If your cat is about to give birth, it's essential that you familiarize yourself with the stages of feline labor so you can offer her support and comfort. The process of having kittens, called "queening," can last a day or two and usually progresses uneventfully. Learn what is normal so you can give your cat help if she needs it.
What to Expect During Feline Labor and Birth
There are several stages leading up to a cat giving birth to her kittens. Knowing which signs to look for can help you make sure your cat has a warm, comfortable place to birth her kittens. This will also help you know when to be concerned or when to let labor progress naturally.
Typical Feline Labor
A cat goes through very specific stages of labor leading up to birth.
- Pre-Labor: A day or two before a pregnant cat is ready to go into labor, you will likely notice that she seems restless. The cat will begin to look for a quiet, out of the way place to give birth to her kittens, such as a closet, under a bed or behind furniture. You can encourage the cat to give birth in a place you have chosen by placing warm blankets in that area. Include a bowl of water, and keep the area quiet and free of people. It might even be a good idea to isolate your cat in the room where you'd like her to give birth so she doesn't choose an inconvenient or dangerous place to have her kittens.
- Stage One: Once a cat actually begins labor, she will move to the area she has chosen to have her kittens. This first stage can last a full day. The cat may pant a bit. She will likely be either more affectionate or more aggressive than normal. She may also lick her genital area often, and many cats also lick their abdomens.
- Stage Two: When your cat begins the second stage of labor, she will stop eating. It is during this stage that the kittens begin to arrive. You may notice that your cat is squatting and pushing. This is normal. Let her progress through labor naturally, and don't interrupt her. Kittens may be born fairly quickly together or as much as a couple of hours apart.
- Stage Three: This is the final stage of labor. The placentas from the kittens are pushed out, and the cat eats these for the nutrients. She will likely nurse and clean her kittens during this time as well. You should count placentas as they are expelled to be sure they match the number of kittens born.
While a majority of cats give birth to healthy kittens without any problems, there are a few cases where cat owners should be concerned enough to take the cat to the vet for help. If your cat experiences any of the following complications, immediately take her and any kittens that have been born to the vet.
- Your cat is in labor for more than seven or eight hours.
- A kitten has been in the birth canal for more than ten minutes, and you cannot pull it out by gently grasping its hips or shoulders and pulling down (Be extremely careful if attempting this, and never pull on the kitten's head or legs).
- More than two hours has passed between births, and you know there are more kittens in the uterus.
- You counted fewer placentas than kittens.
- The mother seems extremely lethargic and will not eat, drink and/or nurse her kittens.
- The kittens seem weak or lethargic.
It's normal to see a small amount of discharge from the mother's vagina for up to ten days. However, if the discharge is an odd color or has a bad odor, this might indicate infection. In this case, your cat should be examined by your veterinarian.
The majority of feline labor and birth events occur naturally and with little stress to you or your cat. It is vital that you know your cat well enough to know if she is in distress and needs medical help. More than likely, she will be a natural mother, and you'll wind up with a beautiful litter of newborn kittens.