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Normal Feline Birth and Dystocia

cat_persianAwaiting new kitty arrivals is pretty exciting! Mama cat probably does not want company to come calling, though, at least right away. An observer should stay quiet and watch from a distance unless the queen moves over closer for support.

Normal feline birth has three phases, discussed below.

First Stage of Feline Birth: Preparations

This is a time for the mom cat to do final preparations. She begins to feel the changes in hormones that signal impending birth, and she gets restless, may pace or call out, will enter her box to shift the material around, digging and pulling (nesting behavior), and may lose her appetite. Inside, her uterus is starting to contract against the cervix, the sealed opening which connects with the birth canal. She may also make digging movements on the floor and crouch down as if to do her business, or she may just sit and groom herself a lot. This can be a short phase, or it might go on for up to a day.

Second Stage of Feline Birth: Kitten Delivery

The queen's restless behavior may continue, and as the kittens come along, she will lick them dry and nudge them to the nipple. Kittens may come facing forward or backward, and generally, they come out at intervals of about 10-30 minutes, though there is a wide range of normal here. A typical litter will be delivered in a few hours to a half day, though in some cases, the queen will seem to stop her delivery, and up to a day or so can pass before the rest of the litter arrives. This happens more commonly with first time mother cats, nervous cats, or in circumstances where the queen feels threatened. For instance, it might occur if the family dog approaches her nesting box or the human family hovers over and is noisy.

Third Stage of Feline Birth: Placenta Delivery

The placenta is the tissue that binds the kittens to the mom cat’s uterus, and these pass out after the kittens. Sometimes, each placenta will be expelled as each kitten arrives; other times, they will all come out later. If the queen eats this tissue, this is considered normal behavior and will not harm her at all.

Dystocia: Problems with Kittens' Birth

Complications of birth are rare in cats. Dystocia means difficult birth, and though cats sometimes require professional assistance or a C-section surgery to deliver kittens, the general trend is for them to have very high success rates on their own.

A runt or dead kitten is not unusual to find within a normal litter, so this should not be a cause for concern, though the runt may require some extra care to help it “catch up” to its siblings. A typical litter is 4-5 live kittens, though litters may be larger, and there is a reported record litter size of 19.

If there seems to be a kitten caught in the birth canal, call your veterinarian for advice first. Have some sterile gel lubricant, sterile surgical gloves, an ear syringe, and a clean towel on hand just in case you are asked to assist. If a kitten does not take a breath and the membranes remain over the face, the sac may be broken immediately if the mom cat does not stop to attend the newborn. When the kitten is breathing, it should be offered to the queen to groom. If the kitten does not begin to breathe, removing the fluid from the face and nostrils and suctioning fluid from the mouth, along with a vigorous body rub may be necessary. If swinging the kitten is advised, do it very gently to avoid injury. Remember, Mom knows best, so leave it to the cat unless you are sure that she has decided to ignore the kitten and your vet advises you to assist!

If kittens are not surviving, or a number are stillborn, it is important to have them taken to the veterinarian to establish the cause of death.

Note that a queen can enter estrus and breed even while nursing, so it is important to make sure she cannot get near a tomcat again at this time. Breeding queens are usually retired from a cattery breeding program by 7-8 years of age, though they can conceive later in life.

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Queen Cycling and Mating

Normal Feline Reproductive Behavior

Early Neutering for Cats

Worms in Cats: Feline Intestinal Parasites

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