In this blog post you will find answers to common questions, such as “how long does cat pregnancy last?”, “What happens during my cat’s pregnancy?” and “how will I know when my cat is in labour?” Felines make wonderful mothers & they usually deal with cat pregnancy and birth perfectly by themselves. Humans getting over involved with the birth can upset your queen or harm her relationship with her kittens. There are many places to get help & advice; your vet should be your first call.
How many kittens a queen has in her litter depends upon multiple factors, such as age of queen, breed & genetic history. For more information on average cat litter sizes please see our pawsome blog.
Traditionally the Oestrus Season lasted from around January to August, however, in some areas this is now a year round cycle. This cycle comprises of the queen being in heat for 5-8 days, followed by 3-14 days off. A queen will be in & out of heat until she is either pregnant or spayed. Ovulation is triggered by mating, it takes 2 days for the eggs to move from the queen’s ovaries to her uterus, therefore litters can contain kittens from different fathers. Queens are promiscuous creatures, if given the opportunity; they will mate with more than 1 tom cat to ensure the strongest litter.
Gestation Period – How long does cat pregnancy last?
The length of time a queen is pregnant is usually 63-65 days. It is recommended to seek vet attention if no labour is obvious after 66 days (even though some queens can go up to 74 days).
During Cat Pregnancy
- Your queen’s stomach will swell to accommodate her growing foetus
- Her nipples will swell & become darker pink (known as ‘Pinking’)
- Ultrasound can confirm pregnancy & estimate litter size at approximately 21 days gestation
- Your queen will nest towards the end of her pregnancy
- It’s recommended that modified live vaccines NEVER be given to pregnant queens. This is because they can cause abortions or birth defects, such as Feline Panleukopenia. You can have your queen vaccinated after she has weaned her kittens.
Caring for your pregnant queen
A fresh, clean supply of water should always be available. Your pregnant queen should be fed a correct maintenance diet (her normal amount of food), until the last 3rd of pregnancy or around 42 days. At this stage she needs an increase in energy & protein for foetal growth. Your queen’s uterus will be enlarged, meaning she’ll have a smaller stomach capacity, feed her an increased amount of food, in small portions, frequently. A good quality kitten food can be added to your queen’s diet during pregnancy.
Your Pregnant Cat’s Accommodation & Kittening Area
There are literally lots of different options here, from cardboard boxes to fancy cat beds! Along with the usual water, food, litter trays, toys & scratch post, it’s a good idea to provide plenty of towels, puppy pads & blankets. A heat pad should be made available (not always necessary but can be useful). You can make a den or private area using cardboard boxes, indoor crates, fit together pens, large play pens or specialised kittening beds.
In the wild a queen would be vulnerable whilst giving birth, her newborns are also extremely vulnerable, so the place she chooses to give birth & raise her litter would naturally be quiet, comfortable, warm & private.
It’s recommended to have a small room, which is private for your queen, especially if you have other cats or animals. Where this is not possible, the corner of a quiet room can work well. The room or area should be disinfected before moving your queen into it, with a safe disinfectant which contains No Phenols.
The area or room should be secure, so that newborns are not at risk of falling, getting cold or separating from mum & litter. It’s vital that newborns are protected from other cats, other animals & some children! Ideally the area is quiet & private for your queen to give birth & nurse her kittens.
Most of the time you won’t need to do anything other than watching the miracle of new life coming into the world. Cats are such amazing creatures & usually manage the birth very well, no mess, no fuss & all by themselves!
Human intervention is only necessary if your queen is in distress or shows no sign of breaking the sac or cleaning the kittens faces so they can breathe. Unless there is an emergency you should avoid handling newborns. If you think your queen is having difficulty, it’s essential you call your vet straight away.
Signs of Labour
Like humans, birth signs can be different in every queen, most however, display the following signs:
- Becoming restless
- Cleaning around the nipples & genital area
- 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 & her muscles, like the pelvic & perineum, start slackening for birth. She may begin to pant through contractions & make trips to & from the kittening bed or area before she settles.
Note: When your queen begins to bear down to deliver, it’s helpful to note the time – if her first kitten is not born within 30 minutes call your vet.
Second Stage of Labour
Your queen’s contractions become stronger & 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: Take note of 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, seek immediate vet attention.
Once a kitten is born your queen should break & remove the sac & lick her kitten vigorously, paying particular attention to the nose & 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 normally eat the placentas – gross to us but it gives her a big boost of nutrients. In the wild eating the placenta would hide any evidence of vulnerable prey being around.
Sometimes 2 kittens come out quickly & 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 & probably sighing in relief! Your queen will settle down & encourage her neonates to suckle. It is vital that neonates are suckling well & regularly.
Note: Monitor your queen & her newborns for at least an hour after giving birth & check (without distressing your queen) that all of her newborns are nursing properly. If any newborns are not nursing properly consult your vet.
Did You Know?
Milk produced by a queen is more concentrated, contains more protein & twice as much fat as cow’s milk!
Kittens are born tiny, blind & completely at the mercy of their mother, they do however, develop at a very fast rate!
Help & Advice
Most queens are truly awesome & cope with cat pregnancy & birth very well, without any assistance. Sometimes, unfortunately, complications do occur, with most common problems in kittens occurring either: in utero, immediately after birth or between 0-12 weeks old.
Note: If an emergency occurs – Keep calm & immediately contact your vet.
Signs something is wrong
These are emergency situations which will require immediate vet attention:
- If there is bleeding during cat pregnancy
- If your queen fails to deliver a kitten after 30 minutes of strong contractions or after 30 minutes of the first bubble sac being seen
- If you can see a kitten stuck in your queen’s birth canal
- If a fowl smelling discharge is passed during or after labour – some discharge is normal but it should not smell
- If your queen seems weak, is staggering, trembling or collapsed
- If your queen has hard, painful mammary glands
- If your queen is not wanting to eat or straining to urinate
- If any newborn kittens are reluctant to breathe, regurgitating mum’s milk, have discharge from their nose or eyes, have diarrhoea or cry excessively
My cat is not helping her kitten – What do I do?
If your queen does not remove the sac from her newborn kitten or if she shows no interest in her newborn, you will need to help so the kitten can breathe.
- Thoroughly wash & sterilise your hands.
- Use a clean, warm towel to remove the membrane or sac from the kitten’s face. Rub the top of the kitten’s skull gently – the sac should break & peel away.
- If the sac does not break & peel away, pinch the sac with your thumb & forefinger, at the base of the kitten’s skull – gently! Pull away carefully.
- Wipe around the kitten’s face & remove fluid from the mouth & nostrils.
- Hold the kitten, belly down in one hand & rub the kitten’s back & body with the towel in your other hand – this is to stimulate breathing.
- The kitten should start wriggling around & being vocal or crying – give the kitten back to your queen & monitor closely to make sure the kitten is fed, washed & accepted by mum.
- If the kitten does not wriggle or doesn’t appear to be breathing – call your vet immediately.