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Cats are fertile as early as 6 months of age and go into heat every 2-3 weeks during breeding season, which usually lasts from early spring into fall- though many cats will mate outside of this time if given the chance. After becoming pregnant, cats have a much shorter gestational cycle than a human. Cats are usually ready to give birth to their litter within 52-74 days or after an average of 66 days.
You can tell your cat’s going into labor when she chooses a spot that she feels safe and warm, but we’ll get into that more later. Cats generally give birth to a kitten every 15 minutes to 2 hours after they go into labor but this can change based on a few factors.
But could the time between kittens be much longer in some cases? Can cats give birth days apart?
Yes, kittens can be born on different days, and it’s relatively common for cats to pause their labor. Cats have the ability to stop labor for up to 24-36 hours but many can go longer. She will feed the new kittens and act normally during this time, but could still have more kittens.
While this pause is normal, some cats don’t finish giving birth as a result of dystocia, or difficult labor. Still, it is more common for cats to have a healthy pregnancy and delivery than a difficult one, but it’s best to know the difference just in case. But even before all that, it’s best to make sure your cat isn’t just a little on the chubby side and is actually pregnant before you start worrying about all this!
Below, we’ll take a look at the reasons your cat might pause while giving birth. We’ll also talk about how to tell when she’s finished, how to tell when she’s taking a break, and when you should start to worry about complications.
3 Reaons Why Cats Might Pause While Giving Birth
It doesn’t happen every time a cat gives birth, but let’s clarify some of the most common reasons why cats may hit the pause button which can sometimes lead to littermates with different birthdays!
Reason 1: Your Cat Needs a Break
When your cat delivers one kitten or more and stops, it isn’t always something you need to worry about right away. Queens (this is the official term for a pregnant cat) may take a break during labor if they feel overwhelmed or tired. It’s very common for cats to “pause” during labor.
During this time, she might want to eat or drink something. Be sure to offer food and water nearby, so she doesn’t have to leave her newborn kittens. She also may nurse the new kittens before delivering the rest of the litter. Pausing during labor usually doesn’t go on for more than of 24-36 hours. While it’s not exactly known why cats might stop during the process of giving birth for a break, the queen might just need a little rest.
She also might be stressed or feel a little overwhelmed by the whole thing, especially if this is her first time giving birth. Just to be on the safe side it’s a good idea to consult your veterinarian if your cat pauses for longer than a few hours just to be sure everything is happening as it should be.
Still, there are some cats that seem to just be on their own timetable (with no health problems) like this little feline that waited 5 days between kittens:
Reason 2: Her Owner Left Or Something Else Changed
Cats may be more dependent or independent while giving birth. A cat that is more independent might try to hide once they start going into labor. They’ll feel most comfortable in a towel-lined box or another cozy area inside a closet or a private room.
If you try to approach your cat and she seems distressed or angry, she may be going into labor and she may be the type that likes to do it alone. While you should still pop in periodically to check on her, give a queen that wants to be alone during birth some space.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, some cats are very dependent on their owners during the birthing process. They are most likely to find somewhere cozy nearby to give birth. Some cats even choose to have their kittens in their owner’s bed- especially if the bed is already one of their favorite areas to hang out. These are also the cats that will bring you their kittens after they’re born!
If your cat seems to be the dependent type, she’ll want your comfort while giving birth. She may enjoy snuggling against you with her head or being pet. For cats that are more dependent, they may pause birth and wait for you to come back if she goes into labor.
While you can’t always move your schedule around if she has kittens born on different days, you should try to be there if possible. If you can’t be there, somebody else that your cat is familiar with should be there in case there are any problems during the delivery.
Reason 3: A Kitten is Stuck in the Birth Canal
Once you see part of a kitten in the birth canal, whether it’s a paw, the head, or its tail, you should expect that kitten to be born within the next few minutes. This is true with all except the first kitten, who might require a little more pushing as it stretches the birth canal for its siblings that follow.
There are two typical causes of a kitten getting stuck, either a mechanical blockage or uterine inertia. A mechanical blockage happens when the kitten is in an improper birthing position. When a kitten is born with its feet and tail first, the smaller part of the body (not the head) comes out first. This makes it harder for the mother to push the kittens along. In a healthy delivery, the kittens are typically born in “diving” position, which means with the head and feet first. If the head is deviated or pushed to the side, it can also cause a blockage.
When the kitten gets stuck as a result of failed uterine inertia, the mother usually has a complication that makes it difficult for her to push it out through the birth canal because her contractions are not strong enough. This may happen in large litters or if the mother is especially small. Previous breaks, distortion of the uterus, or even a surplus of amniotic fluid might cause this condition.
Finally, a kitten may be caught in the birth canal because it’s head is too large. This is most common in the case of Persian and Siamese cats, who have large, unique head shapes. While the risk of dystocia is only 3-6% for most breeds, it is much higher in these felines.
What to Expect When Delivering Kittens
The earliest stage of labor lasts anywhere from 4 hours to 24 hours. It may even last 36 hours if a queen is having her first litter. During this time, she’ll be experiencing weak contractions as the uterine wall expands and the muscles get ready to push. This can be a little painful, so don’t be surprised if she gets a little aggressive. Your cat will also look for somewhere to deliver kittens during this time. Be sure there’s somewhere private that she’s feels safe and can go into labor.
Once she’s ready to start actively pushing, the first kitten might take as long as sixty minutes to be born. This first kitten helps stretch the birth canal, so the ones that follow usually come a little faster. In most cases, the kittens that follow will be born within 15 minutes of each other.
There may be a break as long as two hours, though. As long as your cat’s demeanor remains calm, you shouldn’t worry too much as she delivers her babies.
What Should I Do If My Cat Stops Pushing During Labor?
There isn’t much that you can do at home to help your cat with pushing during labor. Pressing down on her or trying to guide the kitten out might do more harm than good. You also should never pull on a kitten that seems like its stuck because you can hurt your cat or the unborn kitten.
One thing that you can do if the kitten if born headfirst is wipe away the membranes covering the kitten’s nose and mouth, especially if it’s taking the mother a little while to push. This gives the kitten the ability to breathe while she moves the rest of the body through the birth canal.
How Do I Know if My Cat Has Finished Giving Birth?
When it has been 2-3 hours without another kitten, there is a chance your cat has finished giving birth. However, it may also mean your cat is taking a break. While there is an average of 4 kittens per litter, this varies drastically based on case and some cats have as many as 12 kittens in a litter. Even if your cat’s veterinarian has done an ultrasound, it’s can be easy to miscount the number of kittens inside the womb, especially if there are a lot!
Unless you already knew how many kittens your cat was pregnant with, it can be difficult to say for sure when she’s done giving birth. The clearest signs are a lack of contractions from your cat which are easily seen in the muscle of her stomach. Look for other changes in your cat’s behavior that suggest she’s done giving birth such as focusing on cleaning her kittens, feeding them, or just moving around like she normally does.
Still, if you’re not sure, you should contact your veterinarian to make sure there are no issues.
What Are the Signs My Cat is Having Trouble Giving Birth?
The biggest sign that your cat is having trouble giving birth is distress. She is going to know something is wrong, especially if she is straining to push or in a lot of pain. A cat that has “paused” giving birth isn’t going to be distressed. She may nurse the new kittens, or even eat, drink, and rest until she’s ready to get started again.
A queen that is in distress is likely to meow or cry from being scared and/or in pain. She might also lick at the area or her behind. Some cats even rush around, which may look like they are playing. However, a cat that has given birth is not likely to be up running around instead of resting so this is actually a sign that something is wrong.
Significant bleeding also indicates something is wrong. While a small amount of bleeding is normal during labor, free-flowing blood or a lot of bloody mucous might be a serious complication. Excessive tiredness or loss of consciousness might also indicate that your cat is losing too much blood.
What Causes Pregnancy Loss in Cats?
There are some factors that increase the chance of feline pregnancy loss, like having an especially small litter size, having big kittens, history of pelvic fracture, age and weight of the queen, previous dystocia, or a history of uterine disease. If your cat has any of these conditions, your veterinarian may recommend monitoring the pregnancy using ultrasound technology and creating a birthing plan.
In addition to complications arising during birth, kittens may be stillborn for several reasons. The most common causes of kitten stillbirth are bacterial infection (like salmonella), viral infection or illness, or parasites. In some cases, a cat may also lose her litter from improper diet, ingesting medication that isn’t pregnancy-safe, or chromosomal errors.
What Should I Do if My Cat is in Distress While Giving Birth?
If your cat seems to be struggling, veterinary intervention may be necessary. Many of the complications of birth are something you won’t be able to deal with at home, since you don’t have tools or clear visualization. You should never try to pull a kitten out of the birth canal or “help” your cat give birth, since this can be harmful to both the kitten and the mother.
Your first step should be reaching out to your veterinarian for advice. They may walk you through additional steps you can take of recommend that you bring your cat for immediate help. It will be easiest to keep your cat in a box with warm towels and any kittens that have been born already to bring it in. Ideally, you should hold this box and have someone else drive you to the vet.
Once at the veterinarian, he or she may help your cat give birth vaginally. In some cases, a Cesarean-section might be recommended as the safest way to deliver the kitten. Even in cases where the stuck kitten is stillborn, a C-section may be performed to safely remove additional kittens.
If your cat does have trouble giving birth, it may be best to have her spayed once she has healed. Cats that have difficult pregnancies often struggle in the future. Additionally, part of being an ethically responsible owner means caring for all of her kittens. There are an estimated 50-70 million stray cats in the United States alone and allowing one cat to birth too many litters only contributes to the problem.
Cats can give birth days apart, even when they are delivering the same litter of kittens. This happens for a number of reasons, especially since cats can “pause” their birth for a period of 24-36 hours. They may pause if their owner leaves while they are giving birth or if the mother cat feels stressed or overwhelmed.
Sometimes, however, pausing during delivery is caused by a serious problem. It’s important to be aware of your cat’s demeanor during birth and watch for signs that something is wrong. This might include a kitten being stuck in the birth canal, pushing or straining without a kitten being produced, or fresh blood.
Your cat’s attitude is also likely to change if something is wrong. They might seem stressed, lick at the area, or cry a lot. While most kitten deliveries go smoothly, it’s important to know the signs so you can call the veterinarian for intervention should anything go wrong.
Have you ever had to deliver kittens at home? Did it all go smooth? Is your cat a stern mom or a pretty relaxed one? Feel free to leave some feedback below!