What to Expect During Labor in Cats
Introducing new kittens to the world is an exciting event, but it can also be overwhelming if you’re not sure what to expect. That’s why Thomas Labs® is here to help! We can help you recognize the signs of impending labor, know what to expect during a cat’s labor, and know what warning signs to watch for during labor.
What You’ll Need
You can help prepare your cat for the big day by making a comfortable place for your cat to give birth (although she may choose to give birth elsewhere). A few things you’ll need include a nesting box (cardboard box) in a quiet, relaxing area and newspapers, clean towels, or blankets.
Signs of Impending Labor
Once a female cat starts showing signs of early labor, it’s important for owners to observe the birthing process closely but try to leave her undisturbed. In most cases, you shouldn’t interfere more than absolutely necessary.
Here are signs that your cat will give birth soon:
- Nesting: As your cat gets closer to her due date, she will enter nesting mode. This involves finding a quiet and warm place to have her kittens. She may start arranging blankets or whatever else she can find to create a birthing area. Some cats may start nesting as early as 2 weeks before giving birth, while others will begin during the final week.
- Restless & Nervous: A day or two before labor begins, your cat may start exhibiting restless and nervous behavior. This may include panting excessively, acting anxious, and pacing around the nesting area.
- Affection: Your cat may start to become more affectionate and friendly than normal before she goes into labor.
- Lowered Body Temperature: Your cat’s normal body temperature is typically between 100.5 and 102.5°F. About 12 to 36 hours before labor, your cat’s body temperature will drop below 100°F.
- Vocalization: Another sign of impending labor in cats is increased vocalization. This often involves howling, meowing, and crying. The pregnant queen may also begin panting and breathing rapidly.
- Loss of Appetite: One of the signs of pregnancy in cats is an increased appetite, which is important for supplying her with the nutrients she needs for a healthy pregnancy and litter. As pregnant cats near labor, they will often experience a decrease in appetite. This often occurs during the last 24 hours before labor.
- Increased Licking: With labor quickly approaching, you may notice that your cat starts licking her genital region to clean a mild vaginal discharge. She will want to keep this area clean, so you likely won’t even see this discharge. If your cat starts licking herself, this is a sign that it’s almost time for the kittens to be born.
Stages of Cat Labor
There are various stages of labor in cats. Here is what you can expect when your cat is in labor:
- Stage 1: During the first stage of labor, your cat will start having contractions. Contractions will gradually become more frequent as she nears delivery. Your cat may begin scratching at the nesting area and pacing in and out of the area.
The first stage of labor can last up to 36 hours in cats having their first litter. Your cat may want reassurance from you during this initial stage.
- Stage 2: During the second stage of labor, contractions become stronger and more frequent. As the fetus passes into the pelvis, your cat may start straining and bearing down to help the fetus move through the pelvis. It may appear like she’s trying to go to the bathroom.
The outer layer of the fetus’s membrane will burst open, but the inner membranes will stay on the fetus and act as a lubricant as it is delivered. Typically, the delivery of a kitten can take anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes.
- Stage 3: The third stage of labor follows immediately, and it involves delivering the placenta and fetal membranes. Although a placenta will normally pass immediately after each kitten, sometimes a second kitten will follow quickly, which can delay the membranes temporarily.
VCA Hospitals points out that intervals between kitten births can vary, but on average, the intervals last between 10 minutes to an hour. After your cat gives birth to each kitten, she will tear open the membranes, bite off the umbilical cord, and clean the kitten. She will likely eat the afterbirth, as well, which is full of nutrients.
- Interrupted labor: A common step during cat labor is called interrupted labor. During this stage, your cat will rest, nurse the kittens that have already been born, and stop straining, although she has more kittens to deliver. She may even want to eat food.
This resting stage may last 24 to 36 hours. After this stage, straining will start again and the rest of the litter will be born.
Warning Signs of a Problem
Sometimes problems can arise during birth, which is why it’s important to observe your cat during her labor. Here are warning signs that you should seek immediate veterinary attention:
- Your cat experiences 20 minutes of intense labor and straining but isn’t producing a kitten
- A fetus becomes trapped and gently pulling on the fetus causes your cat pain
- Your cat is lethargic or has a fever (rectal temperature greater than 103°F)
- The number of placentas expelled doesn’t match the number of kittens born
- Excessive bleeding that lasts for more than 10 minutes, which can be a sign of an infection, uterine tear, or postpartum hemorrhage
What You Should Do
It can be difficult to know what you should do when your cat is in active labor, especially if this is your cat’s first litter. Here is an idea of what you can do during this time:
- Give your cat plenty of space as she goes through the labor process. You should observe from a safe distance, in case your cat needs help or medical attention. You shouldn’t interfere more than necessary, as most cats will deliver their kittens without complications.
- As your cat labors each kitten and passes the placentas, it’s a good idea to count the number of placentas to make sure that number matches how many kittens are born.
- After all of the kittens have been born, you can remove the dirty bedding and replace it with clean bedding. Your cat may decide to change location during or after delivery, so don’t be surprised if she moves her kittens to a different area.
- Call your vet for advice if you have any questions or concerns
After the Kittens Are Born
Normally, cats are efficient at taking care of themselves and their newborn kittens after delivery. But sometimes a queen may not be capable of caring for her kittens. Here are a few steps you can take after the kittens are born to ensure their health and safety:
- Give your cat space and privacy
- Provide plenty of food and water
- Watch for any warning signs of illness, including lack of appetite, lethargy, or vomiting
- Make sure that each kitten is warm, nursing well, and not being neglected
- If you’re able to handle the kittens without upsetting your cat, you can use a baby scale to weigh each kitten and ensure they are gaining weight
- If a kitten isn’t nursing or is being neglected, you will need to bottle feed the kitten with a milk replacer and make sure that the kitten is staying warm
- Contact your veterinarian if you have any questions or concerns
Your cat’s pregnancy and labor can be stressful and overwhelming, especially if this is your cat’s first litter of kittens. Being prepared and knowing what to expect during labor in cats can help make the process go smoother!
The materials and information provided on this website are not intended to replace the medical advice or services of your veterinarian or other pet healthcare professional. Consult your own veterinarian if you have medical questions concerning diagnosis, treatment, therapy, or medical attention.