What to Expect When Your Cat is Kittening

Pregnancy and birth are a natural part of a cat's life. If this is the first time your cat is delivering kittens, she may be a little nervous, but her animal nature should still kick in and she'll be fine.

Your pregnant cat will start looking for a place to give birth at around the seventh week of feline pregnancy. If you normally let your cat go outside, now is a good time to keep her indoors so that she doesn't look for a birthing place outdoors. Birthing kittens outdoors leaves them vulnerable to predators, weather and other dangers. You should also take care to not let your pregnant cat start to prepare a nest in places you don't want, like an open drawer with your favorite sweaters! The safest place for your cat during the later stages of cat pregnancy and birth is indoors.
Shortly before giving birth, mother cats tend to spend more time grooming, particularly around the abdominal and genital areas. They are also inclined to be irritable or restless, and to wander around the house looking for a good kittening spot, checking out closets, open drawers, and other places where they can make a nest. This is an ideal time to set up a "kittening box" and encourage the mother cat to sleep in it.
In some cases a cat will choose to have her kittens elsewhere and then move them to the kittening box later on. If she shows signs of preferring an area of the house other than where the kittening box is located, the kittening box should be moved to her preferred spot. A pregnant cat can show signs of restlessness 24 to 48 hrs prior to birthing and will start looking around for an area to have the kittens. Depending on how she feels, this is normally a dark quiet place (closet, under a bed, behind a sofa, etc.). Prior to birthing she may also lose interest in feeding and be more attentive with regard to grooming, with constant licking of her belly and vaginal area. A mucous discharge is common; however, this is normally licked away as soon as it appears. Sitting and panting (with her mouth open), as well as becoming more vocal are also common.
If your cat is under a bed it will be difficult to see if she has actually started labor or has just decided that is where she feels safest to have the kittens. Remember, having a 'kittening box' was your idea not hers. Best advice is just to leave her in the peace and quiet and let her get on with the birthing process with as little interruption as possible. Disturbing her by trying to remove her from under  the bed can cause her to 'stop' the labor which could be dangerous to herself and her kittens.
Place some food and water within easy reach. If she has the kittens she may not be the 'sharing' kind, and if disturbed may result in her trying to relocate the whole litter to an area she feels is safer, but which could be more inconvenient for you, or dangerous to the kittens (even to removing from the house entirely if she can and feels that is what is needed, although this extreme is unlikely). Cats need a quiet place in the home to deliver their kittens away from high-traffic areas of the house where anxiety caused by noise or unfamiliar people may interrupt or delay labor. The kittening spot should be dry, clean, and free from drafts, loud noises and bright lights.
The temperature in the kittening room should be approximately 85 degrees during the delivery and for at least a week afterward, when it can then be reduced to about 80 degrees for 3-4 weeks, and finally 70 degrees thereafter. Keep a wall thermometer in the room to monitor the temperature.

It is important to remember that placing these are only suggestions you make to your pregnant cat, as she will ultimately choose the place she feels the safest and most comfortable for her delivery. Placing the three or four boxes in different places gives your cat more choices and allows her to decide which one she likes best. Kittening boxes are commercially available, but they can also be made from cardboard, wood, or plastic storage containers you have right at home. When choosing a kittening box, please remember the following:

  1. The box should be approximately 2 feet square or a little smaller, depending on the size of the cat, and should have a door on one side that the mother cat can easily walk through without having to jump.
  2. If using a plastic container, make sure the lid can be removed for cleaning and to observe the kittens. Check cardboard boxes for staples or other sharp or dangerous objects, and make sure the boxes weren't used for packing harmful substances. The top flaps of the boxes should be able to loosely fold over to offer privacy.
  3. Line the kittening box with tight-weave (not terry cloth) towels, artificial fleece blankets. Some clean, soft kitchen towels make the ideal bedding for your pregnant cat's kittening box. Crumple them up and place them in the bottom of the box. Don't count on using the towels again. This is perhaps the messiest part of cat pregnancy and birth. You should not use newspaper for the bedding as this contains printing ink with chemical solvents which can negatively affect your cat's health, and especially her kittens' health. If you don't have spare towels, you could also use an inexpensive shelf lining paper for the kittening box. You can crumple some paper to form a soft bed on the bottom of the box.
  4. Do not place the kittening box too near a direct source of heat, as this can draw the kittens away from their mother and toward the heat source.
  5. Put two holes in each box. One hole should be on the side and be big enough to allow your pregnant cat easy access. The other hole is smaller and is for you to observe your pregnant feline during and after labor.

Your cat will ultimately only use one box at a time, but you'll want to place the three or four kittening boxes in different locations to allow your feline to choose her favorite. You'll also want to save the extra boxes in case the first box becomes too soiled for the kittens. If this is your first cat pregnancy and birth, you may want to consult your veterinarian for additional information and helpful tips.

Is your cat pregnant, or did she recently give birth? Please share any other beneficial tips you found were helpful in making the process as comfortable and relaxed for "mommy cat" to give birth.

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1 Response

  1. dani says:

    There is a stray cat that comes around my mother's house just to eat and then she takes off. My mother and another neighbor thinks she is pregnant? I've never owned a female cat so how can I tell if she is pregnant by looking at her.

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