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What to Expect when your cat is about to give Birth
Cats are very proficient breeding animals and rarely
need assistance but it is useful to know what to expect
as at times they do need help. Quiet observation is
recommended with minimal intervention.
How will I know my cat has
started going into labour?
Usually about two days before giving birth your cat's
mammary glands will increase in size and she will begin
Stage 1 - The onset of labour is often around 12 hours
before the appearance of the first kitten.. The cat's
temperature will decrease to about 99 degrees F and you
may notice a drop in her appetite. She may become
restless and begin nesting in earnest. She may follow
you around and become very affectionate or pace from
room to room. Other signs are that she may begin
purring, meowing, panting, licking her genitals and she
may vomit. You may notice a vaginal discharge. Not all
signs apply to all cats.
Stage 2 - The visible signs that a cat is actually in
labour - are evident after she has entered her nesting
box and is disinclined to come out. She may have been
preparing and re-arranging her nest for some days but
her demeanour changes. Be aware that if she is in a
strange place or there are other animals in the vicinity
she can delay the onset of delivery so it is wise to set
her up some days before hand in a quiet place.
What are the signs that the cat is
in labour proper? (not all cats show all signs)
Most cats will begin to display contractions which can
be seen or felt – in the beginning the contractions are
not terribly strong.
She will expel the placental plug which has been
protecting the uterus from infections and this can be
sometime before the birth of the first kitten usually
accompanied with some fluid.
Contractions increase in strength with a shorter space
of time between them. Individual cats may become
disturbed and want your attention others become very
What are the signs that a
kittens birth is imminent?
First sign that birth is imminent is a water bubble of
amniotic fluid that precedes the birth of a kitten. This
can appear and seemingly disappear as the contractions
increase in strength but indicate that a kitten is in
the birth canal.
As contractions increase in strength she may pant or cry
out and move around trying to get comfortable…..some use
the side of the box with their back feet to help them
Kittens are born front feet first or back feet first –
the latter is normal but delivery can take a little
How long will my cat be in
Time between contractions decreases – usually to around
2 to 3 minutes apart.
The kitten should be born within 30 minutes to 1 hour
after strong contractions commence and subsequent
kittens within 15 minutes to 30 minutes between kittens.
There is often a rest period which can be one to several
hours while the second horn of the uterus is engaged….
the uterus has two “horns”.
Birth of the Kitten?
As the kitten is delivered it will arrive attached to a
placenta and wrapped in the amniotic sac membranes that
will cover it’s muzzle. The mother cat should break these by
licking to enable the kitten to breath. If she delays
and time passes you may intervene and break these
membranes for her using clean sterile cloth to clear
The placenta will be still attached to the kitten and it
may be delivered with it or later. Each kitten has an
individual placenta. Keep count of placenta delivery as
retained placentas can cause infection and even death.
The mother cat should chew through the cord and eat the
placenta which is normal and nutritionally valuable for
her. With an inexperienced mother make sure she does not
try to eat the kitten.
Subsequent kittens will be born at intervals and in
between each birth the mother may settle with her babies and
they will try to suckle but the nest will become wet and
disturb the earlier born babies with each new arrival
but this is not necessarily abnormal
courtesy Coonhaven Cattery
Depending on how well your cat is bonded with you she
may allow you to remove the kittens into a warm box
always leaving her with one kitten as the next arrives.
Her moving around can possibly harm the newborns if she
treads on them but too much intervention from a human
can spoil the bonding process.
Helping with the Birth
If you are going to help with the birth you need a small
birthing kit…minimal requirements are:
Watch or clock – to time intervals of birth of each
Clean cloth or towelling face-washers that are sterile –
to help dry a kitten or remove
fluid from the muzzle etc.
Small box - to hold kittens during the birth.
Polar fleece, baby blanket etc. and hot water bottle –
to help warm dry new babies
Gloves - you may also need gloves so minimal human odour
is transferred to kittens
Fresh bedding – to change soiled bedding and settle
although this can be often best left until the next day.
Scissors – these are only required if you feel you
cannot tear the umbilical cord but cutting can promote
bleeding which will then need to be tied off.
If the kitten is hanging by the undelivered placenta and
the queen is moving around there is a risk of a hernia
forming on the kitten so it can be advisable to separate
the kitten from the placenta by clamping the cord firmly
with fingers of one hand whilst breaking or tearing it
on the side AWAY from the kittens body with the other.
It is preferable not to cut cords as this can promote
bleeding. Leave at least an inch/2.5 centimetres of cord
or a little longer. DO NOT PULL ON THE PLACENTA as this
can damage the uterus.
The first kitten can be lost with an inexperienced queen
due to a protracted time in the birth canal and as she
may delay removing the membrane. Take care that it is
breathing on it’s own and if you think it is still born
because of extended length of time in the birth canal
rub gently to stimulate breathing.
If a kitten is making choking gurgling sounds there may
be fluid in the airways and it is possible to help
Taking the kitten in both hands with your fingers
supporting the head and neck gently swing the kitten
forward and downward and this may help remove the fluid
from the airways..
If you are going to remove kittens and place them in a
warm box – you can gently dry them with a warmed dry
face washer. Always leave one kitten with the mother
usually the last born and if she settles return them to
her. Do not place a kitten on a hot water bottle
directly although a warm bottle to one side of the box
under the bedding will help them to dry and revive after
the rigours of birth.
What can go wrong?
Generally cats give birth with minimal problems and do
not require assistance. There are some things to be
aware of however which are life threatening to the queen
and her kittens which is why a cat needs to be observed
The birth canal can be too narrow
The uterus can be unprepared and unable to expel
Kittens can be overly large or badly positioned or have
Labour does not progress
Exhaustion can make the contractions weak
When to call the Vet?
These are Veterinary Emergencies and need immediate
Prolonged contractions that are close together and go
well past 1 hour
The queen has gone past her due date and has a foul
smelling or greenish discharge
The litter has been delivered but the queen is sitting
in the lion pose looking uncomfortable and not settled
with her kittens – likely to be more kittens or an
After the birth what should I do?
you are sure that all kittens have been delivered and
the queen is settling with her babies you can offer her
some food and a drink – some queens like kitten milk –
non lactose with an egg yolk and their raw wet food. Her
food and drink should be left close by as should a
litter tray and many a queen has to be offered breakfast
in bed to encourage them to eat.
A quick check should reveal all kittens tucked in and
some suckling already. If she is relatively dry and warm
and you have not handled her kittens at all just leave
her until the next day before changing bedding.
If you have been keeping her kittens in a dry box you
may find you can change the bedding quickly and settle
her in with them….then leave her to bond.
She will probably want or in the case of a new first
time , need to be given peace and quiet for the next
few days. Restrict disturbing her but check on her at
least twice in a day as there are rare complications
that can occur post birth.
Contact your vet if she shows poor muscle co-ordination,
trembling, exceptional restlessness or has dark hot
lumps on her mammary glands or dark discharges from the
How do I care for the newborn
Check that each kitten is suckling and in the case of
long haired cats make sure that the nipple is not
obstructed with hair that means the kitten is empty
Cleft palate can prevent useful suckling and sometimes
affected kittens may need to be euthanized as repair is
In the early days the mother cares for the kittens almost
totally. It can be useful to quickly weigh each kitten
at the same time each day to be sure they are gaining
weight and if they are not gaining supplementary feeding
may be required – a good brand supplement is called Biolac.
Cats will move their kittens if they feel threatened and
sometimes not to an appropriate new nest – this can
happen any time but is often around 2 to 3 weeks of age.
Points to note
Weaning can start any time from around 4 weeks up to 6
weeks of age
Female cats can come into heat again while nursing kittens often
when the kittens are just a few weeks old
Kittens should be wormed around 6 to 8 weeks and kept
Kittens should not go to new homes under the age of 8
weeks while 10 to 12 weeks is preferred as kittens learn
their social behaviour during this time both from their
mother and also from siblings.
How to Care for Kittens which covers everything you
need to know about raising and caring for kittens.
Included: de-worming, feeding, sleeping, litter box
training, health issues, fleas, hairballs and much more.