Cats can usually go through pregnancy and labor without too many problems. However, if the cat is under a year old, or you have an older cat that has gone through multiple births, there could be problems ahead.
This article will give you tips on how to tell what a normal pregnancy is, and what to look for should a vet need to intervene. It will also tell you how to prepare for an emergency, which if you have a pregnant cat in your home, you should always plan on there being an emergency. Then perhaps, there won't be!
Gestation or the length of pregnancy of a cat averages 64 days. It is generally between 62 and 67 days or about nine or ten weeks. If your cat has been pregnant more than 67 days, consult your vet immediately!
If you would like to be present when your cat has her kittens, begin to take your cat's temperature two weeks before her due date. Do it at the same time every day. Your cat's temperature should be between 101 and 102. Fahrenheit. When your cat's temperature drops below 100F (98- 95F) she should deliver her kittens in less than twenty-four hours. The temperature is best taken rectally, ear thermometers though less invasive, are not all that accurate. Lubricate the thermometer with petroleum jelly. Gently and slowly insert the thermometer into the rectum about 1inch. If it does not slide in easily, do not force it.
Items you need prior to labor
- Clean towels (plenty of these!).
- Blunt scissors (to cut the umbilical cord should the momcat not chew it off).
- Dental floss (to tie off the kitten's umbilical cord).
- Baby's suction bulb (to clean out the mucous from the mouth or the nose of the kitten).
- An adjustable heating pad and thick cover to go over it (to set the newborns on and keep them warm).
- A small cardboard box lined with thick towels (for the kittens if mom rejects them).
- Your vet's phone number.
Nesting areaYou should provide your cat with a dry, quiet, warm area with nesting materials such as towels or blankets 4 to 7 days before labor is estimated to begin. This allows your cat to become familiar with her surroundings. This location should be free of other cats or excessive human activity.
Moving a pregnant cat or changing her environment may delay labor, or cause her to move her kittens. She may even neglect her kittens.
Stages of Cat Labor
- Twelve to forty-eight hours before the onset of labor your cat will seem more anxious and restless. She will often begin looking for a place to nest and have the litter. Cats that are about to go into labor will usually lick their abdomen and vagina persistently.
- There is often a discharge that precedes birthing but the mother may lick it away before you see it.
- You may notice that she stops eating, although some cats will eat throughout the entire process.
- You may see her breathing become more rapid. In some cases the mother will sit with her mouth open and yowl loudly or pace.
- As her labor progresses and uterine contractions begin she will lay on her side and frequently squat and press downward to push the kittens out.
What happens next?
- The first kitten should arrive within an hour after the onset of contractions.
- Additional kittens could arrive immediately or up to 2 hours in between.
- Not as common, but possible after delivery of the first kitten(s) labor and contractions will cease for 24 to 48 hours and then labor will begin and more kittens will be delivered.
Kitten Stuck in the Birth Canal
Good mothers immediately begin licking the kitten, which breaks this sac allowing the kitten to breathe. This licking stimulates the kitten's circulation and respiration.
- A kitten should not spend more than fifteen minutes in the birth canal.
- While in the birth canal, pressure on the umbilical cord deprives the kitten of oxygen.
- If you should see a kitten in this situation, grab it gently with a soft cloth, and pull it with backwards and downwards motion. Grab the kitten by its hips or shoulders, not its head or legs.
- It is normal for kittens to arrive either head first or tail first.
- Each kitten arrives wrapped in a jelly-like membrane filled with clear fluid (the amniotic sac).
- If the sac is broken in the birth canal, the kitten needs to be delivered immediately.
In the rare case where the mother does not free the kitten's mouth from the obstructing membrane you should do it for her by rubbing the kitten in a soft towel to dry it and stimulate respiration.
The placenta is still attached to the kitten at this time. It will slowly come out following each birth. The mother will also chew off the umbilical cord at this time. If she forgets to do this to one or more of the kittens, DO NOT PULL THE CORD, tie off the cord with a length of dental floss and snip the cord about an inch long.
It is important to let the mother do these things herself if she will because through licking and mothering the kitten she bonds with it and recognizes it as her infant. She may eat the placentas, this is normal.
Your cat will probably begin nursing the kitten (s) before the next kitten arrives. If she doesn't, you will want to place the kitten (s) on one of her nipples. The nursing will stimulate her uterus to contract further so you may see a blood tinged or greenish, yellow discharge. After birth, the mother may discharge a bloody fluid for up to 10 days. The discharge will be spotty. If it is a heavy discharge, or foul smelling- get the cat to the vet immediately!
Warning Signs of problem pregnancy:
Any of these signs appear- CALL YOUR VET!
- Spontaneous abortion- there is nothing that can be done. It is just nature taking its course, but the cat needs to be seen by a vet.
- The cat is pregnant more than 67 days.
- The cat's temperature has been below one hundred for more than one day.
- Eclampsia- this occurs about three weeks after the delivery, or sometimes later in the pregnancy. But the queen is losing calcium quickly. Her gait will be wobbly and stiff. She could be irritable, and vomiting. This can be fatal and needs vet intervention immediately.
- The cat is depressed, weak or lethargic.
- A kitten is lodged in the birth canal for more then ten minutes and you cannot dislodge it for her.
- The cat has contractions for more than four hours with no kitten appearing.
- Vaginal discharge begins that is pus-like, has a foul smell to it or appears thick and infected. This is known as Purulent Discharge.
- You have more kittens than you have placentas.
- Mom is ignoring the kittens, and moving them out of the nest.
- Kittens appear to be weak and unable to nurse.
- The mammary gland (breast) is hot, hard or painful. This is known as mastitis.
- Kittens are mewing constantly working the nipples, not sleeping or are restless.
- Kittens are not receiving enough milk to look plump and satisfied.
- The mother cat's temperature is over 102.5, and two days have passed since she gave birth.
Written by Gaye Flagg
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