A cat's labor, delivery and even pregnancy is a short process compared to the time it takes for humans to have babies. From beginning to end, labor usually takes about six to eight hours, with an active labor phase of up to 40 minutes for each kitten born.
Labor and Delivery
According to VCA Hospitals, there are three stages to feline labor, each lasting a different amount of time. The length of the overall delivery will also be affected by the number of kittens born, with most cats having four to six kittens in a litter.
Length of the Stages
- Stage 1 Labor - The cat will start looking for a place to deliver her kittens. She may lick her genitalia, act restless or stop eating. This stage can last for 24 hours to 36 hours
- Stage 2 Labor - This stage occurs when powerful uterine contractions push a kitten into the birth canal, the fetal membranes rupture and the kitten is born. This can happen in as few as five minutes, but should not take any longer than 30 minutes.
- Stage 3 Labor - After each kitten is delivered, the placenta should be expelled from the uterus. This will look green to black in color and, according to The Cat Care Clinic, the mother cat will usually eat it. The placenta is typically passed immediately after the kitten, or at least within five to ten minutes.
After each kitten is delivered, the cat will cycle through stages two and three until all the kittens have been born. The total process, once your cat is in stage 2 labor, takes two to six hours for most cats.
While the process of labor and delivery is similar in all cats, there can be some variation in how long it takes for different breeds of cats to have their kittens. Breeds with narrow and tapered heads such as Siamese are usually delivered more quickly while snub-nosed breeds like Persians have wider heads that can lead to a more difficult birth. Some of these breeds may even require a cesarean section if the kittens are too large.
When to Intervene
You should only involve yourself in your cat's labor if something is not moving along properly. As The Cat Care Clinic notes, a cat may need assistance if:
- She has had over 20 minutes of continuous contractions without a kitten being born
- More than four hours have passed between kittens and you expect more kittens
- Constant bleeding occurs
- Pale gums
- Labored breathing
- The mother does not clean the membranes off the kitten's face
In rare instances, there may be a delay between kittens in which the mother rests and the cat may enter interrupted labor. Generally, you would not know your cat is in interrupted labor unless you took her to the vet and the vet performed an ultrasound. Interrupted labor is fairly uncommon. During interrupted labor, she will groom the kittens, relax and may start eating again before continuing the delivery. This rest period can even last for 24 to 36 hours. However, there is no way to know whether or not your cat is in interrupted labor or there is an issue, and so an evaluation by a vet is ideal if she hasn't had a kitten in four hours and you expect more.
Contact Your Vet
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.