Very few things are cuter than a kitten, and if you are an owner or caregiver of a pregnant cat, you’re probably thrilled at the thought of welcoming a litter of precious little kitties into the world. While you are most definitely looking forward to the end result, there’s a whole process involved in getting them here.
So, how exactly do cats give birth? We’ll cover that for you here. The birthing process is very similar among most species of mammal, but some parts of the process are unique to cats.
How Cats Give Birth
1. Labor Begins
When a cat is about to give birth, she will typically stop eating about 24 hours before labor begins and her temperature will drop to around 98°F-100°F. Contractions will begin, and at first, they may start as intermittent.
The contractions may not be visible to the naked eye yet, but she is most certainly feeling them. During this stage, the mother will likely become restless due to the discomfort. She may pace, make vocalizations, and make repeated trips to the litter box or her nest. The contractions will only intensify as time goes on and she may even begin to pant.
A lot of focus will be put on the birthing area at this time, and she will likely start scratching the bed and nesting. Cats that are particularly close with their owners may seek comfort from them during this stage. If this is her first litter, this stage of labor can last as long as 36 hours; if it’s not her first, it will often be less.
During the second stage of labor, the contractions become stronger and more frequent. Each kitten will enter the pelvis one by one and as they do, the fetal membranes or amniotic sac will appear briefly at the vulva and then burst. The liquid from the water bag is often cleaned up by the mother.
The inner membranes remain on the kitten and act as lubrication as it passes through the birth canal. Once the “water” has burst, the female will begin straining, and the first kitten will usually emerge headfirst. Once the head is out, it may take a bit more straining to push out the rest of the body.
Once the kitten is out, the mother will break the bag, chew through the cord, and begin licking the kitten to clean them off and encourage breathing. This process will repeat itself until all kittens have been delivered.
It can take 30 to 60 minutes between the birth of each kitten and the entire process can last several hours. It’s important to keep an eye on the cat in between births and if you notice any signs of difficulty, or it takes over 30 minutes for a kitten to be born, call your veterinarian right away.
3. After Birth
The placenta will be expelled following the birth of each kitten, so don’t be alarmed when you see a dark-colored mass emerge following every newborn. Each placenta needs to be delivered, if not it can lead to infection, so be sure to total up the number of kittens and afterbirths. If you have any concerns, get in touch with your veterinarian right away.
Once your cat has finished giving birth to the final kitten, she will be very tired and need to rest. Do not interfere with her and the kittens, as this time will be used for bonding and nursing. Keep a quiet, stress-free place set aside for mom and her kittens to rest and check on them every few hours to make sure everything is going smoothly.
Preparing for a Cat’s Birth
Being prepared for your female cat to give birth is the best way to ensure the entire process goes as smoothly as possible. Not only do you want to make sure that mom is comfortable, but you also want to be prepared for birthing trouble, and have a safe, secure place for the new kittens when they arrive. Here are some tips for preparing for a litter of kittens.
Make a Kitten Box
You should have a kitten box ready long before labor begins so that you can introduce her to it ahead of time. This is an area your cat can use for the birthing process and as a safe place to nurse and mother the kittens once they have arrived.
Have Your Supplies Ready
It’s a good idea to have certain supplies on hand to make your life easier during labor. Not just for cleaning up, but just in case you have to get hands-on in any way during the process.
Here are some things to have handy:
Keep Things Quiet & Calm
During the final 2 weeks of your cat’s pregnancy, make sure you keep the environment as calm and quiet as possible. Be very careful with handling and do your best to keep other animals in the household away from her.
Make sure her birthing bed is located in a private, quiet room away from everyone to keep her stress levels down. She will need privacy during labor and after the birth of her kittens. Make sure she has all she needs including food, water, a litter box, and her favorite toys and bedding.
Have Emergency Contacts Ready
Cats typically have smooth labor, but problems can occur so you need to be prepared. Have your veterinarian’s phone number handy and be sure to get their after-hours contact information or the contact information of a local emergency vet clinic if your vet does not have after-hours services.
If there are any signs of trouble during birth, don’t hesitate to call. Also be sure you talk to your veterinarian if you have any questions about pregnancy, labor, and raising newborn kittens.
What Kind of Problems Can Occur?
The majority of cats will deliver their kittens without any complications, but it’s a good idea to keep an eye on the process to make sure things are going smoothly, especially for first-time mothers. Owners should be ready to attend the birthing process but keep enough distance from the mother to prevent interference.
In the rare event of dystocia, the medical term for a difficult birth, you need to seek veterinary care right away. Signs of dystocia include:
Cases of Slight Human Intervention
There may be cases where the mother fails to break the amniotic sac after birth. If this happens you will need to use a clean towel to tear the sac so the kitten can begin breathing. You may also need to use a clean towel to clean the placenta off the kitten’s face, only if the mother fails to do so.
There’s also a chance the mother won’t bite through the umbilical cord or fails to get all the way through the cord when she tries. If this is the case, use dental floss to tie around the cord an inch away from the kitten and cut the mother’s side of the tie.
If the mother cat has been straining for over an hour without a kitten emerging, you need to call your veterinarian.
The birthing process for a cat is broken down into three steps, the beginning of labor, delivery, and after birth. Rarely do cats have trouble during birth, but it’s important to give the female space but be watchful to ensure she is not having any difficulties.
In rare cases, owners may have to help tear the amniotic sac, clean the placenta from the kitten’s face, or even tie off the umbilical cord. The best thing you can do is prepare for this long before labor begins and have your veterinarian’s information ready in case you need to reach out with any concerns.
Featured Image Credit: Goldziitfotografie, Shutterstock