Over the next two articles we conclude the topic of feline reproduction. Having already covered whether or not to breed and looking after the pregnant cat, we now continue with the birth itself.
As we mentioned last week, the average length of pregnancy in cats is around 60-65 days. During the final week, depending on their temperament, the pregnant queen normally behaves one of two ways. Some become more independent, actively seeking a dark quiet place of solitude away from humans but, in direct contrast, others will become clingy and dependent on the owner and even choose the owner’s bed as their place to give birth!
Just as with bitches and ourselves, labour can be split into three stages. The first stage, normally lasting for up to 24 hours, involves the body getting ready, including the cervix (the narrow lower part of the womb) relaxing and dilating. During this stage the queen is usually quite restless, more vocal and shows nesting behaviours. Cats that are normally very affectionate may become aggressive towards their owners (something I am sure mothers of all species can empathise with).
The second stage of labour is the actual production of a kitten, rapidly followed by stage three, the expulsion of that kitten’s placenta and the membranes that were around it in the womb.
The queen may take 30-60 minutes to produce the first kitten but it can then be anything between five minutes to an hour between the subsequent ones.
Most cats are very capable at chewing through the cord, cleaning up the kitten and getting it suckling before producing the next one, with many eating the placenta (afterbirth). Occasionally something referred to as interrupted labour can occur in cats where they queen will take a break of up to a day in the middle of the second stage, effectively splitting the kittens into two batches.
When this happens they will normally completely stop straining and rest, take food and water and relax before commencing again.
It’s worth mentioning that problems during labour are rare in most cats although some pedigree breeds will have a slightly higher risk associated with delivery than the average moggie.
A few potential reasons for problems include a relative size discrepancy between mother and kittens (kittens too big for her), the uterus becoming twisted or, for some reason, ineffective at contracting.
If the queen is pushing with no progress for more than an hour or a substantial amount of blood-stained discharge comes from her vagina, then certainly the vet must be called immediately for advice.
During the labour, it is always better to err on the side of caution so if you have any niggling doubts ring for guidance early rather than risk leaving it too late. All cats are different and although these guidelines give general advice as to what to expect, not all cats will follow the rules!
After the excitement of birth, next week we conclude this series by looking at post-natal problems for the queen and how to assist with the kittens.