Normal Labor and Delivery in the Cat


Pregnancy and giving birth can be a frightening, confusing and painful experience for both you and your cat. However, understanding proper pregnancy care can help make the process go more smoothly and help you know what is normal. It can also help you to determine when it is time to get the veterinarian involved.

If your cat is having difficulty having kittens – please call your veterinarian or local emergency clinic. The medical term for this is "Dystocia" which stands for "Difficult birth". For more information, please read Dystocia – Difficult Birth in Cats.


Many people consider the time from breeding to delivery to be gestation but this is not completely accurate. The true definition of gestation is the time from conception to delivery. In the queen, a female cat, gestation is 63 days. Knowing the exact time of conception, however, is difficult since a queen can be receptive to the male before and after ovulation. For this reason, the time from breeding to delivery is usually somewhere between 58 to 70 days. Your veterinarian can help narrow this time frame by examining the cells of the vaginal wall.

Be aware that because your queen bred, this does not mean she is pregnant. For confirmation of pregnancy, an examination, with ultrasound and possibly x-rays by your veterinarian is suggested.


Once pregnancy is confirmed, proper care of the mother-to-be is very important. Before breeding, make sure she is up to date on all her vaccinations. It is not recommended to vaccinate your cat during pregnancy. Also, make sure she is dewormed and tests negative for feline leukemia and feline immunodeficiency virus.

After breeding and conception, the nutritional demands of the mother increase. This need for more increased calories and increased food continues throughout pregnancy and nursing. At the time of breeding, begin slowly changing the queen's diet to a growth formula or a pregnancy and lactation diet. Continue this diet throughout the remainder of pregnancy and until the kittens are weaned. Vitamins or other supplements are not recommended nor needed. With a proper diet, your cat will receive the proper amount of nutrients. Excessive amounts can actually result in birth defects.

Preparing for Delivery

As the time of delivery approaches, you way want to make a queening box to provide a safe, clean and comfortable area for your cat to deliver. Queening boxes should be easily accessed by the mother but escape-proof for the new arrivals. You can use wood, Formica or any easily cleaned building material. Some people use small plastic children's wading pools. Whichever type of box you choose, make sure it is large enough for the queen to stretch out comfortably. Make sure the sides are just low enough for the mother to step over and place the box in a warm, dry, draft-free area. If possible, try to choose a quiet and secluded area. Initially, place newspapers on the bottom of the box for easy clean up.

Once all the kittens are born, place blankets or towels to provide some footing for the kittens. Be aware that you must get the queen used to the queening box before the birth. If not, she may make her own decision on where to have the kittens – and this may be a closet, a pile of fresh clean laundry or even in the middle of your bed.

An additional suggestion is to have your cat examined by a veterinarian toward the end of pregnancy. A thorough physical exam, along with ultrasound or x-rays can help determine how many kittens you can expect. This way, you will know when she is done delivering and not just in another resting phase between kittens.

As the time of delivery approaches, twice daily monitoring of the queen's body temperature will help alert you to the impending birth. About 24 hours before the beginning of labor, there will be a temporary drop in the body temperature. Normal temperature is 101 to 102.5. Twenty-four hours prior to labor, the temperature can drop to 98 to 99 degrees.

Labor Stage I

After the temperature drop, stage I labor begins. This is the time when the queen becomes restless and anxious. You may notice panting, pacing, refusal of food and maybe vomiting. Nesting behavior begins. This is the time to place her in the queening box (hopefully she is already accustomed to the box). After getting settled in the queening box, you may notice her dragging clothing or fabric to the area to form a comfortable bed. You may want to remove any clothing as queening begins or these pieces of clothing may be permanently stained.

This stage of labor typically lasts 6 to 12 hours. At the end of stage I, the cervix is completely dilated. If your cat has not started queening within 24 hours after starting stage I labor, veterinary assistance is recommended.


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