Care and attention is necessary when the cat is likely to become a mother. A basket or box, half filled with sweet hay, or clean oat straw, with some flannel in the winter, is absolutely requisite, and a quiet nook or corner selected away from light, noise, and intrusion. Some prefer a box made like a rabbit-hutch, with sleeping place, and a barred door to one or both compartments which may be closed when thought necessary for comfort and quiet. The cat should be placed within, with food and new milk by or inside, and there be regularly fed for a few days, all pans and plates to be kept well washed, and only as much food given at a time as can be eaten at one meal, so that everything is clean and fresh. Cats, as I have before stated, delight in cleanliness, therefore this, nor any comfort, should not be forgotten or omitted, for so much depends on her health and the growth of her little family, with regard to their future well-being.
The cat brings forth three times a year, and often more. The time of gestation is to sixty-three days, and the number of the kittens varies much. Some will have five to six at a birth, while others never have more than two or three. I had a blue tabby, "The Old Lady," which never had more than one. The cat, however, is a very prolific animal, and, if of long life, produces a very numerous progeny. The Derby Gazette, December 10th, 1886, states: - "There is a cat at Cromford, the age of which is nineteen years. It belonged to the late Mr. Isaac Orme, who died a few months ago. The old man made an entry of all the kittens the cat had given birth to, which, up to the time of his death, numbered 120. It has now just given birth to one more. It will not leave the house where the old man died, except to visit a neighbouring house, where there is a harmonium; and when the instrument is being played, the cat will go and stand on its hind-legs beside the player."
Cats live to various ages, the oldest I have seen being twenty-one years, and the foregoing is the greatest age at which I have known one to breed. But I am indebted to Mrs. Paterson, of Tunbridge Wells, for the information that Mr. Sandal had a cat that lived to the extraordinary age of twenty-four years. I have seen Mr. Sandal, and found that such was the case. It was a short-haired cat, and rather above the usual size, and tabby in colour.
When littered, the kittens are weak, blind, deaf, helpless little things, and it appears almost impossible they can ever attain the supple grace and elegance of form and motion so much admired in the fully-developed cat.
The state of visual darkness continues until the eighth or ninth day, during which the eyesight is gradually developing. After this they grow rapidly, and, at the age of a few weeks, the gamboling, frolicsome life of "kittenhood " begins, and they begin to feed, lap milk, if slightly warm, when placed in front of them.
No animal is more fond and attentive than the cat; she is the most tender and gentle of nurses, watching closely every movement of her young. With the utmost solicitude she brings the choicest morsels of her own food, which she lays before them, softly purring, while with gentle and motherly ways she attracts them to the spot while she sits or stands, looking on with evident satisfaction, full of almost uncontrollable pleasure and delight, at their eager, but often futile attempts and endeavours to eat and enjoy the dainty morsel. Yet nothing is wasted, for after waiting what appears to her a reasonable time, and giving them every encouragement, and with the most exemplary patience, she teaches them what they should do, and how, by slowly making a meal of the residue herself, frequently stopping and fondling and licking them in the hope they will yet make another effort. What can be more sensitively touching than the following ancedote, sent to The Animal World by C. E. N., in 1876? It is a little poem of every-day life, full of deep feeling and feline love.
"I have a small tabby cat, very comely and graceful. Being very fond of her kitten, she is always uneasy if she loses sight of it if only for a short time. For the last six weeks, the mother, failing to recall the truant back by her voice, even returns to the kitchen for the lower portion of a rabbit's fore-leg, which has served as a plaything for some time. With this in her mouth, she proceeds to search for her lost one, crying all the time, and, putting it down at her feet, repeats her entreaties, to which the kitten, allured by the sight of its plaything, generally responds. Owing to its gambols in the open air during the inclement weather, the kitten was seized with an affliction of the throat; the mother, puzzled with the prostration of its offspring, brought down the rabbit's foot to attract attention. In vain; the kitten died. Even now the loving mother searches for the rabbit's foot, and brings it down."
An instance of the peculiar foresight and instinct, so often observable in the cat, is related in The Animal World, October, 1882. MissM. writes: "This house is very old, and big impudent rats often appear in the shop, so a cat is always kept on the premises. Pussy is about five years old, and is a handsome, light tortoiseshell, with a pretty face and coaxing ways. A month ago she had three kittens, one of which was kept; they were born in the drawing-room, by the side of the piano. When the two were taken away, pussy carried the one remaining to the fireplace, and made it a bed under the grate with shavings. When a fortnight old, both were removed downstairs to the room behind the shop. One day last week an enormous rat appeared; pussy spied him, and set up her back; but her motherly instinct prevailed. She looked round the shop, and, finding a drawer high up a little way open, she jumped with her kitten in her mouth, and dropped it into the drawer, after which she descended and fought a battle royal with the rat, which she soon despatched and carried to her mistress, then went back to the drawer and brought out her kitten."
Here is another fact as regards the observation of cats, which possibly, in this respect, is not far different from some other domestic animals. "A gray and white cat, 'Jenny' (a house cat), had three kittens in the hollow stump of an old ash-tree, some distance from the house. There, from time to time, she took them food, and there nursed them. One day, looking from the window, I observed a very heavy storm was approaching, and also, what should I see but Mistress ' Jenny' running across the meadow as fast as she could, and, on her drawing nearer, I noticed that she had one of her kittens in her mouth. She ran past and put the kitten into a small outhouse, when she immediately hastened back, and returned bringing another of her kittens, which she put in the same place. Again she started for the wood, and shortly reappeared bringing her third and last kitten, though more slowly, seemingly very tired. I was just thinking of going to help her, when she suddenly quickened her pace and ran for the outhouse; just then a few drops of rain began to fall.
In a few moments a deluge of water was falling, the lightning was flashing, the thunder crashed overhead and rumbled in the distance, but ' Jenny' did not mind, for she had her three kittens comfortably housed, and she and they were all nestled together in an apple basket, warm and dry. Surely she must have known, by instinct or observation, that the storm was coming." - From my Book of "Animal Stories, Old and New.'"
Should it be deemed necessary to destroy some, if not all of the litter, which, unfortunately, is sometimes the case, it is not well to take away the whole at once; but it is advisable to let a day or two intervene between each removal; the mother will thus be relieved of much suffering, especially if one at least is left for her to rear, but two is preferable. Still, when the progeny are well-marked or otherwise valuable, and large specimens are required for show or other purposes, three kittens are enough to leave, though some advocate as many as five; but if this is done it is better to provide a foster-mother for two, for which even a dog will often prove a very good substitute for one of the feline race. In either case, slightly warm new milk should be given at least three times a day; the milk should not be heated, but some hot water put to it, and as soon as their teeth are sufficiently grown for them to be of use in mastication give some raw beef cut very small and fine. Some prefer chopped liver; I do not; but never give more than they can lap or eat at each meal. This liberal treatment will make a wonderful difference in their growth, and also their general health and strength; and being so fed makes them more docile.
And it should be borne in mind that in a state of nature cats always bring raw food to their young as soon as they are able to eat; therefore raw meat is far the best to give them - their dentition proves this.