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Cat giving birth: an overview

If your cat is pregnant, it’s very important that you are prepared and able to help when she’s ready to give birth. Read about making a cat birthing box, cat labour signs and kittening.
Cat giving birth: an overview

Any cat owner knows that felines tend to be independent and self-sufficient pets. When it comes to giving birth, also known as kittening, those qualities tend to stick! However, if your cat is pregnant it’s important to understand cat labour signs and kittening, so you know if there is a problem needing intervention.

If you know when your cat mated, the litter of kittens will be due to arrive 65-68 days later. This will give you some indication of when the kittening will happen, giving you time to prepare.

Cat birthing box

Your cat may appreciate having a cat birthing box that she can become familiar with before kittening. You can buy one, but a large, sturdy cardboard box will do just as well.

  • Make sure it is big enough for your cat to turn around in and stretch out
  • The sides need to be high enough to stop newborn kittens from climbing out but not so high your cat will struggle to jump in and out
  • Line it with absorbent bedding such as old, clean towels
    Heat the room to around 22°C and place the cat birthing box somewhere quiet and out of the way where she can be peaceful when she gives birth
  • Make up a birthing kit in case you need it. Include:

- Clean towels or cloths
- A bowl for warm, clean water
- Some disposable gloves
- Dental floss, this may be needed if you have to cut umbilical cords
- Kitten milk

Keep a cat carrier and your vet’s details handy in case you need them. And just in case you need to move any of the kittens away from their mum, have a microwaveable beanie available, to help keep them warm.

How long are cats in labour and what are cat labour signs?

Cat labour or kittening occurs in three stages.

Stage one

As your queen’s labour starts, you may notice these cat labour signs:

  • She could be restless, pacing around, and perhaps more vocal
  • She will be deciding where to give birth and, if she isn’t convinced about the cat birthing box you prepared earlier, she may find another quiet, dark corner instead. Don’t move her. It’s important she feels comfortable
  • The cervix and uterus are preparing for delivery and contractions could be starting, but this is not something you will necessarily notice
  • You may see some vaginal discharge

Stage two

This is the exciting part where the kittens start to be born! Stage two and stage three are repeated for the birth of each kitten. Each kitten will be born between 30-60 minutes apart and the whole process should last around 6 hours. It can be longer and take up 12 hours.

Kittens can be born head first or feet first. Either way is fine.

Try and keep your distance at this stage, as tempting as it is to get involved. Your queen may become stressed if you are too close and this will prolong her kittening. If any of the following issues occur, you will need to step in:

  • Bloody discharge
  • Birthing too quickly to be able to break the amniotic sacs or clean the kittens
  • Straining hard but not producing a kitten
  • If she is not breaking the amniotic sacs
  • If she is not biting through the umbilical cord

Read more about cat birthing difficulties here: www.icatcare.org/advice/difficult-cat-birth/

If, at any point, you are worried about cat labour signs or kittening you should call your vet straight away for advice.

Stage three

This is the final stage of the kittening process where your queen passes the placentas. A placenta should be passed for each kitten after it is born and before the next kitten arrives. If you can observe the birthing, count each placenta as it arrives to make sure they are all passed.

Don’t be too horrified if your cat eats a placenta! She is replacing the essential nutrients from it into her body.

If you are concerned that there are fewer placentas than kittens, you should call your vet. It may be some of the kittens were twins and shared a placenta, or your queen may have eaten it without you seeing. It is worth checking to make sure she hasn’t retained one.

Hopefully, if the kittening process has gone smoothly, you will now have several tiny kittens! Try not to get too involved at this stage and give you cat time to clean and bond with her kittens. They should all be suckling within an hour of being born. If they aren’t you may need to guide them to her teats.

If you notice your cat doesn’t seem to be cleaning or feeding them you need to contact your vet immediately.

If all seems to be going well and your cat and her kittens seem happy, congratulations are in order!

If you would like more information on cat labour signs, kittening or birthing problems, read this article from International Cat Care.

Just remember, if you have any concerns throughout this process, ring your vet for advice. 

If you have an Agria Pet Insurance policy, you can download the free Agria app for 24/7 advice.

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