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How Far Apart Can Kittens Be Born? Vet Reviewed Facts

Vet approved

	Dr. Lauren Demos (DVM) Photo

Reviewed & Fact-Checked By

Dr. Lauren Demos (DVM)


The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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The amount of time a cat is in labor varies, and kittens can be born between minutes to about an hour apart. Sometimes, mother cats can go into interrupted labor and stop straining between 24 to 36 hours before she commences giving birth again. So, it’s very possible for a cat to give birth to her entire litter in the span of multiple days.

While the time between kittens being born can indicate the difficulty of the labor, other factors can help determine how your cat is doing and if professional veterinary intervention is necessary.

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The 3 Stages of Labor in Cats

1. The cat’s body makes preparations to go into labor

Cats go through three stages of labor1. In the first stage, the cervix starts to relax and dilate, and kittens can sometimes be seen moving through the abdominal wall. Cats will also start to experience contractions, but they’ll be small and hardly noticeable.

Cats in the first stage may start to pant and start wanting reassurance from owners if they’ve formed a bond. This stage can last up to about 36 hours.

pregnant cat nipples
Image Credit: Bill Roque, Shutterstock
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2. More frequent contractions and birth

During the second stage, cats will experience more frequent contractions and start to give birth to kittens. It can take between 5 to 30 minutes for each kitten to be delivered.

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3. The afterbirth

The third stage usually immediately follows the delivery of a kitten and is the passage of fetal membranes and the placenta. This stage is also known as the afterbirth. Sometimes, the next kitten can be birthed right after the previous one, and the fetal membranes will follow the second kitten’s birth.

mother cat licking its newborn
Image Credit: Azami Adiputera, Shutterstock

cat paw divider Cats and Interrupted Labor

The period between kittens being birthed can last just a few minutes to about an hour. In some instances, mother cats will have interrupted labor. Cats have the ability to halt giving birth for a limited amount of time. It’s unclear as to which cats will have an interrupted labor, but it can happen if a cat has developed a dependency on its owner and doesn’t want to give birth without its owner present.

It’s fairly common for cats to have interrupted labor, and it doesn’t mean that a cat’s in trouble. However, it’s best for owners to be near their cats during labor to help with a smooth delivery. And to contact a vet with any questions- as kitten birthing times longer than an hour between kittens can also indicate birthing problems, that might require immediate veterinary attention.

With cats being able to give birth to an average of 4 to 6 kittens per litter, in uncommon instances, it’s possible for labor to take more than a day. For the sake of safety, it’s best for owners to prepare for cat labor and deliveries to last a long time.

cat gave birth to kittens
Image Credit: Azami Adiputera, Shutterstock

Signs of a Difficult Labor for Cats

Cats going into labor can raise some anxious or nervous feelings, especially for people experiencing it for the first time. Knowing the difference between healthy and risky labor can help you feel prepared and ensure that the litter is delivered safely.

Difficulty in any stage of labor is referred to as dystocia.

Common signs of dystocia include the following:
  • More than 30 minutes of strong contractions without delivering a kitten
  • First stage lasts for more than 4 hours before the first kitten is birthed
  • More than 1-2 hours between delivery of offspring (except for interrupted labor)
  • Rectal temperature dropping below 99°F
  • Mother cat crying in pain and repeatedly licking the vulvar area
  • Bloody discharge before the delivery of the first kitten

Labor complications can happen for a variety of reasons. Sometimes the fetus is oversized, stillborn, or in an abnormal position.

The mother cat’s physical condition can also affect delivery. Factors like infections, uterine complications, insufficient cervical dilation, and malnutrition can all play a role in complicating labor. Cats with a previous history of dystocia are also at risk of repeated occurrences.

Being in regular communication with your veterinarian and keeping up with veterinary care appointments can help your cat experience a smooth delivery. If you’re ever in doubt, contact your veterinarian or your nearest animal emergency care. Most cases of dystocia require veterinary intervention to keep the mother and kittens safe.

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Cats can experience interrupted labor, which can cause the delivery process to last a couple of days. Monitoring your cat’s behavior and looking for unusual signs throughout your cat’s labor can help you ensure your cat gives birth in a safe environment and has all the help it needs.

If you’re ever in doubt, don’t hesitate to contact your veterinarian. It’s better to be overly cautious, especially if it’s your first few times caring for a pregnant cat.

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Featured Image Credit: Esin Deniz, Shutterstock