Cat Giving Birth for the First Time? Read This!

By Phil / July 16, 2019
Cat Giving Birth for the First Time

If you have a pregnant cat due to give birth for the first time and are expecting some new arrivals soon, you’re going to witness one of the most wonderful, and I think fascinating events you’ll ever experience.

Although I’m sure you feel a little nervous, there isn’t a lot for you to do other than be on hand to help should you be needed. Cats are more than capable of giving birth on their own. In fact, they like a little privacy. Who can blame them?

Still, it’s a good idea to be as prepared as you can and know exactly what to expect when the day comes for her to give birth.

In this article, I’m covering the following key areas around cats giving birth:

  • Signs to look out for that labor is starting
  • Stages of labor and delivery
  • Potential problems cats face during labor
  • Some of the commonly asked questions about cats giving birth

Signs to Look out for That Labor Is Starting

Signs to Look out for That Labor Is Starting

If you know your cat is due to give birth any day now, I bet you’re feeling really on edge – I know I was. Just imagine how she’s feeling! It helps settle your nerves if you know what signs to look out for that labor is starting. Here the three main things to look out for:

Making a Nest

If your cat makes a nice soft nest area somewhere quiet, this is the best indicator that your cat is preparing to go into labor. It’s also typically a sign that you have a couple of days now.

If I was to be better prepared a second time around, I’d prepare a couple of areas that my cat could use to nest in to help her out. Cats being cats, however, means they will probably choose somewhere completely different. But it doesn’t hurt to try.

Changes in Behavior

There are a few distinctive changes in behavior that indicate labor is impending. These include:

  • Restlessness
  • Panting
  • Pacing
  • Being more vocal, and
  • Excessive grooming

Whether it’s a combination of these signs, or just one. You don’t need to wait to see these signs to confirm it. You know your cat best, you’ll almost certainly notice she’s acting differently when she’s about to start labor.

Physical Signs Labor Is Starting 

Physically, look out for her abdomen area dropping, her nipples becoming larger and pinker, and you may notice contractions and the amniotic sac appearing. Your cat may vomit, but don’t be alarmed as this is normal. There will also be a discharge of fluid before birthing.

Stages of Labor and Delivery For Cats

The labor and delivery process is broken down into three separate stages with cats.

The first stage is basically all of the signs I described above that your cat is starting labor.

The second stage is the birthing process where you’re going to see the new kittens. It typically takes around 6 to 7 hours for the mom to give birth to her entire litter of kittens. Although, it can take up to 24 hours so be prepared for the worst.

You should see the first kitten within an hour of active labor starting. subsequent kittens will come out around 30 to 40 minutes after each other. The mother cat will use this time in between kittens to nurse and clean them.

During stage three you will see the placentas. Count how many placentas you see in total. There should be one for each kitten. If not, there are a few possible reasons.

The most likely reasons are that mommy cat may have eaten one, or twins may have shared a placenta. It’s very important you look into this though, if a placenta has been retained inside your cat it’s potentially life-threatening if not removed. 

At this point, you should be able to just sit back, give her a little space, and admire this wonderful miracle of nature. You can offer the mom some food, or kitten milk as it’s rich in nutrients if she looks exhausted.

Potential Problems Cats Face During Labor

Potential Problems Cats Face During Labor

Fingers crossed, everything goes smoothly. Most cats will deliver their kittens without help and without any issues or complications. It doesn’t hurt to be aware of the potential problems however, the most common birthing and labor issues cats experience are:

Kitten Stuck in Birth Canal

If you can see that a kitten has been stuck for up to two minutes in the birth canal, you’re going to need to intervene. This means actually pulling the kitten out, I strongly suggest you read this article now so you know what to do should this problem arise.

Ideally, you would have support from a medical professional. But there wouldn’t be time to have someone come to you.

Failure to Deliver Kittens

If your cat has had more than 3 hours of intermittent labor, or more than 30 minutes of continuous hard labor and not delivered a kitten there is an issue. This is something you need to call your vet ASAP for advice on.

Placenta Stuck/Missing

It’s common to see people asking how many placentas there should be when a litter is born. There should be one placenta for each kitten. There are some rare exceptions where two cats will share a placenta, or the mother eats one. But you will be able to spot this if you look closely.

If the number of placentas is not adding up to the number of kittens, there is a risk that the placenta is retained inside the Queen. This is a potentially life-threatening problem, the only answer is to take them to the vet for an examination. If you give your vet a call they will advise you how long to wait after the birthing process.

Stillborn Kittens

Unfortunately, stillborns happen. Sometimes the stillborn kitten will be born normally, and sometimes it would disrupt labor. I’ve not experienced this personally with my cats giving birth, but I’ve read that it’s best to allow the mother to see her stillborn kitten.

I’ve actually read both sides of the argument for removing it quickly or not, it doesn’t seem like there’s a right or wrong answer. So, the best answer is to handle this how you see fit.

Some of the Commonly Asked Questions About Cats Giving Birth

How Many Placentas Do Cats Have?

Kittens have one placenta. If you’re watching a queen give birth to a litter you should keep an eye on the number of placentas, because if one gets retained inside the mother cat is potentially very dangerous.

There are also instances where two kittens share a placenta, although it’s rare. The mother cat will often eat placentas, if not during labor then afterward. The best thing you can do is count the number of placentas, then give your pet a call if you’re concerned any are missing.

If you want to know more about this topic, please read this post about how many placentas cats have.

How Many Kittens Are in a Litter?

There’s no exact answer for this. Generally speaking, cat litters consist of between 2 and 5 kittens.

Cats in their Prime – around 3 to 4 years old – usually have larger litters, so around 4 to 5 kittens. While younger cats, first-time mothers, and older cats will typically have litters of 2 to 3 kittens.

How Long Does It Take for a Cat to Give Birth Between Kittens?

It typically takes between 10 and 60 minutes between each birth. Again, it’s hard to say, just don’t be surprised if the kittens are coming out within minutes of each other, or taking more than an hour in between.

Some cats go through what’s called a ‘resting stage’. This basically means they’re taking a break from delivering kittens, which can last anywhere from several hours after several days!

How to Tell When a Cat Is Done Giving Birth?

I can tell you from experience it becomes very obvious when the Queen is done giving birth. You will notice that she’s no longer panting, licking herself, her contractions will have stopped, and she will focus on cleaning her babies.

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what to look out for as cats can behave differently. It’s just easier to say that you will notices changes in how she’s acting when she’s finished.

I explain in more detail how to tell when a cat is done giving birth in this post.

How Long till Kittens Open Their Eyes?

It takes between 7 to 10 days for kittens to first open their eyes, and what a wonderful and magical moment that is! It still takes another 9 to 10 weeks before they have fully developed vision though.

If you’re interested in reading more on the topic of how long it takes for kittens to open their eyes, read this post. If one of your kittens has opened their eyes a lot earlier than 7-10 days, read this post.

When Do Kittens Ears Open?

It’s so cute when kittens still have their little ears folded in. At about 3 weeks old you will notice their ears suddenly spring up. Their ear canals will have started to open just a few days after being born, so they can hear before their ears stand up.

I covered the topic of how when kittens open their ears in this post.

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