Most of the time you won’t need to do anything other than enjoy watching new life come into the world. Queens are such amazing creatures and usually manage the birth very well, no mess, no fuss and all alone. Human intervention is only necessary if your queen is in distress or shows no sign of breaking the sac and cleaning the kitten’s faces so that they can breathe. Having said that, it is essential that if you think your queen is having difficulty, you call your vet straight away.
Unless there is an emergency you should try to avoid handling your queen’s newborn kittens.
Warning! There are a few graphic photos contained in this article!
Signs of Labour
Just like humans, birth signs are different in every queen, most however, display the following:
- Your queen becomes restless
- Cleaning around the nipples & genital area
- Often a discharge caused by the placental plug being passed
- Rapid breathing, deep purring or kneading with paws
First Stage of Labour
Your queen’s body is preparing for labour, her uterus will be starting to contract and her muscles, like the pelvic & perineum, start slackening for birth. She may begin to pant through contractions and make trips to and from the kittening bed before she settles.
Note: When your queen begins to bear down to deliver, it’s helpful to note down the time – if her first kitten is not born within half an hour – call your vet and have a clean, towel lined carrier ready. If you’ve seen a bubble emerge – please see below – second stage labour.
Second Stage of Labour
This is where your queen’s contractions become stronger and actually begin pushing kittens out. Normally you will see a dark, greyish coloured sac, which looks like a bubble, emerge first. Each kitten will be wrapped in its own sac of amniotic fluid (placental membrane).
Note the time when you first see the bubble, your queen should give birth on her own within 30 minutes. If no kitten appears within 30 minutes, take her immediately to your vet.
Once a kitten is born your queen should break and remove the sac and lick her kitten vigorously, paying particular attention to the nose and mouth to clear mucous. She will also bite through the kitten’s umbilical cord.
Third Stage of Labour
Usually after each kitten is delivered, each placenta will be passed. Your queen will usually eat the placentas! I know this sounds gross but it gives her a big boost of nutrients and in the wild it would hide any evidence of vulnerable prey being around.
Sometimes two kittens come out quickly and both placentas follow. Make sure all placentas are accounted for, there should be 1 placenta passed for every 1 kitten. A retained placenta can cause serious infection, in some cases surgical removal may be necessary, which inevitably means you will need to hand rear her kittens until she has fully recovered.
After the Birth / Post Labour
After delivering all of her kittens and probably sighing in relief, your queen will settle down and encourage her extremely vulnerable neonates to suckle. It is vital that neonates are suckling well and regularly, because if they are not fed regularly they may suffer from hypoglycaemia (low blood glucose levels).
A neonate also depends on its mother’s colostrum for Maternally Derived Immunity (MDI). This means, in basic terms, a neonate will receive antibodies from its mother’s milk. These antibodies help to protect the neonate’s immune system, which is immature and can’t adequately protect itself against infectious diseases. Most colostrum transfer occurs within the first 24 hours after birth, it may continue for up to 72 hours.
This is the production of milk and normally occurs during pregnancy. Lactation is influenced by 3 hormones:
- Progesterone – secreted by the corpus luteum within the ovary and causes enlargement of the mammary glands during pregnancy
- Prolactin – secreted by the anterior pituitary gland in the last third of pregnancy and stimulates the production of milk
- Oxytocin – secreted by the posterior pituitary gland during the last hours of pregnancy and enables the glands to release or ‘let down’ the milk, in response to suckling by the neonate
Did You Know?
Milk produced by a queen is:
- More concentrated than cow’s milk!
- Contains more protein than cow’s milk!
- Contains twice as much fat as cow’s milk!
Kittens are born tiny, blind and completely at the mercy of their mother, but they develop at a very fast rate!
Help and Advice
Most queens are truly awesome and manage to cope with pregnancy and birth very well, without any assistance. A lot of owners say they didn’t know their cat was pregnant until they discovered 3 or 4 tiny brand new kittens next to her!
Sometimes, unfortunately, complications do occur, with most common problems in kittens occurring either: in utero, immediately after birth or between 0 and 12 weeks old.
If an emergency occurs – keep calm and immediately contact your vet.
In Part 3 of Feline Pregnancy & Birth I will talk about when things go wrong, if you wish to read about it, please go here.
The Kitten Consort is a small, specialised rescue, I receive no funding & rely on sales from this online shop and donations. If you found this article helpful/enjoyable or you love what I do, please consider a small donation or purchasing something from the shop. Every bit helps me to save more neonates and tiny kittens.