How to Prepare for Your Cat’s First Pregnancy & Labor

Key Points 

  • Create a nesting spot for your cat by setting up a warm and cozy area with her favorite toys or blankets or her beloved cat bed. 

  • Avoid handling the kittens as the queen gives birth to them unless their airways are blocked by fluid or tissue remnants. 

  • Kittens are born blind and are completely helpless, but a healthy one has pink gums and responds well to their mother grooming them. 

  • Inducing labor in cats at home is not recommended unless you do it under a vet’s guidance. 

  • To eliminate the risk of a difficult birth or postnatal complication, schedule your cat for an appointment at the animal hospital as soon as possible or go to an emergency vet clinic if the delivery isn’t going well. 

As a cat owner, it is exciting to think that your pet is about to bring new life into the world. It’s important to be prepared for your cat’s first pregnancy, labor, and delivery to ensure that the kittens are born healthy and that the queen doesn’t suffer any complications. This article aims to guide pet owners to better prepare their homes, recognize the signs of labor, and properly care for their pregnant cats and newborn kittens. 

Close up of sleeping newborn calico kitten

Preparing Your Home for Your Cat To Give Birth

Before your cat goes into labor, you should create a comfortable and safe space for her to give birth. Setting up a quiet and warm area for this purpose is essential, especially if your cat has no issue using the nesting spot you provide for her. This may be a cozy box lined with soft blankets, although you might also utilize her favorite cat bed.

Ensure that the delivery area is easily accessible for your cat and yourself, but make reaching it more difficult for other pets or children. Provide your cat with clean water and food close to the delivery area, and keep a litter box nearby in case she wants to use it as she starts experiencing labor and wants to keep her nesting place clean. 

While it is not mandatory, your cat finds known items soothing, such as a blanket or a toy they used to sleep with when they were young. Try to minimize noise and bright lights in the nesting box as much as possible. If your cat responds well, play soft music in the background. 

How To Tell When Your Cat Is Going Into Labor

Recognizing the signs that your cat is about to experience labor is essential, as it helps you better prepare your home and your mental space. Some common signs to watch out for are: 

  • Your cat may become restless and more vocal than usual.

  • She may start to nest in her delivery area and become more protective of it.

  • Your cat may start grooming herself excessively.

  • She may lose her appetite and become lethargic.

Stages of Cat Labor and Delivery

If this is your cat's first pregnancy, you might find it challenging to tell the difference between the three main stages of labor and delivery. To make things more confusing, the third often follows the second stage without any pause. 

The most important thing to keep in mind at this time is to look for concerning symptoms. If your cat seems to be somewhat at ease, even with the local pain and bleeding, and the kittens are born every 30 to 60 minutes, there’s probably nothing you should worry about. 

  • Stage One lasts anywhere from 12 to 24 hours and is characterized by your cat's cervix dilating and contractions starting. Your cat may be anxious and restless since she knows that the delivery is about to commence. 

  • Stage Two is the actual delivery stage, where your cat gives birth to her kittens. Each kitten is usually born within 30 minutes to an hour of the previous one, and it is important to monitor your cat at this time to ensure everything is going smoothly.

  • Stage Three, the afterbirth, is when the cat delivers the placenta and eliminates all the remaining tissue parts and fluid. This lasts for a few hours, during which your cat becomes more relaxed and is focused on bonding with and caring for her kittens. 

Gray domestic shorthair mother cat with leopard-spotted nursing kittens

How To Help Your Cat During Delivery

While most cats give birth without any complications, a few things might go wrong during delivery. If you notice that your cat has been in labor for more than an hour without delivering a kitten, she may be experiencing dystocia. This is a medical emergency, and you should contact your veterinarian immediately.

If your cat is having trouble delivering a kitten, you should gently assist by using a clean towel to help pull the kitten out. Should you be unsure of what to do, seek out veterinary assistance. Keep your cat calm and stress-free during delivery. Avoid handling the kittens too much as this causes stress and anxiety for your cat, not to mention that you might accidentally imprint your odor on them and make the queen not recognize them as her own later on. Always intervene if you notice that a kitten’s mouth or nose is covered by tissue or fluids. This is necessary so that they breathe normally. 

Can You Induce Labor in Cats?

Inducing labor in cats is not recommended unless it is medically necessary. There are situations where a veterinarian may decide to induce labor in a cat, such as when the mother cat is experiencing health problems or the kittens are not developing properly. Inducing labor is also risky and should only be done under the guidance of a veterinarian, especially since, depending on the stage of the labor and delivery, they give medication to the cat so that she gives birth more easily. 

Consider the risks of inducing labor for your cat’s health — if you do so too early, your pet might experience a premature birth, which leads to health problems for the kittens. At the same time, waiting for too long is dangerous for the mothers and the offspring. 

At least call your vet if you’re considering inducing labor in your cat for them to provide some guidance on the best course of action, especially if they’re unavailable. 

When Things Go Wrong While Your Cat Is Giving Birth

Denmark-based veterinarian Denise Michanowicz says, “Most cats normally give birth or deliver their kittens without any assistance needed. Owners should quietly monitor their cat quietly when she goes into labor without disturbing her. Dystocia or difficult birth can happen.”

There are some things that might go wrong when a cat is giving birth, and some of these issues are related to the mother cat, while the kittens themselves might cause others. 

Maternal Issues

If the mother cat is having trouble delivering her kittens, it could be a sign of a serious problem. You should contact your veterinarian right away. You shouldn’t expect the delivery to be associated with excessive bleeding. A small amount of blood is normal during birth, but if the mother cat is losing a lot of blood, contact your vet immediately. 

A retained placenta is another complication that some queens experience, especially if they haven’t given birth before. If the mother cat doesn’t expel the placenta after giving birth to all the kittens, it leads to a severe infection. 

Kitten Issues

An awkward body position is the most common kitten-related cause of a difficult birth. Like humans, kittens are supposed to come out into the world head-first, but they could still be delivered successfully even if they’re born feet-first. However, if one is positioned horizontally on the birth canal, the queen is not able to give birth to the kitten. A vet is able to reposition the little one so that the cat delivers it. 

A congenital defect is another possibility of a difficult cat birth that also pertains to the kittens. If one of the kitten’s body parts is unusually large, it makes it impossible for the mother to expel the whole kitten's body through the vaginal canal. 

A litter of mixed calico and orange kittens sleeping in a plush cat bed

How To Care for Your Cat After the Delivery and Labor

After a cat gives birth, she needs plenty of rest and relaxation to recover from labor. Provide your cat with plenty of food and water as she needs to replenish her energy after the delivery. Ideally, you’re already feeding your mother cat kitten food by this point, but continue to do so and supplement her diet with some kitten milk replacement and canned kitten food to ensure she gets hydrated enough. Keep the birthing area clean and change the bedding regularly to prevent infections

Monitor your cat and her kittens closely to ensure they’re all healthy and developing properly. Schedule a postnatal check-up with your veterinarian to ensure your cat and her kittens are healthy. Like other animals, cats that just gave birth may experience postnatal complications. Some are severe, such as uterine inflammation or prolapse or hypocalcemia, but even somewhat less life-threatening or acute ones, like mastitis, the inflammation, and infection of the mammary gland, affects both the queen and her kittens, as noted by a 2023 study published in the Animal Reproduction Science magazine.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do you want to know even more about cat pregnancy and labor? The following section might be able to provide some answers to a few important questions you might not have thought of until now. 

Why Is It Important To Talk to a Vet if You Think Your Cat Is Pregnant?

Complications arise during the labor, the actual delivery, and after the queen gives birth to the kittens. Your vet is able to offer you advice on how to care for your pregnant cat and monitor her during this time of her life. You should ask them for a list of symptoms to watch out for, convincing you to call the animal hospital immediately. 

How Often Does Your Pregnant Cat Need To See Your Veterinarian?

Depending on how the pregnancy is progressing, your cat may need to see the vet more or less regularly. The cat’s pregnancy lasts 65 to 70 days, so a check-up once every three weeks is a great idea. Still, all cats are different, so your veterinarian’s recommendations depend on your pet’s health and age and if this is her first pregnancy. 

What Should You Do To Help Your Outdoor Cat Before and During Labor?

Even if you don’t own an outdoor cat per se, you have the possibility of helping her by creating a safe and comfortable space. A warm and cozy area, even outdoors, assists a cat in feeling more at ease when she gives birth. Try to keep an eye on her as closely as possible during labor. If you see that things start to go wrong and the cat lets you, bring her and her litter inside and call a vet. 

How Many Kittens Can a Cat Have in Her First Litter?

The number of kittens a cat gives birth to in her first litter varies depending on the breed and age of the cat. Most cats have between one and eight kittens, with the average litter size being four to six kittens. According to the Guinness World Records, the biggest litter of domestic cats belonged to a mix of Siamese and Burmese. In 1970, she gave birth to 19 kittens, four of which were stillborn. 

What Does a Healthy Newborn Kitten Look Like?

A healthy newborn kitten is born blind and covered in a thin, transparent membrane. The mother cat easily removes this membrane, and the kitten breathes on its own soon after birth. 

A healthy kitten has a round belly, pink gums, and a healthy appetite. It is important to monitor the kittens closely during the first few weeks of their lives to ensure they are growing and developing properly.

Being There for Your Cat

Preparing for your cat's first pregnancy and labor is an exciting and rewarding experience. Following the tips and guidelines outlined in this article ensures a safe and healthy delivery for your queen and her newborn kittens. Remember to always seek professional help if you have any concerns or questions about your cat's pregnancy and delivery.

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