If you suspect that your cat is on the brink of giving birth or simply just want to know what to expect during this exciting time, then here is our guide to making sure the process runs as smoothly as possible.
Cats are notoriously independent so it should come as no surprise that they are very proficient breeding animals and rarely need assistance. However, it is useful to know what to expect as at times they do need our help. Quiet observation is recommended with minimal intervention.
What can I do to prepare for the birth?
As with anything in life, preparation is key. During the last two weeks of her pregnancy, it is imperative that she be in a stress-free environment and everyone else in the family knows to be calm and quiet around her.
Encourage her to relax and remain as inactive as possible. Even the most snuggly soft bed might not tempt her however, and some cats will reject your suggested birthing bed for a corner of a cupboard! Just make sure she has some choice on where to give birth and never try to move her from her chosen spot.
Your cat’s labour should go smoothly, but it’s useful to have help on hand to keep her calm and in case she runs into any complications. It is recommended that you get hold of your vet's out-of-hours phone number prior to your cat giving birth, as delivery often happens during the night, or they might need an emergency helping hand.
There are a few things you can prepare if you think labour is approaching; a clean bowl of warm water, clean towels and cloths, dental floss and disposable gloves, together with a cat carrier and your vet’s details. A source of warmth for the kittens such as a hot water bottle wrapped in a blanket is also recommended.
What are the signs of cat birth to look out for?
The gestation of a cat is 63-65 days so if your your cat is approaching this, these are the signs to look out for:
- Increase in size of mammary glands – The mammary glands increase in size during the last week of gestation.
- Milk production – Around two days before she gives birth, milk can be expressed from the nipple.
- Nesting – She will spend more time in her nesting box as birth approaches.
- A decrease in temperature – Normal temperature in a cat is 100 – 102.5°F (37.7 – 39.1°C). A day or two before birth, her temperature drops to 99°F (37.2°C).
- Change in behaviour – During the last week or so, your cat may become either reclusive (possibly seeking out a secluded place), or more affectionate, especially if she is particularly close to one caregiver.
- Loss of appetite.
- Restlessness and pacing.
- Licking at the genitalia frequently.
- Clear discharge from the vagina.
Source: The Spruce Pets
How do cat's give birth?
There are three stages of labour in cats. Stage one lasts around 12 hours or more and encompasses the above signs as the contractions start to happen and the cervix and uterus start preparing for delivery. The second and third stages are as follows:
Second stage – 5 minutes to 1 hour:
- Contractions become stronger and closer together, and the cervix is fully dilated. Your cat is ready to give birth. The kitten moves down the birth canal. Pressure on the cervix initiates the mother’s urge to push. You may see her visibly straining to push the kitten out. The kitten’s water bag (or bubble) is normally seen at the vulva; these burst and some fluid will be cleaned up by her. It typically takes around three pushes for the kitten to be delivered.
- She will then tear and lick the membrane from the face and body, which will stimulate breathing. In the event, the queen doesn’t remove the membrane from the kitten’s mouth and nose, you should do this for her and follow-up by gently rub the kitten with a soft towel to stimulate breathing. Use the infant nasal cleaner to remove debris from the mouth and nose if necessary.
- If the kitten hasn’t been born after an hour, call your veterinarian.
- Immediately following the kitten’s birth, the placenta is delivered. Once she has cleaned the kitten and breathing has commenced, normally, she will chew the umbilical cord in two and, quite often, will eat the placenta.
- When the kitten has been delivered, it is important that you pay attention to the delivery of the placentas. Have a pen and paper close, so you can make a note of how many placentas have been delivered; you may lose track, due to the excitement of the birth. This is important because a retained placenta will lead to infection, which is life-threatening.
It is important to note that if the mother fails to chew the umbilical cord, you will have to do this. Tie a piece of dental floss around the cord no closer than 1 inch from the kitten’s body and snip it with a pair of sterile scissors. Be careful not to pull on the umbilical cord while doing this as it could result in an umbilical hernia.
What do I do once my cat has given birth?
In total, your cat's birth should last between two and five hours but can in some cases last up to 24 hours! If you are unsure about any of the above stages of your cat's birth, don't hesitate to call a vet. After all, it's better to be safe than sorry!
Litters are usually of between four and six kittens, although it’s not too unusual to be higher or lower than this. Once all the kittens are born, let your cat have time to clean and feed her kittens. Remember, minimal intervention is key. However, don’t be afraid to handle them gently as this will socialise them, as well as give mom a well-needed break.
If mum doesn't seem to be looking after her kittens, is not cleaning them or is not feeding them, then consult your vet immediately.
Although unusual, some kittens may need to be hand reared. If you have any concerns or questions about doing this, speak to your vet for further advice.