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“Help! My cat is having kittens, and I think there’s a problem!“
When we get that title to a thread, it’s usually accompanied by several more exclamation marks. Indeed, when you think something is going wrong with a birth, it can be immensely stressful.
If your cat is giving birth right now and there’s an emergency, please leave the computer and go call your vet or a local emergency clinic right away. They will be able to tell you what to do and whether or not to bring the cat in to be seen. As with all medical issues, never waste time waiting for replies on the Internet. Act to get your cat the help she needs from a qualified veterinarian.
This article does not provide medical advice. It will, however, provide you with information about what to expect during the birth and when to intervene or call your veterinarian. This article offers a list of possible complications and what may look like a complication to you but is really just part of the normal birth process. Please take the time to read it and be prepared before the actual birth begins.
For a list of everything to prepare in advance, see our article about What to Prepare for Cat Birth.
My cat’s water broke
It’s perfectly normal for the water to break before the birth commences, either in a slow drizzle or in a gush. You don’t need to do anything about it.
My cat has a massive vaginal discharge
The birth process often begins with a white, creamy, pink or clear discharge from the vulva. This is the mucus plug being expelled from the birth canal and is perfectly normal. Your cat will probably lick it off herself. All you have to do is stay calm and keep watch.
When to Intervene: If the discharge is foul-smelling, is green or brown in color or has the color and consistency of pus, it could indicate an infection in the uterus. Call your vet and ask for advice. This can happen before or after birth, sometimes hours or days later.
A kitten is coming out tail first
This is perfectly natural. Kittens can be born with their front part or rear part first. There is no reason for concern.
My cat is taking too long to deliver the next kitten.
Cats can take up to a few hours and sometimes even a day or two between delivering kittens. It’s also possible that the entire litter is just one or two kittens and that the birth is over. If at least one kitten and its placenta came out, check the cat for signs of further contractions.
When to Intervene: If the cat appears to be straining, panting or heaving for more than half an hour and no kitten comes out, it’s time for an emergency call to your vet.
I think a kitten is stuck in the birth canal
This is a rare situation but it can happen. You won’t be able to get to the vet in time, so you may have to take care of this yourself.
When to Intervene: If you can see part of the kitten has come out and the rest appears to be stuck and isn’t coming out despite the cat pushing, you may have to help the kitten out. Use a pair of sterile surgical gloves and very gently grab the kitten by the armpits (of the front or back legs, whichever came out first) and steadily and gently pull slightly downwards, towards the mother cat’s feet, and out. Never pull a kitten by its head, tail or legs. Be very gentle, and if you can’t get the kitten out, there’s no choice but to put the mother and kittens into a carrier and rush her to the nearest veterinary clinic. It may be too late for the kitten, but the vet may be able to save your cat’s life.
The kitten is out but the placenta didn’t come out
Each kitten’s birth should be followed by its placenta being expelled. Give it some time but make sure the placenta comes out (at which point the mother cat will probably eat it). Never ever attempt to pull a placenta out of the uterus. There’s a rare complication where the placenta is stuck to the uterus. If you pull it, you will cause the cat to bleed to death.
When to Intervene: Keep track of the number of placentas and do so in writing. If you haven’t seen the same number of placentas coming out as the number of kittens, or if one of the placentas wasn’t whole, contact your vet.
My cat won’t tear the amniotic sac and lick the kittens
Inexperienced cats may sometimes fail to tear the sac themselves and lick it off the kitten. This is done within minutes after birth, allowing the kitten to breathe properly.
When to Intervene: If it’s been more than three – four minutes and the mother cat is ignoring the kitten, you need to use your hands to tear the amniotic sac from the kitten’s face. If there’s fluid and secretions in its mouth and nose, use a piece of sterile gauze to very gently clean that, allowing the kitten to breathe. Leave the rest of the amniotic sac for the momma cat to handle and just place the kitten next to her.
My cat won’t cut the umbilical cord
As long as the placenta is still inside the mother cat, there’s not much you can do about this yourself. Give the cat time to get to the umbilical cord and don’t rush it.
When to Intervene: If the placenta has been expelled for more than a few minutes and the mother cat doesn’t appear to be cleaning the kitten from the amniotic sac, you should step in. Gently strip the kitten from the amniotic sac (as described above). Use sterile forceps to clamp the cord about an inch away from the kitten’s body or tie a tight knot there with non-waxed dental floss. Only then cut the umbilical cord using a sterile pair of scissors. The cutting point should be about half an inch away from the clamps or knot, between them and the placenta. Remember to never do this if the placenta is still inside the mother.
My cat is eating the placentas, or maybe she’s not…
It is perfectly natural for the mother cat to eat the placentas. It’s a source of needed nutrients and a way for her to naturally clean the nest. However, if a young and inexperienced pet cat won’t eat the placentas, that is not a problem.
When to Intervene: Eating too many placentas could cause diarrhea. Our advisor StefanZ recommends not allowing the cat to eat more than four placentas. If the litter is larger, you should remove the placentas after they’ve fully expelled.
My cat won’t nurse the kittens
Kittens usually find the nipples and begin suckling within minutes after being cleaned by the mother cat. It can take a while longer and that’s perfectly normal too. Some mother cats prefer to have all of the kittens first and only then begin to nurse. Don’t stress over this until the birth is over and all kittens and placentas are out.
When to Intervene: If you notice the kittens trying to nurse but no milk is coming out or if the mother cat rejects the kittens after the birth is over, you may need to supplement with a milk replacer. Check out the article about hand-rearing kittens for more information.
Sometimes the birth itself goes well, but complications appear hours or even days later, so please also take a few minutes to read our article about post-birth complications.
Comments? Leave them using the form below. Questions? Please use the cat forums for those!