The Stages of Feline Labor:
The world is full of wonderful cats that are waiting for good homes so I do not encourage my clients to breed cats. Once your cat is five months of age or weighs five pounds it is better to take her to a veterinary hospital to be spayed because if she roams, she will soon become pregnant. Cats that are not spayed do not make good pets. They are either pregnant or cycle in and out of heat again and again from January to October in the Northern Hemisphere.
Domestic short and longhaired cats are very fertile. Before you know it the cute little kitten you made your pet is about to have kittens of her own. Litter size averages four or five kittens. For some reason, Siamese cats have larger litters. Luckily, problems during pregnancy and birth are extremely rare in all breeds except Persian cats. Over ninety-nine percent of all cats deliver their kitten without assistance or complications. But when our beloved pet or a sheltered stray is set to deliver her kittens, it is comforting to know that things are proceeding without hitches and on schedule. Here are some of the things that should happen as your cat goes through a successful pregnancy.
Early In The Pregnancy: Gestation or the length of pregnancy of a cat averages 64 days. It is generally between 62 and 67 days or about nine or ten weeks. You might notice subtle indications of pregnancy after the first three weeks. The cat’s nipples begin to swell and their color changes from white to a rosy pink. By the fourth or fifth week the cat’s belly will begin to swell. During this early time, the cat only needs a low stress environment and high quality cat food. Keep a dry kibble out all day and let her eat as much as she wants. To learn how to care for the expectant mother and her kittens read my articles: Bottle Feeding Orphaned Kittens and Pregnant Cat Care
A Veterinary Exam: A veterinary exam early in pregnancy is a good idea to check the cat’s general health. By the twenty-sixth day of gestation a veterinarian can usually feel the spherical lumps in the cat’s oviducts that are the developing fetuses. Veterinarians that use an ultrasound can detect the developing kittens earlier and determine their number more accurately. By the 45th day the kitten’s skeletons will have calcified enough to be seen on x-ray. But I do not suggest that cats be x-rayed to determine the size of the litter. The risks of radiation and stress in this procedure are too great unless there is a clear indication that the pregnancy has gone awry.
Before Labor Begins: If your are intent at being present when the queen delivers begin to take your cat’s temperature two weeks before it’s due date. Do it at the same time every day You can lubricate the thermometer with margarine or KY jelly and insert it about a half inch up the rectum. Leave it in place for three minutes. Your cat’s temperature should be between 101 and 102. Fahrenheit. When the pet’s temperature drops below 100F (98-95F) she should deliver her kittens in less than twenty-four hours.
Expect your cat to gain about two to four pounds, or about 20 to 25 percent of her normal weight during pregnancy. But don’t let her get obese as that could make her labor more difficult.
Labor And Birth: Twenty-four to forty-eight hours before the onset of labor your cat will seem more anxious and restless. It will often poke its head about looking for a place to nest and have the litter. But be advised that in some cases nesting behavior can occur as early as three days before delivery. At this point confine her to the room you want her to birth in. This should be a darkened room with an impervious floor in a quiet area of the house. Place food and water in the room.
Cats that are about to go into labor will usually lick their abdomen and vagina persistently. There is often a discharge that precedes birthing but the mother will lick it away as rapidly as it appears. Her cervix will be dilating but no outward signs accompany this. She will loose all interest in food and become serious and attentive to only her licking. If you are perceptive you may notice an increase in her breathing rate. It is quite common for the mother to sit with her mouth open and yowl loudly or pace the room. As her labor progresses and uterine contractions begin pregnant cats will lay on their sides and intermittently squat and press downward to expel the kittens. Do not interrupt or disturb the mother during these periods – just watch from a door left ajar. The first kitten should arrive within an hour after the onset of labor. Sometimes labor lasts only a few minutes before the kitten arrives. Other kittens should arrive with an interval of ten minutes to an hour between them. Each kitten arrives wrapped in a jelly-like membrane filled with clear fluid – the amniotic sac. Good mothers immediately begin licking the kitten forcefully, which shreds this sac allowing the kitten to breathe. This licking stimulates the kittens circulation and respiration. In the exceptionally rare case where the mother does not free the kitten’s mouth from the obstructing membrane the owner should do it for her and follow this with a vigorous rubbing of the kitten in a soft towel to dry it and stimulate respiration. The mother will also chew off the umbilical cord at this time. If she forgets to do this to one or more of the kittens, tie off the cord with a length of dental floss and snip the cord about an inch long. It is important to let the mother do these things herself if she will because through licking and mothering the kitten she bonds with it and recognizes it as her infant.
The mother cat will probably begin nursing the kitten before the next littermate arrives. If she doesn’t place the kitten on one of her nipples. The nursing will stimulate her uterus to contract further so you may seen a bloody or greenish discharge at her vagina. She may eat a few of the afterbirths. There is no problem with this.
It usually takes two to six hours for the entire litter to be delivered. If labor persists beyond seven hours it is wise to take the mother and the kittens to a veterinary center. While she is delivering keep her area quiet, calm and dimly lit. Don’t become involved in the birthing unless you are certain that you are needed. Once the last kitten has been delivered you can quietly clean up the mess she has left behind. Place a fresh bowel of water and some cat food beside her – mother cats don’t like to leave their kittens for the first day or two. She should spend about seventy percent of her time nursing the kittens. Remember to keep a comfortable temperature in the room – kittens can not regulate their body temperatures during their first six days.
In a normal delivery, strong uterine contractions are accompanied by abdominal contractions and expulsion of the kittens. The first thing you will see is a small, greenish sac visible in the vagina, which will be followed by the kitten. The placenta is still attached to the kitten at this time. It will slowly drag out following each birth.
Although delivery of each kitten can take up to two hours the average time is thirty to sixty minutes. A kitten should not spend more than fifteen minutes in the birth canal. While in the birth canal, pressure on the umbilical cord deprives the kitten of oxygen. If you should see a kitten in this predicament grasp it gently through a soft clothe and pull it with a motion that is backwards and downwards. Grasp the kitten by its hips or shoulders and not by its legs. It is normal for kittens to arrive either head first or tail first.
After birth, The mother may discharge a bloody fluid for up to 10 days. Cats usually lick the discharge up as fast as it is produced. Only become concerned if the discharge becomes pus-like or has a strong odor.
Things To Keep On Hand When Your Cat Is Expecting: Keep plenty of clean towels on hand when your cat is expecting. Go to WalMart and purchase a bottle of tame iodine solution (Betadine) for antiseptic, some Q-tips and a pair of blunt scissors. Buy a package of dental floss in case you need to tie off the kitten’s umbilical cords. A baby nose suction bulb works well to clean mucus from the mouth and nose of infant kittens. If it is cold, buy a heavy duty-heating pad. Serious Problems: You should contact your veterinarian if events do not unfold as I have generally listed them. Also contact your veterinarian if: 1) The pregnancy lasts more than 66 days 2) The mother’s temperature has been below a hundred for more than one day 3) The mother goes off food or becomes depressed, weak or lethargic 4) A kitten becomes lodged in the birth canal for more than ten minutes and you can not dislodge it 5) The mother continues to have contractions for more than four hours and no kitten appears 6) More than five hours elapse when you are certain another kitten is still present in the mother 7) The vaginal discharge has a strong odor or appears infected 8) You counted less placentas than you have kittens 9) Kittens will not nurse or appear weak 10) A mammary gland (breast) is hot, hard or painful 11) Kittens mew continuously, do not sleep and are agitated 12) Kittens are not receiving enough milk to keep their stomachs plump and distended 13) The Mother’s temperature is over 102.5 and two days have passed since birthing