Difficult Cat Birth: Understanding When to Wait and When to Worry

Video how to stimulate cat labor


Bringing a new kitten into the world is an exciting and joyous occasion. However, there are times when the birthing process can be challenging for both the mother cat and her owner. While some may believe that birthing problems in cats are rare, selective breeding practices have increased the occurrence of difficulties during parturition. It is crucial for breeders to be knowledgeable about normal cat birth and recognize any potential issues that may arise. In this article, we will explore when to wait and when to worry during a difficult cat birth.

When to Wait and When to Worry

A survey conducted on over 700 breeding cats revealed that certain breeds, such as Siamese and Persians, have a higher incidence of difficult births compared to cats with normal conformation. Extreme conformation in cats can lead to a higher risk of dystocia, with 10% of Siamese and 7.1% of Persians experiencing difficult births, as opposed to only 2.3% in cats with normal conformation. Understanding the details of normal parturition is essential for breeders to identify potential problems promptly.

Late Pregnancy and Premonitory Signs of Parturition

The average cat pregnancy lasts between 63 to 65 days, although variations from 58 to 70 days are not uncommon. During the final week of pregnancy, cats start exhibiting changes in behavior. They become more focused on finding a suitable birthing area. It is important to confine the cat during this time to closely monitor the labor process. Two distinct types of temperaments can be observed in cats during kittening – the independent type and the dependent type. The independent type tends to seek out secluded spaces away from human contact, while the dependent type seeks comfort and may even choose the owner’s bed for birthing.

The Stages of Parturition

Cat birth occurs in several stages. The first stage is typically characterized by restlessness, frequent urination, and nesting behaviors. This is followed by the second stage, where active labor begins and the kittens are born. The third stage involves the expulsion of the placenta. Each stage plays a crucial role in the birthing process and should be monitored closely.

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Interrupted Labor

Interrupted labor is a common occurrence in cats and is considered normal. After the birth of one or more kittens, the mother will temporarily cease straining and focus on caring for the newborns. This resting phase can last up to 24 to 36 hours before labor resumes, and the remaining kittens are born easily. Some cats, particularly those more dependent on their owners, may delay or interrupt labor if left alone. While this may cause concern, it is important to give the cat time and observe the progression of labor.

Abnormalities of Labor – Dystocia

Dystocia, or difficult birth, can have maternal or fetal causes. Maternal causes of obstructive dystocia include disorders of the maternal skeleton, pelvic soft tissues, or the uterus itself. Foetal causes can be due to malpresentation, severe foetal malformations, oversize, or foetal death. Functional dystocia, commonly referred to as inertia, is the most common cause of dystocia in cats. It occurs when the uterus produces weak or infrequent contractions, resulting in a failure to expel the kittens through the birth canal. Primary inertia can be caused by stress, age, obesity, ill health, or certain medications. Recognizing the signs of abnormal labor is crucial for timely intervention.

Inhibitory Behavior

Inhibitory behavior refers to a late manifestation of hysterical behavior during labor. The mother cat may exhibit signs of distress and appear to give up trying, particularly when a kitten is already partially born. Immediate assistance is required in these cases, as delayed or prolonged labor can endanger the kitten’s life.


While a normal cat birth typically does not require intervention, breeders should be prepared to assist if complications arise. Observing the cat’s behavior, providing a suitable birthing environment, and having a history of previous births and related information are essential. If problems are anticipated, it is necessary to inform a veterinarian beforehand to ensure prompt assistance if needed.

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The recognition of trouble during birthing lies in identifying delays and seeking professional help when necessary. If a kitten is visible but not progressing, immediate assistance should be provided by the breeder. In cases of serious dystocia, professional veterinary intervention is crucial. Treatment options may include manipulation from outside the abdomen, a Caesarian operation, or other necessary procedures.

Methods of Kitten Revival

In some instances, kittens may require revival if they are not breathing or if the mother neglects them. Observing the mother cat’s behavior can provide insight into the steps necessary for reviving a kitten. Clearing the airways, freeing the kitten from the membranes, and providing gentle stimulation to induce breathing are critical in these situations. Various techniques, such as swinging the kitten or mouth-to-mouth respiration, can be employed. Additionally, warmth is paramount for the newborn’s well-being, and appropriate measures should be taken to ensure their comfort.

Post-kittening or Puerperal Complications

After birth, the mother cat may experience complications such as the retention of foetal membranes, metritis (inflammation of the uterus), uterine problems, mastitis (inflammation of the mammary glands), or lactation tetany. These conditions require prompt medical attention and appropriate treatment, typically involving antibiotics and, in severe cases, surgical intervention.

It is essential for breeders and owners to be aware of potential birthing complications in cats. Understanding when to wait and when to worry can significantly contribute to the health and well-being of both the mother cat and her kittens. Remember to provide a warm, comfortable, and safe environment for the birthing process, and seek professional help when necessary. For more information on cat birth and care, visit Katten TrimSalon.