It can come as a surprise to find out your cat is pregnant; most likely, you thought she’d only put on a bit of extra weight. A cat pregnancy being a surprise also means you might not be as prepared as you’d like for the process of your cat giving birth. In fact, you may not even be aware of how that process goes or even how you can help your beloved feline out during it.
So, how do cats give birth? The process is similar in some ways to human birthing, but it differs drastically in a couple of ways. Here’s what to know to be prepared for your favorite feline’s pregnancy and labor!
How to Tell if a Cat Is Pregnant
Unfortunately, it can be rather tricky to tell if your cat is pregnant—hence why it comes as such a surprise to many cat parents! This is why the best way to determine if your cat is pregnant is at the veterinary clinic via an examination, ultrasound, x-ray, or blood test. However, you may notice a few slight changes in your pet at home that indicate pregnancy.
One change is your cat’s behavior. While not all felines undergo behavioral changes while pregnant, some may change how they typically act to become more aggressive or affectionate.1
Another change that will occur is your pet putting on weight and the abdomen becoming rounder. Unfortunately, this often doesn’t happen until later in pregnancy, and since felines are only pregnant for roughly 2 months, it could leave you with little time to prepare for kittens.2 Along with weight gain and the rounding of the stomach, your cat’s nipples may become larger and pinker.
One other way to tell if your cat is pregnant isn’t something you’ll see but feel. If your four-legged friend has gained weight or experienced behavior changes and you suspect pregnancy, you can try palpating the abdomen to feel for kittens.3 This is something best done by a veterinarian.
Signs of Labor
So, now you have an idea of how to determine if your cat is pregnant in the first place, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you know just how far along she is. That’s why it’s vital to understand what it looks like when labor is just around the corner. For this, you’ll see several signs that will give you the heads-up you need to prepare for your pet giving birth.
A couple of days before labor begins, your feline will begin nesting (aka she will seek out a safe spot to birth the kittens in). This spot could be under the bed, in the corner of a rarely used room, or even in a closet.
You’ll also see changes in your pet’s behavior. Some of these include loss of appetite, more vocalization, restlessness, pacing, excessive grooming (particularly around the genitals), and panting.
As labor is finally about to start, your cat’s temperature might lower from 101 to 99 degrees, and there might be some vomiting. You could also see the abdomen dropping.
Finally, when contractions begin, your pet may start getting louder with its vocalizations because of the pain, and there could be vaginal discharge.
The 3 Different Stages of Labor
Finally, how do cats give birth? Well, there are three stages of labor that cats go through during the birthing process, which we’ll discuss below.
Stage 1: Remember when we mentioned your cat’s temperature dropping and possible vomiting? These happen in stage 1 of your pet’s labor. This is the stage where the cervix begins relaxing, and contractions will start up (though intermittently). As the cervix relaxes, the muscles of the pelvis slacken while the perineum becomes longer and looser. At this point in the labor journey, you won’t be able to tell if your cat is experiencing contractions, though.
What you will notice is your feline acting restless, pacing in and out of the nesting area, vocalizing more, beginning to pant, possibly vomiting, and the aforementioned decrease in temperature. Watch for that temperature decrease because it indicates full contractions are only 12–36 hours away!
Stage 2: Stage 2 of feline labor begins with stronger contractions that come more frequently—eventually, these will lead to the birth of kitten #1. After the first kitten comes, the rest of the kittens should come every 30–60 minutes (timing will vary depending on momma cat). All kittens in a litter (usually 4–6) should be born in 6 hours or less.
One important thing to know about kittens being born is that they are born inside a thin membrane. Momma cat will usually remove this membrane as each kitten is delivered, so the babies can breathe. Another vital thing to know is that it’s fine for kittens to be born head or tail first; both are acceptable, but tail-first sometimes takes a bit more time.
It’s also essential that you don’t distract your cat or move it during this stage! If momma cat becomes stressed for any reason, she can just stop the labor and pick it up the next day.
Stage 3: And finally, we reach the third stage of labor, also known as afterbirth, where momma cat passes the placenta. The placenta should be passed after every kitten is born and will look like a blackish-green mass. Fun fact—momma cat will likely eat this!
It’s a good idea to keep track of how many placentas have been passed to ensure it matches the number of kittens birthed. A condition known as retained placenta occurs when not all of the placenta has been passed; this condition can lead to your cat becoming ill and could cause it to be unable to care for the kittens.
And those are the stages of feline labor! There are a couple more things you should know, though. One is that during labor, you should be on the lookout for any complications or signs of distress in your cat. One such possible complication is if your cat has entered stage 2 of labor but has been straining to birth a kitten for more than 20 minutes. In this case, you’ll want to contact your vet immediately.
The other is that there may also be an instance where a momma cat doesn’t remove the thin membrane from a kitten for whatever reason. If that’s the case, you’ll need to remove it so the kitten is able to breathe. And if the umbilical cord on a kitten wasn’t torn off during birth or momma cat didn’t remove it, you’ll need to take care of that.
How You Can Help Your Cat During & After Labor
There really won’t be much you can do during the birthing process. Most felines will find a nice quiet hidden area to give birth in. However, some cats are more dependent on their owners, so if yours is clingier, it will likely want you nearby during labor.
One thing you can do a few days before your cat is ready to give birth is set up a nesting area. There’s no guarantee kitty will actually use it, but if you set it up in a quiet, out-of-the-way spot, it might. You’ll want to either put down clean, soft bedding (towels and newspapers work) or set up a large box that’s low enough to the ground for your cat to get in and out of. Then put basic necessities, such as water, food, and the litter box close by so it’s easily reached during nursing. Finally, keep an eye on your cat during labor to ensure things are going as they should.
After your cat has birthed its kittens is a different story, though. Your feline will be exhausted and hungry; she’ll also need to stay close to the kittens to feed them and bond. So, let momma cat and her kittens stay in the nesting area for as long as needed, and ensure your cat is fed with quality, high-calorie food. A high-calorie diet should be followed till nursing is finished.
And speaking of nursing, this is another thing you’ll want to keep an eye on. Kittens should be nursing every hour or two, but sometimes momma cat is unable to produce enough milk or simply won’t let one or more of the kittens feed. If either of these occurs, you’ll need to contact your vet.
You’ll want to keep any male cats in the home away from momma cat during this time as well. Believe it or not, nursing cats can get pregnant again right away, which is something you want to avoid.
There’s a lot to know when it comes to feline pregnancy and how cats give birth! Felines aren’t pregnant for very long, 63 days, nor does birthing kittens take that long in the grand scheme of things, but it’s definitely an intricate process. If your cat has recently become pregnant or is close to giving birth, you’ll now know what to look out for so you can ensure a healthy litter and healthy momma. Then, sit back and enjoy your cat’s company and your new kittens!
Featured Image Credit: Boy77, Shutterstock