Cat nest preparation

Discover the importance of a cat nest and how to provide the perfect environment for you cat and her kittens.

Cat nest

So your cat is pregnant and the time of birth is drawing near….which means it is time to prepare her a cat nest, or birthing box.

  • If you are not yet sure if your cat is pregnant, read our other article first - is my cat pregnant?

When you know that your cat is pregnant, and roughly when her due date is, you can move onto preparing her cat nest, or birthing box.

What is a cat nest?

Cats like to give birth in a place that provides them with as much security and warmth as possible. Left to her own devices, your cat will probably choose somewhere very inconvenient, like under your bed, or behind your wardrobe! A cat nest provides a perfect option for your cat, whilst also ensuring that it is suitable for you too. You will need to be able to access the cat nest to check on your cat and her kittens, so behind a wardrobe is not really a good option! A cat nest also ensures that the kittens are as safe as possible.

When to prepare the cat nest

The cat nest can be prepared as early as possible, as long as the bedding in it is kept clean and changed regularly, particularly before the birth is due to happen. The cat nest should be provided for your cat around 1-2 weeks before she is due to give birth, but you can provide it earlier. If you are not sure when she is due, provide the cat nest early, just in case you have miscalculated and the kittens arrive earlier than expected. It is important that your cat has time to settle in to the nest so that she is entirely comfortable and relaxed in it by the time her kittens arrive.

Choosing a location for your cat nest

Choose somewhere quiet, warm and reasonably secluded for the cat nest. It should be in a room that has a door, so you can close the door to make sure your cat won’t escape and end up outside. The room should be inaccessible to small children because your cat needs calm and quiet for the birth and the first few weeks of raising her kittens. If you have a spare bedroom that is not used, that would be ideal. Make sure there are no other cats, dogs or animals in the nest room.

How to prepare the cat nest

There are many ways of preparing a cat nest, and all are variations on a theme.

  • The box: we use a cardboard box that has plenty of space in it for mum and the kittens. We generally use one that is roughly twice the length of the cat in length and at least 1.5 times the length of the cat in width. This ensures that your cat can lie down comfortably across the length and the width of the box. The box should be tall enough for your cat to stand up in. We use these boxes from Amazon. They are quite large - you could probably have one a little smaller, but we find that, when the box is too small, our cats tend to reject it. (affiliate link)

  • The entrance: once you have chosen your box you need to make an entrance to it for your cat. The entrance should be large enough for the cat to get in and out of comfortably. Usually we would cut a large cat flap into the box, starting at about 3 inches above ground level, so that the kittens are not able to get out of the box. We then leave the top flaps closed over, but not taped, because you will need to be able to open those flaps during the birth and once the kittens have arrived to check that everything is ok and to clean the bedding.  If you have a cat who is very defensive, you may want to cut a much larger space out of the box, and cut the top flap off, so that you can have a clear view of what is going on without disturbing her.

  • The bedding: we have found that a bath mat, fleece or specialist vet bedding is the best bedding for a cat nest. Bath mats are harder for the cat to kick into a heap in the corner, can be washed daily on a 60C wash to sterilise them, and also have a suitable pile for the kittens that does not snag their tiny little claws (it has the same pile as fleece). Specialist vet bedding is ideal because it is designed for just this sort of job, and allows moisture to wick through it quickly which helps keep the kittens dry. Whatever you choose it is absolutely vital that the bedding is kept as clean as possible. We change the bedding daily. Poor hygiene is a very high risk for kittens because their immune systems are not yet developed so this is very important.

  • For the birth: if your cat will allow you to, purchase some puppy pads, or similar disposable bedding, and put a couple of them over the bath mat. This will catch all of the blood and water during the birth, and you can change them between each kitten. It is very important that kittens are kept warm, and if their bedding gets wet during the birth, this becomes a challenging task. (affiliate links)

  • Heat pads and heat lamps: use these with caution. It is true that newborn kittens need to be kept warm - at around 30C. It is also true that they can die from being too hot, known as hyperthermia, as easily as they can from being too cold, or hypothermia. Temperature is a balancing act. We have a room thermometer in the room and we keep the room at around 24C when we have newborn kittens. Provided that they are in a cat nest and their mum is following her maternal instincts and not leaving them for long periods of time, this is warm enough because their mother's body heat will do the rest. We don't use heat pads or heat lamps, but many breeders swear by them. If you are not able to monitor the temperature of your room and keep it warm, then you might benefit from one. 

  • Food, water and the litter box: put your cat’s food and water bowls near to the nest, so she doesn’t have to travel far to get to them. Once the kittens arrive, she won’t want to leave them. The litter box needs to be close to the nest, but not too close to the nest or the food and water bowls. Place it around 2 metres away from them if you can. Hooded litter trays are very good, but they look a bit like a nest, so take the hood off once the due date approaches and put it back on about a week after the kittens arrive. 

  • Litter tray hygiene: it is absolutely vital that you completely change your queen’s litter every day while she has kittens. Poor hygiene can have a very serious effect on kittens because their immune systems are not yet fully developed.

Read more about cat birth and raising kittens...

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