How do I know my cat is going into labour?
Below are some indicators that labour is imminent:
The mammary glands increase in size during the last week of gestation.
Around two days before the queen gives birth, she will start producing milk.
She may start nesting.
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 queen may become either reclusive (possibly seeking out a secluded place), or more affectionate, especially if she is particularly close to one caregiver.
Restlessness and pacing.
Frequent trips to the nest.
Licking at the genitalia frequently.
During the last week of pregnancy, the kittening box should be placed in a warm, quiet, draft-free room (this is important as newborn kittens are unable to regulate their own body temperature), which is off limit to children and other pets. She should be encouraged to sleep in this box.
Food, water, and a litter tray also need to be placed in this room.
The kittening box can be lined with old newspapers—which can easily be changed—or an old blanket. Make sure that the blanket isn't going to snag the kittens’ claws. The bedding should be changed regularly.
The cat's uterus (womb) has two horns, which come together with a central uterine cavity. The cervix is at the end of the uterine cavity and is closed during pregnancy. Developing kittens lie within the horns and are attached to the mother via the umbilical cord. The umbilical cord is attached to the placenta, which joins mother and kitten together. The role of the placenta is to transport nourishment from the mother and to take waste away from the fetus (unborn kitten).
What supplies should I have on hand?
Kittening box. This can either be a sturdy cardboard box or a commercially available.
Several pairs of sterile surgical gloves.
Eyedropper or syringe to aspirate secretions from the mouth and nose.
Dental floss or cotton thread to tie the umbilical cord.
Antiseptic to apply to the umbilical stumps.
Infant nasal cleaner.
Your own vet's phone number.
An emergency vet's phone number.
Kitten milk replacer.
Source of warmth for the kittens such as a hot water bottle wrapped in a blanket.
Stages of labour in cats:
Birth begins with the onset of uterine contractions. During this stage, the cervix begins to dilate (open). A clear, odourless discharge from the vagina is usually apparent. This discharge is known as the mucus plug and was in the cervix during pregnancy, sealing the uterus from the vagina. As the first stage progresses, contractions will become closer and closer together.
Contractions become stronger and closer together, and the cervix is fully dilated. The queen 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 the queen. It typically takes around three pushes for the kitten to be delivered.
The queen will tear and lick the membrane from the face and body, which will stimulate
The second stage usually takes around 5 minutes to 1 hour. If the kitten hasn't been born
after an hour, call your veterinarian.
Immediately following the kitten’s birth, the placenta is delivered. Once the queen has cleaned the kitten and breathing has commenced, normally, the queen will chew the umbilical cord in two and, quite often, will eat the placenta.
Note: 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.
If the mother fails to chew the umbilical cord, separate the kitten from the mother, you can do this for her with dental floss. This should be no closer than 1 inch from the kitten's body and be careful not to pull on the umbilical cord while doing this as it could result in an umbilical hernia.
Use the infant nasal cleaner to remove debris from the mouth and nose.
Resumption of labour:
Once the kitten is cleaned up, the queen will push it towards a nipple. Contractions will resume, and delivery of the next kitten will usually happen between ten minutes to an hour after delivery of the previous kitten.
All in all, it may take up to 6 hours to deliver a litter of kittens.
It should be noted that there can be a significant gap between kitten deliveries.
This is known as interrupted labour. The queen will cease straining and attend to the kittens she has delivered by cleaning and nursing them. She may eat some food, if it is offered, and will appear to have completed labour. After a period of rest (interrupted labour may last as long as 24-36 hours), labour will resume, and the rest of the litter will be delivered. It would be worth speaking to your vet if no kittens have been delivered in four hours and you suspect your queen may have gone into interrupted labour.
When should I call a veterinarian?
There are many possible problems your queen may encounter during birth to cover in this article. A week or so prior to the birth, you should take your cat to the veterinarian for a final check up and discuss the birth and potential problems with him or her. The vet will be able to advise what is 'normal' and what requires veterinary attention. Some problems you should be watchful of include:
Gestation lasting longer than 70 days.
First stage labour lasting longer than 24 hours.
Twenty minutes of intense labour and straining without producing a kitten.
Straining for ten minutes while a fetus or a fluid-filled bubble is visible in the birth canal.
Fever (above 103°F).
Sudden discharge of bright, red blood from the vagina lasting longer than 10 minutes.
Thick, black, foul-smelling discharge from the vagina.
How involved should you be?
The majority of cats are quite capable of giving birth without assistance; therefore, it is your role to take a backseat and not to interfere in the birthing process, unless a problem is encountered.
Too much involvement can be stressful to the queen. Allow her to give birth to her kittens and care for them as newborns as undisturbed as possible.
Watch a cat giving birth below (warning graphic). Starts around 3 minutes 30.