What To Do If Your Cat Has a Difficult Delivery

Woman holding small cute kittens

Key Points

  • Birth problems in cats are common with breeds like Persian, Siamese, and Himalayan and with females over the age of five. 

  • Some abnormal signs indicating a difficult birth are contractions for more than two hours without any kittens being delivered and excessive bleeding. 

  • Birth difficulties are caused by factors relating to the queen or the kittens

  • Postpartum complications include lactation tetany, uterine prolapse, metritis, and mastitis. 

  • Contact your vet if your cat has been pregnant for more than 70 days, if the vaginal discharge smells bad, or if your cat is experiencing intense bleeding during delivery.

Welcoming a new litter of kittens into the world is an exciting experience for pet owners. However, sometimes things don't go smoothly. A difficult birth occurs for various reasons. As a responsible cat owner, you must know the normal and abnormal signs of delivery and what to do if complications arise. This article looks at these aspects. 

How Common Are Birth Problems in Cats?

The blue eyes of a Himalayan angora cat

While most cat births are uneventful, birth problems can occur. This can affect any cat breed, but some — including Persians, Himalayans, and Siamese — are more prone to complications due to their anatomy.

Cats older than five, overweight or underweight, or have pre-existing medical conditions are at a higher risk for birth difficulties. 

Signs of Delivery in a Pregnant Cat

Your cat’s pregnancy lasts an average of 65 days. During the last week of the pregnancy, cats start showing nesting behaviors to make the delivery as smooth as possible. Right before they give birth to the kittens, the cat exhibits several different behaviors. Some behaviors may be alarming for pet owners who have never assisted a cat in giving birth.

The normal signs of approaching delivery include:

  • Restlessness or nesting behavior 

  • Licking or grooming the genital area 

  • Loss of appetite 

  • Vocalizing or meowing excessively; occasional yowling due to local pain

  • A decrease in body temperature to below 99 degrees Fahrenheit

  • Vomiting

  • Discharge of fluids and blood through the vaginal opening

Normal Stages of Giving Birth

Close up of gray mother cat cleaning newborn kitten

Also known as parturition, the delivery of the kittens typically happens in three stages. There are differences from one cat to the next, with some going right from the second stage into the third one. 

Stage One

The cat isn't experiencing uterine contractions yet. Your pet repeatedly visits the nesting area, pacing and sometimes vocalizing. Vaginal discharge isn’t expected at this stage. If it does occur, the cat grooms their nether regions immediately. This first stage lasts 24 to 30 hours or longer. 

Stage Two

During the second stage of the delivery, the cat experiences active labor. Your pet’s water breaks, but the reproductive system retains some of the fluid as a lubricant for when the birth begins. The cat pushes and delivers the kittens, who are born 15 to 30 minutes apart

Stage Three

The last stage of the birth involves eliminating all the remaining fluids and tissues, along with the placenta, through the birth canal. The placenta is a dark red, undefined mass. 

Pet owners must monitor the delivery process to see if the cat eliminates the placenta. Many cats eat it immediately, so you might not get the chance to lay eyes on it. If the placenta remains inside your cat’s body, it causes a health complication. 

Abnormal Signs of Giving Birth

Some typical symptoms to watch for include general distress and agitation, foul-smelling vaginal discharge, and intense bleeding through the birth canal. Other abnormal signs indicating a problem are:

  • Contractions for more than two hours with no kittens born

  • The cat shows signs of extreme pain and discomfort

  • A kitten stuck in the birth canal with the mother being unable to push it out

  • Excessive bleeding  

What Causes Birth Difficulties?

The factors for a difficult delivery fall into two major categories: those pertaining to the mother and those involving the kittens. It’s rare for two causes to affect the same animal, but once something goes wrong, everything else follows.

Maternal Causes

A difficult birth is likely in cats with a narrow birth canal. The queen may have been born this way, or an injury such as a fractured pelvis may create the issue. In any case, delivery is extremely difficult or impossible with a narrow pelvis. 

Uterine inertia is something that first-time feline mothers experience. This condition is more common in queens with large litters, where uterine exhaustion happens toward the delivery's end and the cat can't deliver the remaining kittens. 

Infections or conditions such as diabetes or heart disease affecting the queen also influence the delivery.

Kitten Causes

The size of the kittens in proportion to the mother’s birth canal is the primary cause of difficult births. This most often occurs in first-birth queens or those who mated with a male in a cat breed much larger than themselves. 

The position of the kittens influences how the delivery occurs. Like humans, the kittens may be born with their head first. Delivery can still go normally even if they come out feet first. Kittens positioned crossways can't be expelled through the vagina, making delivery impossible.

Kittens can have congenital defects that cause some body parts to be larger than others. Suppose a kitten's body is normal size, but a physical defect causes their head to be abnormally large. In that case, it is difficult or impossible for the queen to push the kitten through the canal. If the kitten dies during the delivery, the uterine contractions are affected and can result in abnormal positions for the other kittens. 

How Do Vets Diagnose and Treat a Difficult Cat Birth?

Mother cat cleaning orange kitten

If your cat is experiencing a difficult birth, it's essential to seek veterinary care immediately. Once you get to the animal hospital, your vet performs a physical exam and orders diagnostic tests such as X-rays or ultrasounds to assess the situation. 

Treatment options may include using hormones to stimulate contractions or assisting delivery with forceps or a suction device. The vet may perform surgery to remove a stuck kitten or perform a C-section. 

Postpartum Complications

After birth, watch your cat for any postpartum complications. The most common are retention of fetal membranes, metritis, uterine problems, mastitis, and lactation tetany (eclampsia). 

Some general signs to watch out for to ensure your cat doesn’t have a risk of developing additional complications are:

Retention of Fetal Membranes

Los Angeles-based veterinarian Dr. Wendy Brooks states, “If the mother cat retains the placenta, she can develop an infection, fever, or appetite loss, and neglect the kittens. If this occurs, she will need to see the vet right away, possibly be hospitalized, and probably need to be spayed to remove the infection.”

Cats that retain fetal membranes show symptoms such as restlessness, abdominal pain, and higher body temperature. They show no interest in nursing their kittens due to their discomfort. Vets treat this condition with prostaglandins, a medication that promotes the expulsion of the retained tissues, and antibiotics for the infection. The vet must spay your cat if the treatment doesn’t resolve the problem. 


This complication occurs during the first three to four days after delivery. Metritis is the inflammation of the uterus, which causes pain and obvious discomfort. The cat has little to no interest in feeding herself or the kittens and exhibits possible digestive distress, such as vomiting. There is a foul-smelling vaginal discharge, and the queen is extremely sensitive to touching her abdomen. 

Treatment includes taking a bacterial culture and then using broad-spectrum antibiotics. Spaying is another option if the treatment is unsuccessful.  


According to a May 19, 2023, article by Vetster.com, mammary inflammation (mastitis) affects one or multiple glands. This condition has various causes, but the main ones are an infection caused by a germ that invades the mammary gland and intense nursing by the kittens that damages the queen’s breasts. 

Mastitis is also common in queens who have given birth to stillborn kittens or whose offspring died after the delivery. The lactation process continues, but the queen has no young ones to feed. The milk puts pressure on the mammary gland, leading to inflammation, redness, and sometimes intense local pain. 

Diagnosing mastitis in cats requires a physical examination of the affected glands. The vet may also take a sample of the milk to check for the presence of bacteria. Treatment involves antibiotics, pain relief medication, and sometimes surgery to drain abscesses that form. Promptly seek veterinary care if you suspect your cat has mastitis. If left untreated, the condition becomes severe and even life-threatening for the mother cat and her kittens.

Uterine Prolapse 

Uterine prolapse is a rare but severe condition that occurs in cats shortly after giving birth. This condition occurs when the uterus protrudes through the vaginal opening. Symptoms include lethargy, difficulty urinating, and a visible protrusion from the vagina. 

Causes of uterine prolapse include excessive straining during labor, weak uterine muscles, or trauma to the uterus. Diagnosis involves a physical examination and imaging tests to assess the severity of the prolapse. Treatment may include manual reduction of the prolapse, surgical repair, and supportive care to aid the cat's recovery. Early intervention is critical for success.

Lactation Tetany

Lactation tetany, also called eclampsia or hypocalcemia, occurs when the new mother doesn't have enough calcium in her bloodstream to support milk production. Symptoms include muscle tremors, weakness, and difficulty standing. If left untreated, the cat can suffer seizures or coma. 

Causes include poor nutrition, stress, and an inability to absorb calcium. Treatment may include calcium supplements, supportive care, and addressing any underlying causes. Again, early intervention is crucial.

When To Call Your Vet

Now that you know what to watch for, call your vet if you notice any of these symptoms. Here is a simplified checklist of obvious signs of trouble:

  • Your cat is pregnant for more than 70 days.

  • Stage One of the delivery started more than 24 hours ago, and no kitten has been born.  

  • Your cat has been experiencing contractions for over 60 minutes without delivering kittens. 

  • The vaginal discharge has a pungent, foul smell.

  • Intense bleeding accompanies every kitten's birth, with the queen becoming increasingly lethargic and vomiting during the delivery. 

Helping Your Cat Through This Challenge

Little orange kitten wrapped in a gray blanket sleeping

You've pampered your cat for two months. You've made her comfortable, fed her all the high-nutrient meals she needs to maintain strength, and prepared to take care of the kittens. You and other family members have been awaiting the "big event" for a few weeks, counting the days until the tiny fluff balls join the household.

Then something goes wrong. Joy turns to worry but not fear — because you know what to do.

While difficult cat births are stressful and alarming, understanding the signs and causes of difficult births enables you to take appropriate action. If you suspect your cat is experiencing a difficult birth, seek veterinary care immediately to ensure the best possible outcome for the mother and her kittens.

Remember, early intervention is key to a successful outcome.

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