Helping Your Cat Give Birth

While the average cat pregnancy is an uneventful one, assisting even a normal cat birth can be very stressful for an unprepared owner. This introduction to cat pregnancy and kittening will answer common questions like, "How long are cats pregnant," and will give you the information you need to handle mid or post-labor complications calmly and confidently.

Cat Pregnancy Symptoms

Feline pregnancy tends to be very routine, even in the early stages, making it easy for unsure owners to determine if their cat is in fact pregnant. Many wonder how long feline pregnancy lasts. Normal gestation is 60 to 67 days or approximately nine weeks. While longer pregnancies are not unheard of they are rare. Shorter pregnancies are more of a concern as kittens born after less than eight weeks of gestation are likely to be underdeveloped. With such short pregnancies, mother cats begin "showing" relatively soon, so enlargement of the abdomen should be obvious within the first month of feline pregnancy.

If your cat has been having regular heats every 10 to 14 days and after being exposed to a tomcat those heats have stopped, then it is safe to assume she has been inseminated. In addition to the obvious growth of her abdomen, her nipples will begin to protrude more as well. By the third week of gestation, you should be able to count the number of fetuses by palpating your cat's abdomen. If you want to be certain that your cat is pregnant, a veterinarian can generally find kittens on an ultrasound as early as two weeks into the gestation.

Cat Birth Timeline

As early as a week before her due date, your cat may begin preparing a nest for her kittens. While you are welcome to help her by providing suitable bedding (a box with old blankets works best), ultimately she should be allowed to decide where she is going to place the nest. Efforts to move the nest will likely be rejected.

As early as a day before going into labor, the mother cat may go off her food. This behavioral change is usually accompanied by a mild drop in her body temperature. During the next 24 to 36 hours, the mother cat's body will prepare itself for labor. The cervix will begin to dilate, and small contractions will begin in the uterus. First stage signs of labor may not be visible to humans, but you will know the feline pregnancy is nearing its end when the mother cat begins visiting her nest more frequently. Once you can actually see the muscle contractions in your cat's body birth is imminent, and you should expect to see the first kitten within an hour.

Kittening Kit Essentials

If all goes well then delivering the kittens-or kittening-will likely be more stressful for you as the observer than it is for the mother cat. If you've given her an appropriate diet, kept her healthy, and gotten her situated in her nest the mother cat will usually do the rest. Nevertheless, should there be any complications here's what you'll want to have in your birthing kit:

  • Your vet's emergency phone number
  • Replacement blankets
  • Heating pad
  • Clean towels
  • Thermometer
  • Eye dropper
  • Milk replacement

At this stage it is important to note that many cats have what is called "interrupted labor" where they may rest for up to a day between delivering kittens. This is normal! If the cat appears comfortable, her temperature is steady and no discharge is present then there is no cause for concern.