How Long Does it Take for a Cat to Have Kittens?

Jessica Gomez
Kitten Yawning

A cat's labor, delivery and even pregnancy is a relatively short process compared to the time it takes for humans to have babies. Once you suspect your cat is in labor, it'll only be a few short hours before you'll have tiny kittens to tend to.

Before the Birth

The average feline pregnancy lasts from 60 to 65 days, so if you know when your cat became pregnant, mark your calendar, so you know when to start watching for signs of labor. Signs that feline labor is beginning include continuously licking her genitalia, wandering around, or appearing restless. For the 24 hours before the birth, your cat may refuse to eat. She may vomit or cry out as labor begins, but fortunately, labor is not a prolonged event.

You can make her delivery easier by providing a nesting box. Make sure food, water, and a litter box are readily available near the box.

Labor and Delivery

Most times, your cat will handle labor and the delivery by herself, but you should keep a watchful eye over the process without getting in her way. According to Cat World, after you see the amniotic fluid, you can expect delivery to begin.

Up to Six Hours

Pet Education states after the first kitten is born, contractions will last about 15 to 30 minutes before each new kitten is delivered. Expect at least three to five large contractions for each birth. The full delivery may take up to six hours.

What to Expect During Labor

The average cat carries four to six kittens per litter. The first kitten will take the longest amount of time to arrive because it is the first birth that makes the cervix dilate.

Once the cervix is dilated, the first kitten should move from the birth canal to the outside world. This process should happen within an hour, and if no kittens are born after an hour of contractions, contact your emergency veterinarian. Straining is normal as your birthing cat pushes out each kitten. Each kitten is born in its membrane sac, which the mother will break open so the kittens can breathe.

Delivery of the Placenta and After Birth

After the births, your cat will deliver the placenta and may eat it. According to The Cat Care Clinic, this is completely normal. The mother will bite off the umbilical cord. The mother may experience vaginal discharge for up to two weeks beyond the birth, but if it has the look or smell of pus, bring her to see a veterinarian as this may mean she has an infection.

Stillbirths

Stillbirths do occur during some labor and deliveries. If your cat gives birth to a kitten that seems to be stillborn, gently shake the kitten and attempt to clear any mucus from its mouth and throat area to ensure it isn't alive and having trouble breathing.

Licking Kittens and Encouraging Nursing

It is vital you allow your cat to lick her kittens and encourage them to nurse. Important antibodies are available only from the mother's first milk, called colostrum, and must be transferred to the kittens within 24 hours of birth.

When to Intervene

You should only involve yourself in your cat's labor if something is not moving along properly. According to The Cat Care Clinic, these are some warning signs to watch for:

  • No births after an hour of contractions
  • Over 30 minutes of contractions between one kitten and another kitten
  • Stuck kitten or kitten protruding from vulva
  • Excessive bleeding
  • The mother cat does not open the membrane sac for her kittens
  • The look or scent of pus near the mother's genitals

If you suspect something is wrong during your cat's labor, contact an emergency veterinarian to walk you through any steps to ensure a healthy delivery. It may become necessary to take her to the vet for a C-section.

Be Responsible

Though kittens are certainly adorable, labor and delivery is stressful for your cat, and each birth adds to the overpopulation of homeless cats. If you are not planning on keeping the kittens your cat births, bring your cat in to be spayed once she is finished nursing to prevent further pregnancies.

How Long Does it Take for a Cat to Have Kittens?