It’s natural to worry about a cat giving birth for the first time especially if you have no experience with a pregnant feline. Once you find out the queen cat is pregnant, it is wise to brush up on everything you need to know about labor and delivery so you can provide an ideal setting for kittening. If you’re a guardian of a first-time queen, here are ten things you need to know about a cat’s first time giving birth:
Your Cat Decides When She Needs Your Help
Most queen cats prefer to give birth in isolation. She may look for a dark and quiet place where she can give birth in peace. During the final weeks of pregnancy, your cat should be kept at home and everyone in the family should be careful not to add to her anxiety. Your cat can give birth anywhere from a haystack to a box or even a cupboard.
It is less likely that she will give birth in her bed and will even appear restless as she nears delivery. You can prepare a box for her to give birth and encourage her to sleep in her kittening box in preparation for the delivery, but don’t force her to give birth where she doesn’t want to.
If she needs your help and your presence during delivery, she will be vocal about it. Some dependent cats will even delay delivery and wait on their cat guardian before they give birth.
If you have a dependent mother cat, you should also learn how to help a cat give birth. Stay calm and comfort the mom-to-be when she follows you around and calls out your attention. Otherwise, even a sociable cat can suddenly become an introvert when delivering her kittens. When this happens, be close enough to monitor but do not intervene in the birthing process.
She will have Different Signs of Labor
Cat pregnancy can last as little as 58 days and can be as long as 70 days although most cats give birth after 63 to 65 days of gestation. If my cat is giving birth for the first time, she will most likely lick her genitals to stimulate kittening. She can also have some vaginal discharge but it should not be green or foul-smelling. Amniotic fluid can come out of her vagina signaling that her first kitten is already in the birth canal.
Her temperature will also drop to around 99 degrees F (37.2 Celsius). Normal temperature suggests that she is nearing delivery. She will also have intermittent contractions 2 to 3 minutes apart with pauses to relax. Be wary of prolonged contractions that last an hour or longer.
Her appetite will also decrease and she will be restless as she goes into labor. She might be drawn to the cupboard, closet, shed, or even try to dig a hole in the garden. First-time cat mothers are often nervous and will want to be with you all the time so don’t try to go on a vacation during this time. Normally though, cats prefer to give birth in peace and will disappear to a private, secluded area for kittening.
Your Cat Giving Birth First Time Can Take More Time
The mom cat will be in labor for 12 to 24 hours before she gives birth to the first of her litter. In some cases, labor can last 36 hours and still result in a normal delivery. Cats deliver four to six kittens in every pregnancy. The births are set at intervals of 20 minutes to an hour.
Some cats like to rest in between straining and attend to their already-born kittens before proceeding to give birth to the rest of her litter. The resting period for some cats in between straining can last between 24 to 36 hours when they deliberately try to delay it, mostly due to stress or when they are waiting for the cat guardian they depend on.
She Will Eat the Amniotic Sac, Placenta, and Umbilical Cord
Before you freak out at the sight of your cat licking off and consuming (gasp!) the fetal membrane and placenta of every kitten, you should know that this is normal behavior. It is your cat’s way of caring for her kittens post-birth and should be done immediately after giving birth.
Biting off the cord and the amniotic sac is necessary for the kitten’s survival. If your cat doesn’t do this, you will have to tear the sac with your hands and gently clean the kitten’s face and nose to encourage breathing.
Inexperienced mother cats may delay chewing off the umbilical cord which can cause the kitten to get a hernia. In this case, tear but don’t cut the umbilical cord, making sure to leave one inch or more of it before you tear it away from the kitten’s body. Avoid cutting the cord with scissors as this can promote bleeding. If you feel you can’t tear the umbilical cord with your hands, use sterilized scissors.
Otherwise, leave your cat alone to do her business of cleaning her kittens off post-delivery. The cord, placenta, and amniotic sac should give her necessary nutrients to make her stronger for the delivery of the succeeding kittens.
Remember that each kitten has its own placenta although twins sometimes share one placenta. If your cat does not deliver all the placentas, she can be at risk of infection. Also, some first-time mother cats will try to eat their kitten so close monitoring is crucial.
You Can Interfere with the Bonding Process
Newborn kittens need to be fed in the first hour of birth and the mother cat will attend to her kittens, even to pause straining for the sake of nurturing the already-born kittens.
If you see the mother cat is not feeding her kittens within the first hour, you can gently guide the kittens to their mother’s nipples making sure to clear obstructions especially in long-haired cats. If possible, restrain yourself from interfering with your cat’s birthing process.
Don’t try to touch her kittens or move them away from her as the first few hours of birth is critical to their mom-and-kitten bonding.
However, some feline moms move around a lot during delivery and can tread on their newborns. If you must move the kittens, always leave one with the mother cat and place the kittens near her in a blanket with a heating pad to keep them warm.
Again, if there is no danger to the kittens, it is best to leave them to bond and nurse with their mom cat. If your feline friend feels endangered, she will move her kittens so it’s best to give them their peace.
Six Kittens Later and Your Cat is Still Straining – That’s a Red Flag
Once your cat delivers the whole litter of four to six kittens and she is still crouched like a lion and not settling in with her litter, she may have an undelivered placenta or more kittens to come. After the sixth kitten and if your cat is straining unproductively for longer than two hours, you should call your vet immediately to remove the placenta.
She Can Lose Her First Kitten
Delivery can take longer than expected for an inexperienced feline mom. Old age, stress, ill health, obesity, and certain drugs can also cause difficulties for a first-time cat giving birth to kittens. An exhausted queen from hours of labor can result in weak contractions. If labor does not progress, you may have to call your vet to assist your cat in delivery.
Your cat can also have a hard time delivering overly large kittens. Also, while most kittens are born head-first, some kittens are badly positioned, making it difficult for their mom to deliver them. If the first kitten is positioned tail-first, it is at risk of drowning in fetal fluid. Problems with a narrow birth canal and an unprepared uterus can also cause difficulty in kittening.
If you suspect that the kitten is stillborn, you can gently rub it to stimulate breathing, making sure the airways are clear. If the kitten is making a gurgling or choking noise, some amniotic fluid may have blocked its airways.
Treat Her Like a Queen
Some cats would accept food and water during long labor as well as after giving birth to kittens. Keep her favorite food and the cat litter close by, but make sure the litter and her food are not too close to each other as some cats have an aversion to this.
Refrain from handling your cat and her kittens soon after birth. If you need to change the bedding, do so quickly and leave your cat and her litter to bond.
Check to see that she is nursing her kittens and give her peace and quiet to rest and care for her new kittens. Watch out for dark vaginal discharges, dark lumps on her mammary glands, trembling, and exceptional restlessness post-delivery. Complications post-birth are not common, but if your cat experiences these symptoms, call your vet at once.
Birth Problems are Increasingly Common in Selectively Bred Cats
With the progression of selective breeding, as in Persian and Siamese cats, difficulties in kittening can be expected. Selectively bred cats have 7 to 10% more risk of having a difficult delivery than cats with a normal conformation. For your cat’s safety, it is best to have a vet on-call from the onset of delivery.
Newborn Kittens Need to Be Close to Their Moms
Newborn kittens should not be taken away from their mother cat ideally for the first 12 weeks of life. The newborn kittens need their mother for warmth and nutrition. Weaning shouldn’t begin until four to six weeks of age. Around 8 weeks, the kittens can be wormed.
Do know that newborn kittens can’t control their body temperature and won’t shiver to tell you if it is cold. Monitor the mother to see if she is drying off her kitten immediately after delivery. If she delays, you will have to dry the wet kitten as the little one can lose heat quickly.
If the mother cat is unwell and ignoring her kitten, you have to warm the kitten with a heating pad under the blanket or a hot water bottle under its bedding. Never place a kitten or a cat directly on a hot water bottle.
Cats have maternal instincts that kick in when they become pregnant and as they approach delivery.
They will prepare their genitalia by licking it and look for a convenient place to give birth. Most cats are independent and give birth in private, caring for their newborn kittens all by themselves.
Some cats depend on their cat guardian to guide them through the delivery and may need help cleaning the cat and encouraging feeding. As much as possible, trust your cat to deliver her kittens safely. Don’t be anxious and just be on hand to monitor the delivery for any complications.
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