Nesting Box 101

How to Create a Cozy Birthing Space for your Pregnant Cat!

Your “Queen” 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 momma cat knows exactly what to do! For all other questions your Veterinarian can coach you through 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 fostered 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. As you can well imagine it can be very difficult to find foster families for pregnant cats because once the kittens are born they need to remain with their mother and foster family until they reach an adoptable age. You quickly go from foster cat parent of one to foster cat parent of 4, 6 or even more. I agreed to take Sweetie home before taking any time to think about the level of commitment required. 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, but he said it could be any moment or a few weeks away. He took an x-ray of her belly so that we could get an idea of how many kittens to expect and to see if all were still doing fine. I was so relieved Sweetie had been found in time and was not going to have her kittens outdoors in the freezing cold. The Vet 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 healthy 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 love and 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 and I was not too keen on the idea of 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 new 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, 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’s how I did it!

  1. I started with a medium sized packing box, 22” wide, 15” tall and 16” deep.
  2. Then I proceeded to make some adjustments using packing tape and scissors. Box size may vary depending on the size of your cat. Sweetie was a small to medium sized cat, even with her bulging belly.
  3. I lay the box on its wider side and removed the two side and top closing flaps.
  4. I removed the top piece of the box so that it had a base, and two sides. It was a good sturdy foundation.  
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. I was careful to make sure none of the tape had any exposed sticky sides where small furry beings could get stuck.   
  8. 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.
  9. I draped a second towel over the opening leaving a large enough hole that Sweetie could go in and out as desired.

The Nesting Box was a comfy, dark and I hoped an appealing space for our mother-to-be. Sweetie observed my activity with 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, but decided to leave the box alone and be patient. One day, Sweetie circled the Nesting Box a few times, peered inside. Then miraculously, she went in and lay down. Over the next few days, she visited the box fairly regularly, and sometimes she even napped inside. 

 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 based on the X-Ray we were expecting four or maybe five kittens in total. We began to worry that Sweetie was having complications or not all of her kittens had survived. After another hour went by, the last 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. And 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 didn’t 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 even knew her gender. 

After the births, Sweetie remained in the box with her kittens for around the clock nursing. After the birth the Nesting Box was still surprisingly neat. The Vet was right! Sweetie took care of 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 I had used to line the box and replaced it with a clean paper and towels.    

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 always the ring leader of the group and first to climb out of the nest and lead the charge. 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 Lance and Hobbs grow up. Princess and Sprout were also adopted as pair by a nice couple. Sweetie was adopted as well a few weeks later. Although it was hard to part with 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.    

Sources:

https://hart90.org/