It’s an exciting time when your cat is about to have kittens. As a pet parent, you want to be prepared for anything. Some owners have tests at the vet to determine how many kittens their cat will have. For others, it’s a watch and wait time.
They count each kitten, and wonder if the mother is done delivering. It’s also important to note that even the vet can be wrong about the exact number of kittens, depending on the method used.
How to know when your cat is done giving birth?
You watch expectantly as your cat begins to have her kittens. But how do you know when the process is finished? Should you worry that she could have more kittens? What can you expect when she’s done giving birth?
Number of Kittens
This is an easy way to tell if your cat is done giving birth, but it’s not foolproof. If you know the size of her litter, you’ll know when she has her last kitten. Once all the kittens in the litter are accounted for, she’s done with labor.
However, owners are sometimes surprised with extra kittens that the vet missed. It’s also possible for the vet to overestimate the number of kittens. In this case, you will expect more kittens, even though she is finished birthing.
The number of kittens should be used as a general guideline, and not a guarantee that labor is completed.
Once the contractions have stopped, she is done birthing, at least for the moment. Just like humans, your cat’s uterus contracts to push the kittens out of her body and through the birth canal.
You can tell if she is having contractions by placing your hand on her stomach or watching her abdomen. You should be able to feel or see the contractions, just as you would see and feel them with a woman who is giving birth. The abdomen will tighten, and then relax as the contractions occur.
It’s not always easy to spot or feel cat contractions. It’s best to get a feel for them while you know she is in active labor. Then, you can check for contractions later, to see if they are continuing.
Feel the Abdomen for Kittens
You may be able to feel any remaining kittens by gently pressing on your cat’s abdomen. A kitten will feel like a moveable lump. Organs, on the other hand, do not move around. However, kittens are small, and it’s possible to miss one with this method.
Your cat will breathe quickly or pant while in labor. Once labor is completed, her breathing should return to normal. This fast breathing usually goes hand in hand with contractions.
There are behavioral signs that will tell you labor has stopped. As soon as a kitten is born, the mother will clean and nurse it. She may also eat the placenta, which arrives shortly after the kitten.
She will tend to each kitten as they are born, before shifting her focus back to having the next kitten. Once she is finished giving birth, she turns her attention back to the kittens. She will take extra time cleaning each kitten and allowing it to nurse.
She should also be relaxed after the process is complete. She may snuggle with her baby kittens, and even take a nap. She will be in a calmer resting state, instead of the active state of giving birth.
Cat owner’s biggest concern is often a stalled labor. It’s possible for your cat to begin having kittens, and stop before she has birthed them all.
The signs that your cat is done giving birth all indicate that labor has stopped. This usually means that she is finished having kitttens. However, it can also mean that she has a stalled labor.
This is usually nothing to worry about. It’s essentially her body’s way of hitting the pause button. It allows her to rest, and care for the kittens she’s already birthed. However, there are potential issues that can arise from a stalled labor, particularly if a kitten is stuck in the birth canal.
There is another type of stalled labor as well, and it is more concerning. If your cat appears to be in labor, but hasn’t produced a kitten within 10-20 minutes of intense labor, this is a veterinary emergency. The kitten may be stuck in the birth canal, which can be life threatening if not treated quickly.
Post Partum Care
To know for certain that your cat is finished having kittens, it’s best to get her examined by the vet. Experts recommend taking both the cat and kittens in for a check-up one week postpartum.
However, if you notice any signs that she may have a retained kitten, you’ll want to bring her in sooner. Stalled labor should resolve itself within 24-36 hours, and she should be able to birth the remaining kittens. If it’s been 48 hours and you think she still has kittens, it’s time to take her to the vet.
Retained Kitten or Placenta
Your cat’s behavior is the best way to tell if all is well after labor. It’s possible for your cat to retain a kitten or placenta after giving birth. If your cat is doing well after birth, you shouldn’t worry. She should be caring for her kittens. She should eat within 24 to 48 hours after the birth, and get up for bathroom breaks. These are signs she is healthy, and has likely birthed all her kittens. However, there are some signs that indicate a potential problem.
A light bloody discharge is common. However, if she experiences significant bleeding for more than ten minutes, it’s considered an emergency. If she has retained a kitten or placenta, she will become ill if it remains inside her.
A fever and lethargy are common signs something is wrong. She may not care for her kittens, because she feels unwell. You may also see a brown or green discharge in the days after labor.
Loss of appetite is also common. A retained kitten or placenta requires veterinary attention. She can develop an infection, which can be fatal if not treated.
How long should a cat birth take?
How long it takes a cat to give birth can vary greatly from cat to cat, and even birth to birth. However, there is a basic timeline for giving birth. It will depend on many factors, including the litter size, if she’s had previous births, her physical condition, her stress level, and genetics.
Most cats complete their labor within 6 hours once the second stage of labor begins. However, it can take a few days for your cat to birth all her kittens.
First Stage of Labor
This is the beginning stage of labor. Contractions begin, and the vagina and cervix relax and soften. You likely won’t be able to see the contractions at this point, and your cat will not be straining.
She may make frequent visits to the area where she plans to birth her kittens. She may become vocal or clingy, seeking reassurance from you. Most cats will stop eating for about 24 hours before labor begins. This stage can last up to 36 hours, particularly in first time moms.
Second Stage of Labor
This is when your cat enters what we typically think of as labor. The contractions become stronger and steady. You may be able to see or feel them now. As the kittens enter the birth canal, the water sacs will break.
Once the kitten is in the birth canal, the mother will begin straining. Just like human mothers, she pushes to help her kitten enter the world. This stage can last for 5 to 30 minutes. Once the head of the kitten appears, the rest should follow with 1 or 2 contractions.
3rd Stage of Labor
The third stage of labor is when the mother passes the placenta, or afterbirth, and fetal sacs. This will look like a green or black mass. It’s common, and even healthy, for the mother to eat the placenta after passing it.
It’s important to keep track of the placentas she passes. There should be one for each kitten she births. If there’s not, it’s possible she has a retained placenta.
While the 3rd stage usually immediately follows the second, sometimes another kitten is birthed first. If another kitten is coming very quickly, she will birth the kitten, and then pass both placentas.
After the third stage is completed, the process repeats, beginning with the second stage. There’s often a short pause between births. This allows the mother to tend to the kitten before birthing another. There’s typically 10-60 minutes between births.
Litter size plays a significant role in how long the birth process takes. Once she begins her labor, you can expect the process to take between 10 minutes to 1 hour per kitten.
The average litter size is 4 kittens. However, a cat can have anywhere between 1 and 12 kittens.
When to Worry
Despite the wide time frame for births, there are some guidelines that let you know when to be concerned.
Once the second stage of labor starts, and your cat is having noticeable contractions, a kitten should be born within 4 hours. If she has been pushing for more than 30 minutes without producing a kitten, you should call your vet. If you can see the kitten’s head, but it hasn’t been delivered after 10 minutes, this is also cause for concern.
It’s important to account for interrupted or stalled labor as well. If your cat has kittens and then contractions stop before she’s birthed all her kittens, this is interrupted labor.
This can last from 1 to 36 hours. If it lasts for more than 48 hours, contact your vet.
Why does my cat still look pregnant after having kittens?
Your cat has finished giving birth, but they still look pregnant. Does this mean that they still have kittens, or is it normal for their stomach to remain large after birth?
Retained Kitten or Placenta
In most cases, a large stomach after birth is completely normal. However, it’s possible that your cat is still pregnant. A retained kitten or placenta can cause their stomach to look pregnant, because they haven’t completed the birthing process. If they become lethargic, have no appetite 24-48 hours after birth, or a fever, this might be the culprit.
Your cat’s uterus had to stretch to allow the kittens to grow within it. After the kittens are born, it takes time for the uterus to return to its previous size and position. This is the most common reason your cat looks pregnant after giving birth.
The abdominal muscles also stretch during pregnancy. This can also add to the look of being pregnant shortly after birth.
Cats do gain weight during pregnancy. It’s common for them to gain between 2 to 4 pounds. Some of this weight is the kittens and birth sacs, which will be lost during labor. However, some excess fat will remain. This helps her nurse her kittens, which requires a significant amount of calories.
Metritis is an infection of the uterus. It often occurs when the fetal membrane is retained. It can also occur due to a retained kitten. It causes a swollen or hard stomach and fever. Your cat will clearly be very sick, and may vomit. Pain is common as well. You may notice her meowing in pain, or unable to settle due to pain. The pain will likely be worse if you touch her stomach. Metritis requires fast veterinary care. Antibiotics are typically the first line treatment. In some cases, a spay is performed to remove the infected uterus.