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How Long Can a Cat Be in Labor? Feline Birth Explained

Most experts recommend getting your cat spayed or neutered to help control the feral cat population and reduce the risk of health complications later in life. It can also help make it much easier to deal with your pet, as they can get pretty wild when in heat. However, for any number of reasons, you might find yourself with a pregnant cat that’s about to give birth.

Luckily, cats have been doing this for a long time and should be fine, but we’re sure you still have plenty of questions, like how long your cat will be in labor. Your cat will typically be in labor from 6–12 hours once the cat begins giving birth, but most experts recommend taking the cat and the kittens to get looked over by the vet if your cat is in labor longer than 7 hours. A prolonged birth can put an enormous strain on the mother, leaving her weak, dehydrated, and anemic.

Keep reading while we explain several other things you can expect while your cat is giving birth so you both can feel comfortable and confident about the litter of kittens about to arrive.cat face divider 2

How Large Is A Litter Of Kittens?

Most cats will have between 3 and 5 kittens, but some litters can be as large as 10. If it’s your cat’s first-time giving birth, there will usually be fewer kittens.

mother cat and kittens in a box
Image Credit: Pixabay

How Long Is Normal Between Kittens?

Your cat should produce one new kitten every 10–60 minutes. Any longer and your cat could be going into distress. With this timeline, your cat should have enough time to complete the delivery in fewer than 6 hours.

How Can I Help My Cat?

Your cat knows what it is doing, and there is little you will need to do besides keeping an eye on things to make sure labor doesn’t last too long. You will want to prepare by having a carrying cage ready to go should your cat require it. You should also take steps to ensure the area is quiet and won’t be disturbed by other family members. If possible, you should increase the room’s temperature to make the cat and the new kittens more comfortable.

How Can I Tell If My Cat Is In Labor?
  • During the final week of labor, your cat will begin to select a nesting place to give birth. If it gives birth in the house, it will seek a quiet area away from other family members. You can help your cat by supplying plenty of towels and making sure she has her privacy.
  • The mammary glands will grow and become visible in the last week of pregnancy, signaling that labor is near.
  • The cat’s temperature will drop before labor.
  • You will notice increased vocalizations, pacing, grooming, and other behaviors that are unusual for your cat.
  • You may also notice a decrease in appetite.

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What Happens During Birth?

Birth occurs over three stages, with the second and third stages repeating until all kittens have arrived.

  • Stage 1 – The mom will become restless and begin howling to signal she is in labor.
  • Stage 2 – The second stage is the arrival of the kitten. It can come out headfirst or feet first. It doesn’t matter the way it does for humans. Kittens usually arrive at 45-minute intervals, but it can vary considerably up to one hour.
  • Stage 3 – The mom will lick the amniotic membrane from the kitten’s face to get the breathing started. Each kitten will come out with its placenta, and if it fails to arrive with the kitten, you will need to take your cat to the vet.

What Should I Watch For While My Cat Is Giving Birth?

  • Interrupted Labor

Interrupted labor is common for cats giving birth, and this is when your cat takes a break in the middle of giving birth. It can last for up to 4 hours, and as long as your cat seems relaxed, everything is alright. You may also notice your cat getting a drink or nursing the kittens that have already arrived before continuing to give birth. You only need to be concerned if you see your cat straining to give birth with no results. Most kittens arrive within three pushes.

  • Dystocia

Dystocia is a condition where your cat is having difficulty delivering the kittens. If your cat seems to be straining to give birth, but no kittens come out for more than 20 minutes, you will need to take your cat to the vet to get medical attention. Other symptoms you should look for are a bright red blood flow that lasts several minutes or a foul smell coming from the birth canal. Have a carrier ready to transport the cat and all of the kittens. The vet can help by supplying medication to help with contractions or performing a c-section to remove the kittens manually. The success of either method depends on getting the mom to the vet in time. Cats often give birth at night after everyone is asleep, so make sure you plan for that.

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Cats usually stay in labor for roughly 6-12 hours and will produce several kittens, most often unseen in the middle of the night. However, you should prepare for every outcome to minimize risk to your cat and the kittens. Having a carrier ready can help make sure you get to the vet in time if you need to, and we recommend contacting your vet a week or two early, so you have a number to contact after hours if there is an emergency.

We hope you have enjoyed reading over this guide, and it has helped you learn more about your pet. If we have helped you prepare for your cat to deliver kittens in your home, please share this look into how long a cat can be in labor on Facebook and Twitter.

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Featured Image: abubibolabu, Pixabay