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How Do You Know When Cat Labor Is Over? (5 Signs)

Written by: Jordyn Alger

Last Updated on June 20, 2024 by Catster Editorial Team

mother cat giving birth to her child

How Do You Know When Cat Labor Is Over? (5 Signs)


Dr. Lorna Whittemore Photo


Dr. Lorna Whittemore

BVMS, MRCVS (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

Learn more »

If you’ve ever been in a delivery room or seen a character give birth on a television show, you have an idea of how stressful labor can be. While a cat in labor isn’t exactly comparable, it can still be stressful for you as the cat owner. During your cat’s labor, you may wonder, when will this ever end?

Although labor can look drastically different for different cats, there are some general signs that indicate the end of the process. If your cat is expecting, you will want to brush up on the information below.

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The 5 Signs That Let You Know When Cat Labor Is Over

1. Determine How Much Time Has Passed Since the Last Kitten

mother cat gave birth to kitten
Image Credit: Azami Adiputera, Shutterstock

Keep track of the time after each kitten is born. If your cat has already given birth to a few kittens and does not appear to be birthing anymore for a long time, this could indicate that her labor is concluding. A decent guide to go by is 2–3 hours after the birth of the latest kitten, with an average of four kittens per litter.

However, that is not always the case. Your cat could have more kittens, and she could take breaks between birthing her kittens that extend well past 2–3 hours. Some cats have been known to have as many as 12 kittens at a time!

There are also instances where your cat may be experiencing interrupted labor. This occurs when your cat rests and nurses her kittens yet still has more kittens left to deliver. Your cat may rest for as long as 24 to 36 hours before resuming her labor. Although this is called “interrupted labor,” suggesting a disruption to the norm, this is actually a fairly normal occurrence. The kittens born after this interruption tend to be just as healthy and normal as those born previously.

2. Check for Signs of Straining

It is suggested that you observe your cat during labor to monitor her well-being but stay far enough away that she does not feel uncomfortable or threatened. While keeping an eye on your cat, one of the most obvious signs that your cat is in labor is straining. Your cat will strain to deliver kittens, which will be notably different from her typical, relaxed behavior.

If your cat has stopped straining for a prolonged period, there is a decent chance that she is finished with her labor. However, she may just be taking a break.

3. Search for Signs of Contractions

mother cat gave birth to kitten
Image Credit: Azami Adiputera, Shutterstock

Contractions are another sign to watch for during the labor process. If you watch the muscles in your cat’s abdomen, you may be able to see the regular contractions there. If you are unable to see contractions, try gently feeling her abdomen. She is likely still in labor if you feel her muscles tightening.

It can be challenging to tell if your cat is still experiencing contractions, so you may not be able to determine if she is or isn’t in labor solely based on this one sign.

4. Her Breathing has Returned to Normal

During labor, your cat’s breathing will likely increase from its normal rate. This may look different for different cats, but most cats will pant or breathe rapidly while delivering kittens. This heightened breathing rate generally continues throughout your cat’s labor. If you notice that her breathing rate returns to normal after having a kitten, this could signify that her labor is over. However, there is also a chance that she is simply resting.

5. She Is Nursing Her Kittens

mother cat giving birth to a child
Image Credit: Akhmad Sopiyan, Shutterstock

As each kitten is born, you will likely notice your cat briefly nurse and clean the newest addition. Observing your cat throughout her entire labor process will help you determine how much time she spends on each newborn kitten before returning her attention to delivering the next.

If you notice that she does not divert her attention away from the kittens and back to herself, this can be a good indication that she has finished delivering all of her kittens. During this time, the kittens may receive more attention and nurse longer than before. Another sign that her labor is complete is if you notice her relaxing while nursing her newborns.

What to Do if Your Cat Appears to Be Distressed

fluffy cat pregnant give birth and new born baby kittens_iarecottonstudio_shutterstock
Credit: iarecottonstudio, Shutterstock

It is crucial to observe your cat during her labor to determine when it is complete and ensure her well-being. If your cat appears to be struggling, you must contact your vet immediately. Do not try to remove a kitten from your cat’s birthing canal or “help” in any way, as this will most likely harm your cat and her kittens.

If your cat has birthing complications, she will almost certainly need to be taken to the vet. Your vet will be able to help her through the birthing process best and will be able to determine if surgery is necessary.

  • Possible Post-Birth Complications – After the delivery of the kittens, it can be easy to think that it is the end of the whole matter. However, that is not the case, as there is always a chance of post-birth complications. If you notice the following, take your cat to the vet immediately.
  • Retention of Fetal Membranes – If your cat cannot deliver the last fetal membranes once she is done birthing her kittens, the membranes will decay inside her uterus. You may notice restlessness, abdominal pain, and a poor appetite. She may also be unwilling to settle down with her kittens and may have a brown-colored vaginal discharge. There should be one placenta delivered for each kitten.
  • Metritis – Metritis is the inflammation of the uterus. If your cat suffers from this condition, she will be weak, dull, and unwilling to eat. She will likely ignore her kittens. The abdomen will be tender, and a foul discharge may be emitted from her vagina.
  • Mastitis – Inflammation of a mammary gland may occur shortly after birthing kittens. Usually, this condition is exclusive to one gland. If your cat’s mammary gland is inflamed, you may notice it is firm and hot to the touch and enlarged compared to the others. Your cat may experience pain as well.
  • Eclampsia – Eclampsia, also known as milk fever, occurs when there is a sudden decrease in calcium within your cat’s bloodstream. This often occurs when a cat is nursing a large litter. Signs of milk fever include restlessness, panting, tremors, and lack of coordination. If left unchecked, it can progress to your cat experiencing convulsions or even a coma.

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Supporting your cat through the birthing process can be a stressful time. The best way to help your cat is to do your research and be prepared. Consulting your vet is recommended so that you understand the process. If your cat appears distressed at any time during labor, do not hesitate to call your vet. Remember, once the stressful part is done, you will have a bunch of adorable kittens to look forward to!

Featured Image Credit: Goldziitfotografie, Shutterstock

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