies/kittens. The service is always offered in conjunction with licensed veterinarians. This equipment, designed for use in the home setting, contains a built in modem that links the breeder, via phone, with specially trained obstetrical staff and protocols for whelping management."

"Monitoring uterine contractions and fetal heart rates allows the breeder to positively identify the onset of labor and accurately estimate the time that whelping should begin. Uterine contractions and puppies/kittens are followed throughout the whelping process confirming that all is going well, or identifying problems in a timely manner should they occur. Common problems such as inertia can be identified and treated in the home setting using low-dose medication protocols, adjusting medications to support but not over stimulate the uterus. All medication doses are determined by the uterine contraction pattern. Conversely, instances such as a stuck pup/kitten where strong contractions exist and medication should not be given can also be identified, helping to prevent problems such as uterine rupture. Monitoring the heart rates of the pups/kittens allows the breeder to know that puppies/kittens are doing well during the last few days of gestation and during the whelping. Stressed pups/kittens, identifiable by specific heart rate patterns, allows the breeder and veterinarian to make timely informed decisions about interventions, and make the interventions more likely to result in healthy babies." For more information about this wonderful service, please visit the WhelpWise website!

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