How to Help a Mother Cat Deliver Kittens
While most deliveries are uneventful, it is never bad to err on the side of caution. There are many things that, as a cat owner, you may do to help your cat, before, during, and after delivery. One of the most important things is to simply stick around. While in most cases nature will take over, telling your cat instinctively what to do, it is not a bad idea to be nearby just in case of complications. Of course, interfering too much may be overwhelming for the cat, who most likely will prefer to be left alone. But, shadowing nearby to check every now and then may not be a bad idea.
Gestation in cats ranges between 58 to 68 days, with the average being 63 days. Days before delivery most cats will begin to exhibit nesting behavior. This means that she may start looking for places to give birth and even start tearing paper. Many cats also, sometimes, start losing their appetite and may appear more affectionate and clingy. Others, however, may appear restless.
Milk may fill the nipples one to two days prior to delivery. A vaginal discharge may also appear and cats will likely be licking their vaginal area more frequently.
Owners that would like to estimate the day of delivery may do so by taking frequent rectal temperatures starting from the 58th day of pregnancy. Cats close to delivery (24 hours away) undergo a significant temperature drop of nearly two degrees. Normal temperatures in cats generally range between 100.5 and 102.0.
Following are some tips to help prepare your cat before delivery:
- Always keep your vet's phone number handy and an emergency vet phone number for after hours.
- It is a good idea to have the cat rechecked by the vet one week prior to delivery
- Prepare a whelping box to give birth and make it inviting by filling it with newspaper or a blanket and keep it in a secluded area. Warning: not all cats will use it no matter how nice you may make it.
Moments prior to delivery, the cat may appear restless and even pant. The first contractions may appear. These may gradually increase as the delivery process unfolds. Soon kittens will start to be delivered. They will all present enveloped within their amniotic sac. It is up to mother cat to open the sac and start vigorously licking the kittens to entice them to breathe.
In some circumstances, the amniotic sac sometimes is forced through the birth canal creating a bubble full of fluid which may eventually prevent the kitten from normally exiting the birth canal. When this occurs, the sack may be pierced between the nails of the thumb and the first finger. Once, fluids escape from the sac, the kitten should then be delivered rapidly.
Placentas may accompany each kitten as they are delivered or they may be expelled later. There should be one placenta for each kitten. Often, mother cat may eat the placentas.
The umbilical cord is normally bitten off from mother cat. However, in some circumstances, the mother may be too tired or busy to take care of this.
Each kitten is delivered one from another with a pause ranging from 10 to 60 minutes in between. However, in some cases, delays may be a bit longer but it is unusual if there are delays of more than a couple of hours. During delays, a mother cat will rest and concentrate on nursing.
The whole birthing process generally may last up to six hours.
What you should do:
- If a kitten is delivered and mother cat refrains from opening the sac, you may carefully tear open the sack and allow the cat to breathe by rubbing it gently with a cloth. Refraining from doing so may cause the kitten to suffocate.
- Clean the kitten's faces and remove fluids from the nose with a warm cloth if the kitten appears to have obstructed airways.
- If the kitten has aspirated milk in the lungs hold the kitten in the palm of your hand with the kitten's face between your first two fingers. Keep the head firmly while the other hand holds the kitten's body firmly. With a downward swing motion bring the down between your legs, then swing the kitten up again. This motion should help the fluid come out of the lungs and can be repeated as needed. A kitten breathing well will have a pink tongue.
- If the sac appears before the kitten in a bubble form, pierce the sac between the nails of the thumb and the first finger.
- If mother cat is unable to bite off the umbilical cord, it may be tied off with sewing thread or dental floss, then cut with scissors and finally sterilized with alcohol. The correct length to be cut is about 3/4 inch to one inch from the kitten's body
- Count all the placentas. There should one for each kitten.
- Unfortunately some times stillborn kittens are delivered. These should be removed from the area so to not interfere with the delivery.
Mother cat may be quite tired after delivery. She may not eat or drink enough at times. In the following days, she will exhibit a pink /red vaginal discharge for 3-7 days after delivery.
- Ensure the room is warm as chilling is one of the biggest dangers for the kittens.
- Keep mother cat's food, water, and litter box nearby the kitten whelping area.
- Mother cat and kittens should be seen by a vet after 24 hours to ensure all went well and to set up regular dewormings.
When to Call the Vet:
- If the cat has retained a placenta. This may cause a uterine infection.
- If the cat is actively straining for more than an hour and no kitten comes out
- If two hours have passed and you are sure there are still kittens inside
- If ten minutes have passed and there is a kitten lodged halfway through
- If the mother cat appears exhausted and unable to continue delivering
- The cat develops a heavy pink/red vaginal discharge for more than a week after delivery
- The cat develops a green/black vaginal discharge or one that has a strong odor and pus.
Supporting Your Feline Friend
As you now know, there is a lot that can be done to help the mother cat bring her new family to the world. While experienced cats may do just fine, new mothers may need special assistance at times. It never hurts to closely monitor the birthing process to ensure all is going well, and let mother cat know that you are there if needed.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.