Signs That Your Cat is in Labor
By:Dr. Chyrle Bonk
Author: Dr. Chyrle Bonk
Dr. Chyrle Bonk is an associate veterinarian since 2010 and was a volunteer for Clearwater County Youth 4H. Dr. Bonk contributed to various animal and veterinary related websites and magazines as a way to help keep animals across the globe safe and healthy. When Chyrle not working she spends her time with her own furry crew of dogs, cats, and horses.View all 7 articles Learn about our editorial process
Updated on: 26/05/2020
Whether you planned your cat’s pregnancy or she took matters into her own hands, her going into labor is an exciting, and maybe even scary time. While most kitties can handle it naturally, there are the occasions when they could use a helping hand. Knowing when your cat is in labor, how long labor should last, and the signs of possible trouble will help ensure that your cat has a successful delivery, and that you will soon have more snuggly feline friends in your household.
The Stages of Labor in Cats
Labor isn’t usually a quick and easy process-ask any mother that has labored for 36 or more hours. A cat’s labor signs can be divided into three different stages, which we’ll discuss in detail, but even before that first stage of labor hits, there are a few things to look for as well.
Knowing your cat’s due date will help you determine when labor will occur. With planned pregnancies, that due date would be around 63-65 days from the date of breeding but can vary anywhere from 58-70 days. However, most real-world cat pregnancies are conceived in secrecy, so you won’t have an exact breeding date. You may be able to estimate, however, if your indoor kitty took a three-day hiatus around the first of the month two months ago, but other than that you may not have even a guess at when she was bred.
Even with no due date circled on your calendar, you will still be able to tell when your cat is close to going into labor. You may notice that her mammary glands swell, the nipples turn pink, and they may even leak drops of milk in preparation. Her appetite may decrease and she will start showing signs of sudden excitement. She will also start ‘nesting’ by looking for a safe haven in which to give birth. Along with this nesting behavior, she may also become more affectionate or clingy to you or may go in the opposite direction and be more reclusive as she looks for the perfect birthing spot.
A surefire way of determining impending labor is by monitoring your cat’s body temperature. A soon-to-be mama cat’s body temperature will drop below 99℉ 12-24 hours pre-labor. Following that temperature, drop watch for other signs of labor and make sure that everything is progressing normally.
Labor stage 1
The first signs of a cat in labor will be restlessness or agitation. She may cry out, howl, chirp, or pant and appear to be looking for something, usually a safe and comfortable place to have her kittens. Don’t be surprised if she moves from room to room meowing loudly even though you’ve provided her with a comfortable bed. She may choose another area to give birth instead.
Contractions start during this stage but are usually intermittent and irregular. You probably won’t even notice them, but you may notice more movement amongst the kittens as they position themselves for delivery.
Labor stage 2
This is when the contractions become very strong. Once contractions start, you should see a kitten within four hours. She may pass a bit of clear or blood-tinged discharge before a kitten appears. If the discharge is dark brown or black, you should see your veterinarian immediately. Stage two lasts through the delivery of the final kitten.
The time between the birth of each kitten is variable and can be as quick as 10 minutes or as long as an hour. However, it’s not uncommon for a mama cat to go into interrupted labor where she delivers some, but not all, of her kittens, relaxes, takes care of her new babies and then returns to labor 24 or even 36 hours later!
Labor stage 3
Stage three is the passage of the afterbirth or placenta. The fetal membranes of each kitten should be passed immediately after each kitten, leaving the shared placenta to be passed last. The placenta will come out as a greenish-black ball soon after the birth of the last kitten. Don’t let the color and appearance of the placenta alarm you. Dark greenish-black and slimy are perfectly normal.
What Should I Do When My Cat is in Labor?
Cats have been having kittens without our help for many years and continue to do so to this day. However, being there for support and in case something goes wrong is never a bad idea. Here are some things you can do to make the process a little more comfortable for your kitty.
- Help her find a good spot. While your cat definitely has the final say in where she has her babies, you can help persuade her by setting up a clean, warm, and comfortable bed. A cardboard box lined with newspaper or old towels works well as it can easily be cleaned up and disposed of. Place it in a spot that’s secluded yet observable to help her feel safe but still allows you to keep an eye on things. Try to set up the bed a week or so before her expected due date so that she has time to get familiar with it. Place her in the bed and pet her or feed her so that she knows it’s safe. Don’t be surprised if your cat never does come on board with your chosen bed and instead chooses her own. Whatever the case, try to keep her within view in case there are any troubles.
- During labor, be sure to observe. This doesn’t mean that you’re sitting by her side, constantly holding her paw. Rather just be sure to check in frequently to make sure her signs of labor are progressing as they should.
- After all of the kittens are born, make sure they have all nursed and then place them and the mama in a safe, warm spot. She may move them around after a few days to a place that’s more of her liking, but at least you have given her some options. If there are many kittens in a litter or mama that seems disinterested in one or all, you may end up bottle-feeding. Speak with your veterinarian about what and how to feed a newborn kitty if you need to.
What Are Some Complications That Can Occur With a Cat in Labor?
Even though most kitten deliveries go smoothly and uneventfully, sometimes complications do arise. Knowing what normal is will help you to identify if there is a complication so that you will be able to help.
- Dystocia: Dystocia simply means a difficult birth. It can occur because of abnormal size or an abnormal position of the kitten. Signs of dystocia would be if your cat is straining hard for more than 20 minutes without delivering a kitten or if she strains for more than 10 minutes with a kitten visible in the birth canal. If your cat is lethargic, depressed, or running a fever even with no visible straining, or it here’s excessive bleeding from her vagina before, during, or after labor, see your veterinarian.
- A kitten is born sluggish or unresponsive: If a kitten is born sluggish or unresponsive, you can help resuscitate or stimulate. This involves clearing the membranes away from their mouth and nose and tilting their head down to allow for further drainage. A bulb syringe can be used for further suction if needed. Rub the kitten vigorously with a towel to stimulate breathing. You can also try puffing very small breaths of air into their mouth if all else fails. Have your veterinarian show you how to do this and practice with you before delivery so that you’re comfortable if the need arises.
- Fetal membrane retention: If your cat doesn’t pass the fetal membranes and placenta immediately following birth, see your veterinarian. If left inside, they can start to decompose leading to severe illness and infection. If you weren’t present to know whether or not fetal membranes were expelled during stage three, other signs of retention would include a brown, smelly discharge, restlessness, poor appetite, ignoring her kittens, abdominal pain, or fever.
Your cat going into labor is the culmination of a two-month journey that the two of you have hopefully been on together. Knowing the cat labor signs will help you determine when the big event will take place, and also if things are proceeding normally. It’s important to remember that there can be great variability in the duration of labor. For some kitties it’s over in a couple of hours, for others that go into interrupted labor, it can even be days. Just trust your gut and see your veterinarian if you have any laboring questions along the way or if things seem a little abnormal. With the proper preparation, including knowledge of the laboring process, you can help your kitty sail through labor and delivery and safely produce a healthy brood of feline friends.
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