Kitten Care 4 :: Pregnancy & Delivery

Feline pregnancy and the birthing process...

The Queen's Pregnancy.....What Should I Expect?


A queen's pregnancy (gestation period) averages 63 days from the time of breeding. If you suspect your kitty is pregnant, please have her completely examined by your vet to determine her overall health status, nutritional status, and to determine at what term of pregnancy she is. Pre-natal care for pregnant felines mainly involves proper nutritional support - feed your expectant kitty a high quality, nutritionally complete kitten food (i.e., Iams Kitten Food), making sure the diet is properly balanced - no additional supplements are necesssary unless your vet determines the diet is not properly balanced in which case he will recommend to you an acceptable diet.

Your expectant queen will require free feeding or several meals per day, her food consumption may reach twice her normal amount during pregnancy and nursing, so please make sure that food and fresh water are available to her at all times. By the end of the nursing stage, her consumption may even exceed twice her normal amounts before her pregnancy, so do allow her to eat enough to support her own needs as well as those of her kittens. Continue to feed her kitten food during the nursing stage to ensure proper nutritional support.

Your expectant kitty may exhibit behavioral changes during pregnancy and this will be perfectly normal. Some queens may seem overly "attached" to their owners during this stage and may demand more attention, so do make yourself available to her for quality playtime and cuddling. Other queens may seem "stand-offish" or somewhat irritable so making sure her environment is safe, quiet, and harmonious will ensure both her health and emotional state of well-being. If at any time your expectant queen develops unusual or agressive behavior, do not delay in consulting with your vet to make sure she is not developing underlying health problems.

CatHelp strongly believes that preparing in advance for delivery will add greatly to a successful delivery. We recommend that you consult your vet in advance and make sure that he will be available during after hours or be on call for emergencies because emergencies do in fact occur, so being prepared for them in advance can lessen risk for your kitty and lessen stress for both your kitty and you. Should you have questions or concerns about your kitty's pregnancy or delivery, do not hesitate to ask your vet for tips, guidelines, and other information. Advance preparation can mean the difference between a successful delivery or an emergency vet visit. Never assume that a smooth delivery will occur, as oftentimes those kitties who are experiencing their first delivery or those who are small in body structure and stature can be at risk for complications, and other conditions such as breed, can affect the outcome of the delivery.

When in doubt, call your vet!

Kitty is Delivering! ..... Now What?

The Birthing Process

As the expectant mother nears delivery, she will seek out a safe, quiet secluded area in which to deliver. Preparing in advance by providing an acceptable birthing place for her will help her feel more comfortable and secure as she nears delivery. A simple cardboard box, lined with newspaper and soft cloths will suffice and make it easy to clean and remove soiled lining after the kittens have been born. The box should be large enough for the queen to move about comfortably and freely, and also be easily accessible to her. Make sure that the sides of the box are not so low that growing kittens could venture out. The birthing box/nest should be placed in an area that is secure and away from other pets or small children, noise, or distractions. Keep the box in a draft-free area, as newborn kittens do not have a shivering reflex until several days after birth and warmth is vital to their survival. This area should be in a warm room and in an area that the queen will feel secure and comfortable in. Keep the queen's food and water dishes nearby, as she will most likely develop a ravenous appetite during the nursing stage, and she will need to exercise frequently as well. Advise young children that privacy is very important to the queen and that newborns should not be handled until they are old enough to physically support their heads and bodies.

As your queen nears delivery, she may begin to pace or to search for her birthing/nesting box, or seem unusually "clingy" to you. Some queens do not like to be left alone during the delivery process and if she is alone she may instinctively delay the birthing process until you return, so please make sure you are available to her and are nearby as delivery approaches.

Most kitties experience delivery without any complications, but as mentioned above, those who are experiencing their first delivery or those who are of a certain breed or of small size in body structure may be susceptible to certain complications, this is when it becomes important that your vet is available to answer your questions and to guide you. If you own a certain breed, such as a Persian, for example, it is very important that your vet is consulted and available as Persian cats have larger, rounder heads that could make delivery delayed or somewhat difficult for both mother and baby.

The queen will usually exhibit pacing or panting, excitability or nervousness. When in labor, she will exhibit signs of straining or inability to get comfortable in a physical position. Some queens merely lay down and proceed with labor and delivery seemingly effortlessly. Please watch your queen carefully during this time and make special note of any unusual signs of discomfort, extreme stress, or notable signs that your queen could be in physical distress. These are signs that you should call your vet immediately for further help.

Your queen's body temperature will usually drop somewhat within 24-48 hours, (normal = 101-102.5), but anything below 100 may require your vet's consultation, so having a rectal thermometer on hand is useful to monitor the queen's temperature. Do not take her temperature too frequently, however, as this can become stressful on her and do not take her temperature during labor, consult with your vet if you have further questions or concerns. You may also note that she may not eat her usual amounts 24 hours prior to delivery, this will be normal, but do make available her food and water should her delivery be delayed.

Delivery times vary between individual cats, age, body structure, breed, and other circumstances. When the queen experiences the first signs of labor you can usually expect her kittens to be born within one to two hours. However, certain breeds may take longer, as long 24 hours (extremely rare, please see emergency tips below).

After your queen delivers her first kitten, ideally she will deliver the remaining kittens within minutes of each other, but it may take as long as an hour between kittens. It is very important to watch her carefully at this point to monitor for any signs of difficulty, delay in delivery, or complications. Kittens are born head first, but occasionally a breech delivery (feet or tail end first) can occur, and although this is considered normal, do watch carefully and make sure that a breech is delivered successfully. Once the first kitten is born, the kitten will be enclosed in a birthing "sac" and placenta. Normally, the queen's contractions will discharge the kitten and this process should take no longer than ten minutes once the kitten or sac is visible from the birth canal. The queen will instinctively lick the the newborn's face (to remove the sac) and to stimulate breathing and she may "toss" or "roll" the kitten about to stimulate circulation and breathing. Her tongue is also used to clean and dry the kitten. If the kitten's sac is not promptly removed directly after birth, and you note that the queen is not attending her newborn, it is imperative that you step in and remove the sac and encourage breathing and circulation. If this is not performed the kitten will suffocate. Gently using your fingers, tear at the sac above kitten's nose and mouth to allow air and gently rub the kitten along her backside to stimulate circulation. This must be performed continuously until the kitten is responsive and starts to move or cry out.

If the kitten is unresponsive: If after removal of the sac and stimulation the kitten is still not breathing, you can cradle the kitten in your hand, using your first two fingers to gently cradle the head and your other hand to securely but gently cradle her body (she should be laying upside down with her belly-side up). Next, perform a downward swing motion (as if you are shoveling), this allows for fluid to clear the lungs and kitten should gasp for air as you perform this motion, it may be necessary to perform this procedure a few times until you hear the kitten gasp or show signs of movement. Make sure that her nose and mouth are clear of mucous or fluid by gently wiping it away with a cotton ball or soft gauze pad. Remember, these methods must be performed GENTLY, but with enough gentle force to stimulate breathing and circulation. Once kitten is responsive, immediately place her next to her mother for warmth and the queen will take over.

The placenta will be noticeable and this will either disentigrate and pass during delivery of the kitten or the mother will eat it. Do not be alarmed, for this is perfectly normal. She will also chew the kitten's umbilical cord to severe it about an inch from the kitten's body. If the queen does not instinctively chew the cord within a few minutes, you can do this yourself using care not to cut it too close to the kitten's body. Using sewing thread or dental floss, tie the cord snugly to the kitten's body and cut about 1/2 inch from the body with clean sterile scissors so that the cord cannot be caught or dragged about in the nursing box.

Your queen should deliver her next kitten within minutes after her first kitten. It is not uncommon for some queens to deliver another kitten as long as an hour after the first born, but it is important that you watch her closely for any signs of stress, as well as watching the birth canal for signs of a lodged or stuck kitten. If you can visually see the birthing sac or a kitten's head or feet protruding from the birth canal and the queen's contractions do not expell the kitten within a few minutes, it may become necessary for you to intervene. If you can visually see a kitten's head protruding from the birth canal but the queen cannot deliver it through a few contractions, you need to physically help her to deliver the kitten so that kitten does not strangulate as a result from being lodged or stuck in the birth canal.

Delivery assistance: When the kitten's head or feet are visible through the birthing sac but the queen is unsuccessful in delivering within a few minutes after contractions to expell the kitten, you can intervene and assist by performing this method directly during the queen's contraction. As she contracts, gently tear/remove the sac from the head or feet, and then gently grasp the head or feet, using a downward direction (toward the queen's feet) and apply gentle traction to retrieve the kitten at the same exact time the queen experiences a contraction. If after two or three contractions and your attempt to manually retrieve the kitten does not produce results, immediately contact your vet because this probably means that the kitten is physically lodged in the birth canal. Further or repeated attempts could damage the kitten or cause the mother extreme pain and distress, so contact your vet immediately and be prepared to take your queen (and any born kittens with her) to your vet immediately for his assistance. Time is of the essence here! (this is where prior preparations with your vet come in handy)

However, if you are able to successfully deliver the kitten, perform the above mentioned procedures as outlined in stimulation and breathing, and immediately return the kitten to her mother for further stimulation and for direct warmth.

At this time, and during the remaining deliveries, it is crucial to ensure that the queen is attending to her newborns, stimulating them, drying and grooming them, proceeding to nurse them and keeping them warm and comfortable. You should notice that the kittens are moving, breathing normally, and making small sounds such as whimpering, crying, etc. and that they are finding their way to their mother's nipples to ensure proper nursing. Your queen should instinctively take over and naturally nurse them and attend to them, but if you notice that the kittens cannot find their way to the mother's nipples, it may become necessary for you to physically show them, by gently placing their mouths upon the mother's nipples and encouraging them to nurse. The queen's collostrum in her milk is vital to the kittens' first 48 hours of life, so ensuring they are finding their way and that the queen is attentive to her newborns is vital to their survival.

If at any time you note that the mother may be overwhelmed, uninterested in her newborns, or that she is suffering stress during delivery, it will be necessary for you to intervene and step in to hand nurse the kittens. First, make every attempt to contact your vet and make sure that the mother is not at risk for delivery complications, and to make sure the kittens are safe, warm, stimulated and moving about. Once you are out of the woods with any complications involved, then you will be more prepared for helping the newborns during nursing.

Please see our Kitten Care Pages for a complete guide to kitten care, complete with nutrition and formulas, emergency considerations, a health indicator chart, and more.


The following is a guide to help you determine if you may be faced with an emergency situation. If at any time you are concerned or suspect that your queen is developing complications during labor or delivery and/or that you feel she needs assistance, do not hesitate to contact your vet immediately. No matter how minimal it may seem to you, your queen and her unborn litter are depending on you for a successful and smooth delivery. If you see any of the following examples of an emergency, call your vet IMMEDIATELY for assistance.

For The Queen

PLEASE contact your vet immediately if you notice any of these indicators of an emergency situation, do not delay!

  • If more than 20 minutes of intense labor occurs without successful delivery of a healthy kitten
  • Ten minutes of intense labor occurs when a kitten or sac is visible in the birth canal and manual intervention does not help produce a healthy kitten
  • Manual intervention of retrieving a kitten from the birth canal causes the queen severe stress, pain, or other signs of distress
  • Bright red fresh blood discharges from the birth canal for more than 10 minutes (a normal slightly bloody discharge after completion of a successful delivery may be normal for the queen for 3-7 days after delivery, but bright, red, fresh blood discharges necessitate your kitty being fully evaluated by your vet).
  • Clearly noticeable signs of intense straining during labor or delivery or during any time after the completion of a delivery (there may still be an unborn kitten in her uterus, veterinary attention is required immediately)
  • The queen's rectal temperature exceeds 103 or falls below 100 (this can indicate severe infection and other serious illness)
  • Clearly noticeable signs of depression, weakness, lethargy, inability to eat or drink normally after delivery, fever, or inattentiveness to her newborns

For The Kittens

PLEASE contact your vet immediately if you notice any of these indicators of an emergency situation, do not delay!

  • Lodged or stuck in the birth canal during delivery
  • Unsuccessful attempts at manual retrieval of a lodged kitten from the birth canal
  • Unresponsive, not breathing after retrieval from the birth canal or within minutes after delivery
  • Kitten's tongue or gums in mouth are blue, red, or pale
  • Unresponsive to breathing and stimulation techniques
  • Cannot find her way to the queen's nipples or does not appear to be nursing properly and sufficiently
  • Is cold to the touch
  • Is lethargic, not moving about, breathing slowly or shallowly, or gasping for breath any time after completion of delivery
  • Is overcrowded with her siblings in the birthing/nesting box and not recieving enough warmth or enough milk from her mother
  • Any visible and clear signs of distress

We would like to once again stress the importance of preparing in advance for your kitty's pregnancy term, delivery, and care of the queen and newborns. We also strongly suggest reading more on feline health care, kitten care, and other considerations when you have an expectant queen or when you are faced with hand-rearing kittens whether they need assistance during their mother's care or if you have orphaned kittens. Being prepared in advance can mean the difference between a healthy, successful delivery and that of an emergency situation. Always have on hand your vet's phone number and/or that of a 24-hour emergency clinic available in the case of an emergency. No matter how simple or minimal it may seem to you, if ever you are in doubt, please call your vet immediately. Some emergency considerations involve hospitalization, or an emergency cesaerean section (C-section), as well as direct and agressive nutritional care of both the mother and kittens for a successful outcome. Being prepared for these emergencies can help ensure survival and long term health for all involved, so please take the time to become familiar with what to expect during pregnancy, delivery, nursing, and caring for kittens.

Their future is in your hands! ...

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