Few things are as exciting as watching your cat bring kittens into the world. It’s a joyous time, but also an uncertain one. Most cats have kittens with no serious complications, but it’s extremely important to know what’s normal, and when you should be concerned.
Can a cat have kittens days apart?
You expect your cat to begin giving birth and birth all her kittens in a relatively timely manner. It’s very surprising to go to sleep with a certain number of kittens, and find more when you wake up in the morning. It’s even more surprising if your cat gives birth to more kittens 24 hours later, long after you are sure the birthing process is complete.
The Birthing Process
To understand how kittens can be born days apart, it’s important to understand the labor process. Each kitten is in its own fetal sac. This sac acts as a fluid filled bubble. It keeps the kitten safe inside. Each kitten also has a placenta, which connects directly to the mother. The placenta provides the nutrition the fetus needs while in the womb.
The kittens are spaced at different uterine horns in the uterus. You can think of the uterus as a oblong balloon. It stretches to accommodate the kittens.
When labor begins, the uterus starts contracting. The kittens are pushed through the uterus and down the birth canal, finally arriving in the world.
Stages of Labor
Just like humans, your cat’s labor will progress in stages. Knowing these stages can help you monitor your cat, and know where she is in the birthing process.
Contractions begin during the first stage of labor. Muscles in the uterus, vagina, and perineum relax. Contractions are intermittent, and may not be noticeable during this stage.
Your cat may visit their kittening bed often. You may notice panting, or an increased need for affection. It’s common for the cat to stop eating during this stage as well. The stage can last for up to 36 hours for first-time moms. It’s usually shorter with subsequent litters.
The second stage of labor is often known as active labor. During this stage, the cat will birth the kitten. Contractions become stronger and steady. These contractions push the kitten into the birth canal. The water bag will break, but the inner membrane around the kitten stays intact.
At this point, you should be able to see your cat straining with contractions. Once the second stage begins, the kitten is typically born within 30 minutes. Once the head has passed through and is visible, the rest of the body should come quickly, with one or two contractions.
During the third stage of labor, the mother passes the fetal membranes and placenta. This is often referred to as after birth. Once this is passed, the cat may eat the placenta, after cleaning her kitten.
Assuming your cat has more than one kitten, the process will restart with the second stage after the third stage is complete. It is possible for two kittens to come in quick succession, delaying the passing of afterbirth.
The interval between the third stage and repeating of the second stage usually ranges from 10 minutes to 1 hour. The process should repeat until all kittens are born.
In most cases, when a cat has kittens more than a few hours apart, it’s due to an interrupted labor. It was once considered a medical emergency for human women, but as medical understanding has grown, this has changed.
Most medical professionals now believe it’s a natural part of labor, for humans as well as other mammals. Birthing babies is hard work. It’s taxing on the body. When labor stops temporarily, it provides a recovery period.
This recovery period may be even more essential for cats than it is for humans. A cat must clean each kitten after birth. An interruption in labor gives the mother time to get her newborn kittens cleaned and settled in before she brings the remaining kittens into the world.
Longer interruptions provide the cat with a much needed rest. If it’s a true interrupted labor, all signs of labor will stop. The cat will nurse her kittens, eat, and sleep if time allows. She will appear to be done birthing, even though she has more kittens to deliver.
When her body is ready, the labor will begin again. She will typically go from no signs of labor to the second stage very quickly, and should birth all remaining kittens during this time.
When to Worry
Interrupted labor is perfectly normal, and nothing to be concerned about. However, there are signs that your cat is having a difficult birth, and may need medical help.
If your cat is in intense labor for more than 20 minutes without producing a kitten, this can indicate a serious problem. Once you can see the kitten’s head, you should be concerned if it isn’t delivered within 10 minutes.
If the kitten appears trapped, you may try gently tugging to add the mother. If this causes her pain, she will need immediate veterinary care. This indicates the kitten is stuck, and she will not be able to deliver on her own.
You should also watch for signs of illness. Depression, lethargy, and not caring for her new kittens are signs something is wrong. You should also contact the vet if her temperature is higher than 103 rectally. This indicates a fever, and can be a sign of a serious infection.
Lastly, call the vet if she is bleeding fresh blood for more than 10 minutes. Birthing is a messy process, and some blood can be expected. However, continued blood loss can be life threatening, and indicates a medical emergency.
The vast majority of cats birth their kittens with no problems. However, complications can occur. The most common complications are obstruction and inertia.
When obstruction occurs, the kitten can’t pass through the birth canal. Obstruction can be either maternal or fetal. Severe constipation, a broken and healed pelvis, and uterine torsion.
Fetal causes of obstruction include malformation or birth defects, improper presentation, and fetal death. The fetus may also be larger than normal.
Any of these factors can cause the cat to be unable to deliver the kitten. She will strain, attempting to birth the kitten, but will be unable to do so. This requires immediate veterinary intervention.
Inertia is the other common cause of birth complications. This means that the uterus is contracting weakly or not at all. Contractions are required to push the kittens into and through the birth canal. Essentially, the mother will be in the first stage of labor, unable to progress to the second stage.
She may be distressed. This can include demanding attention, crying, or appearing frantic. It is more common in older cats, overweight cats, and those who are sensitive to stress.
Inertia usually requires veterinary care. Medications to increase contractions may be given. A c-section is sometimes required for delivery.
How far apart do cats have kittens?
Most kittens are born within 10 to 60 minutes of the last kitten. Once labor begins and the first kitten is born, things progress smoothly. The entire birth usually takes between 2-6 hours. In the case of interrupted labor, it’s not uncommon for a cat to go 24 to 36 hours between births.
Sage the Rescue Cat
It’s very rare to hear of a cat birthing kittens more than 36 hours apart, but it does happen. Sage the rescue cat was very sick when she arrived at the shelter. She had 3 premature kittens that she was unable to care for because she was so sick herself.
The kittens unfortunately didn’t survive, despite receiving excellent care. However, something miraculous happened. Sage recovered well. 8 days after she entered the shelter, she went into labor.
A veterinarian confirmed that Sage was indeed pregnant with a kitten. The extra time in the womb had allowed it to grow, and it was uncertain if Sage would be able to have a natural birth.
The next night, Sage birthed the kitten, who the team named Milkshake. Milkshake was born approximately 2 weeks after his brothers and sisters. This is the longest time between births of the same litter currently on record.
Mother and kitten did very well, with Milkshake hitting developmental milestones early. It’s believed that he was born about a week overdue, which explains his size and accelerated development. Sage and Milkshake don’t concern themselves with such technicalities. They are happy, healthy, and together, which is all that matters to the pair.
How to tell if a cat still has kittens inside?
It’s important to know if your cat still has kittens inside. You’ll want to be sure that all kittens are born safely, and the mom and kitten are healthy. Cat births are generally a hands-off process for owners, but a watchful eye is always warranted.
Some cats are obviously still pregnant after giving birth. Their stomachs are still bulging as they were before labor. However, this isn’t a foolproof method. A kitten may be inside, but not visible from the outside.
You may or may not notice signs of labor if your cat still has kittens. If they are licking themselves frequently and reluctant to leave the kittening area, they may still have kittens.
However, it’s perfectly normal for a cat to act as if the labor is complete with interrupted labor, so you can’t rely on behavior alone to signal she is done birthing.
The best way to determine if your cat still has kittens inside, short of a trip to the vet, is by touch. First, feel her stomach. Gently touch and press lightly. If you feel a bulge, it is likely a kitten.
Second, you can feel the perinium. The perineum is located right below the tail. Again, use a gentle touch. If you feel a bulge, there should be another kitten on their way soon.
If you want to know for sure if your cat still has kittens, this is the only way to know for certain. Your vet can perform an ultrasound or X-ray. This can tell you how many kittens are inside, if any.
Can cats have just one kitten?
It’s rare for a cat to have only one kitten, but it does occur. If your cat only births one kitten, it’s wise to keep a close eye on her. Interrupted labor is a possibility, because it is more common than a cat only producing one kitten.
If your cat only has one kitten, it’s a good idea to check to see if there are more kittens inside. If you choose the wait and see approach, you can wait up to 36 hours. If you suspect she has more kittens, it’s best to bring her to the vet. Waiting more than 36 hours can pose risks to mom and kittens.
It can be a tough situation. You don’t want to disturb the mother and her newborn kitten unless it is absolutely necessary. However, you don’t want to risk your cat or other potential kittens either. If you have any doubts about the labor, it’s always best to speak with your veterinarian about the next steps.
How many kittens can cats have?
Kittens can have a litter ranging from 1 to 12 kittens. 4 is the most common litter size. Some pedigree breeds, including oriental Burmese, and Siamese are more likely to produce large litters.