Every year a number of cat owners learn about the importance of spay and neuter the hard way. Sometimes it is because their unspayed cat escaped from the house while she was in heat and other times it is because they took in an unspayed stray cat. If you are the caretaker of a pregnant cat, there are ways that you can help make sure the pregnancy and labor go well.
Title Photo Credit: Eirik Newth via Flickr
The Pregnant Cat
Not sure if your cat is pregnant? Unfortunately, there are no early detection tests for pregnancy in cats quite yet. The best thing to do is consult a veterinarian. However, there are some signs of a pregnant cat:
- Increased hunger
- Swelling nipples
- Morning sickness
- Weight gain (most of which will not occur until the last two weeks)
- Increased vocalization
A pregnant cat is known as a queen. Make sure that your queen’s food is high in protein (you may even want to add extra protein). Toward the end of the pregnancy, the queen’s stomach may be a little cramped because of the size of her uterus. She will need smaller, more frequent meals to satisfy her appetite. Loss of appetite at any time during the pregnancy (except during labor) can be a sign of medical problems and a veterinarian should be contacted.
That expanding tummy can be a problem for a pregnant cat. If you notice that your queen is unable to reach any part of their body to clean it (especially around the anus), help her out by cleaning the area for her. You may find grooming wipes for cats (affiliate link) helpful. That tummy can also put pressure on the bladder, just like in humans. If your queen doesn’t quite make it to the litter box in time, don’t get angry with her.
The length of a cat’s pregnancy is typically about 65-69 days. As soon as you realized that your cat is pregnant, it is time to call the veterinarian. Your veterinarian can provide valuable insights into what is going on inside your cat and will be able to give you specific advice that is tailored to your particular cat.
Stage 1 of Labor
Signs the pregnant cat has entered stage 1 of labor:
- Restlessness, searching for a place to give birth.
- Contractions begin (you may not be able to observe these)
- Vaginal discharge
- Increased vocalization
Cats tend to prefer places that are dark, quiet, and cozy to give birth. If you don’t want your cat to choose your closet or cupboard as a birthing area, then you may want to make sure these are closed and unavailable. It is a good idea to create a birthing box for your cat – something with sides and large enough for the pregnant cat to turn around in. Put a lining in the box. Some good lining materials are clean shredded paper, blankets, and towels. Introduce this box to your pregnant cat before stage 1 of labor begins so that she can be familiar with it.
Eventually, the queen will find the place she would like to give birth and will settle in. Let her have the place she chooses. Some queens will want social interaction while they are in labor and others will not. If this place is not the birthing box you prepared, you can still bring bedding materials over to her and encourage her to lay on them. At this point, you need to create the most stress-free environment possible. Limit the number of spectators and make sure that everyone remains quiet.
Stages 2 and 3 of Labor
Stages 2 and 3 of labor happen together. In Stage 2, a kitten is born and in stage 3 that kitten’s placenta is pushed out. This pattern repeats until all of the kittens have been born. It can take anywhere from 2 – 24 hours for all of the kittens to be born.
In these stages, the important thing to remember is DO NOT intervene unless you are absolutely certain that something has gone wrong. It may be tempting to try to help your cat because she is in pain, but that could do more harm than good. Call your veterinarian if you believe there is a problem and they can instruct you on how to remedy it. Some problems to watch for include:
- Abnormal, smelly discharge at any time during pregnancy or labor.
- Contractions for 30 minutes but no kittens are produced.
- All kittens have not been delivered within 24 -36 hours.
- You can see a kitten crowning and the queen is straining to push it out, but nothing is happening.
Kittens should be born head first, but it is not uncommon for them to be born feet and tail first. They will be born roughly 30-45 minutes apart from one another. Each kitten will be followed by its placenta (the queen may eat this placenta). After each birth, the queen will tear the amniotic sac and bite through the umbilical cord. If she doesn’t do these things, you might have to step in to help. Here are some tips:
- Put on some latex gloves to protect the kittens from potential infections.
- Don’t use a sharp object to penetrate the amniotic sac. It will tear easily.
- Tie some dental floss to tie off the umbilical cord about 2 inches from the kitten’s body. Tie the dental floss again about an inch further from the kitten’s body. Cut between the ties.
- Clean the kitten’s nose and mouth out using clean towels.
- Stimulate breathing by rubbing the kitten gently with a clean towel.
As the kittens are born, count the placentas. There should be the same number of placentas as there are kittens. A missing placenta could still be lodged inside the queen. However, twins may share a placenta. It is a good idea to report any missing placentas to your veterinarian and allow them to decipher what happened.