The Birth – Reproduction

Pregnancy ends when special hormones, sent out from the pituitary gland, set birth into motion.

Up to one-third of all kittens are born tail-end first. This is perfectly normal and these are not breech births. The term “breech birth” signifies a birth position where the kitten’s bottom passes first through the vagina with its hind feet pointing towards its head. So pliable are kitten’s bodies that even the occasional true breech birth usually occurs without causing difficulties.

The first stage of labour may last up to six hours. It begins when the cervix of the uterus opens up and a “wedge” of placental membranes enters it. As this happens, the involuntary contractions of the uterine muscles begin to push the kitten towards the outside world. When these contractions begin, the queen will probably make for her kittening bed. She may start breathing rapidly, panting and purring, but not in pain. A clear vaginal discharge may be seen.

The second stage should last around ten to thirty minutes but no longer than ninety minutes. It begins when the emerging foetus and its membranes stimulate the mother to aid the involuntary contractions with her own voluntary abdominal muscle contractions or straining (“bearing down”). At first, bearing down occurs once every fifteen to thirty minutes. Soon, a cloudy grey bubble, the first sign of the membrane that surrounds the kitten, appears at the vulval opening. The interval between bouts of bearing down decreases, until straining occurs once every fifteen to thirty seconds. The membrane protrusion increases in size, and part of the kitten may be glimpsed within it. With a few final contractions, the queen pushes out the kitten.

The third stage, following the birth, is the expulsion of the membranes and placenta. Each kitten has its own membranes and placenta, except in the case of identical twins, where they may share one set.

As soon as a kitten is born, the queen starts licking it, and she bites off the umbilical cord two to four centimeters (one to two inches) from its navel. Don’t worry if she tries to eat the placenta when it emerges – this is instinctive in many mammals.

When all the kittens have been born, they should be ready to suckle. Make sure that they each latch on to a teat to receive their ration of first milk (colostrums) which contains important antibodies and nutrients.

1. After a period of straining (“bearing down”) by the queen a cloudy bubble appears, which is the first sign of the emerging kitten.

The membrane around the kitten begins to appear.

2. The kitten is now visible within its membrane, and a few more contractions will complete the birth. In about one-third of cases the kitten will be born legs first, but this is rarely a problem.

The kitten can be seen within its bubble.

3. The kitten is born. The membranes and placenta will usually be delivered very quickly after this.
A kitten is born.

4. The mother will lick clean the kitten, rupturing the semi-transparent sac, if still intact, and removing the amniotic fluid from its face. This persistent licking stimulates the kitten’s breathing reflex.

By licking her kittens, the mother stimulates their breathing and circulation.

5. Immediately after the kitten is born, the mother, will all the skill of the best obstetrician, will sever the umbilical cord with her teeth approximately two centimeters (one inch) from the kitten’s body.
The queen chews through the umbilical cord of a newly-born kitten.

6. Almost immediately the kitten will read out at a nipple and begin to suck. Just as quickly the mother’s maternal instincts will surface and she will begin to make a fuss over her offspring.

The warmth, attention and purring vibrations of the queen strongly attract her offspring.

Tending a weak kitten
If a kitten is very cold and weak at birth, dunk it up to its neck in a bowl of water at blood temperature. Hold the kitten by its head and stroke and massage the body gently under the water. After two to three minutes it should become more vigorous. Remove the mitten from the water and fry it with warm towels.

Delays during delivery
The time between successive kitten births can vary between five minutes and two hours. Sometimes a queen will deliver half a litter and then rest for twelve to twenty-four hours before delivering the others.

If this happens, should call the vet? If the first group of kittens were delivered normally and at short intervals, and the queen appears content, suckles her kittens and accepts food, there may be no need to worry. However, unfortunately a delay of this type can be confused with “uterine inertia” where the contractions gradually fade and the queen tires of bearing down, eventually giving up. This condition is not normal and needs veterinary attention. Queens with uterine inertia usually appear more fatigued and uninterested than a purely resting cat, but the difference may be difficult to judge. Therefore, if your queen clearly hasn’t finished giving birth two hours after the last kitten was born, contact the vet.

When to help
If an inexperienced queen doesn’t seem to know what to do with the new kittens, and doesn’t break open the membranes as needed or sever the umbilical cord, you must play the part of the feline midwife.

* If the kitten is still draped in its membranes, simply strip them off with your fingers.
* Dry the kitten in warm toweling and make sure the nostrils and mouth are unobstructed.
* When the kitten is breathing, making faint squeaking noises and wriggling, deal with the umbilical cord. Sterilize a length of cotton and a pair of scissors in an antiseptic solution. Tie the cotton tightly around the umbilical cord about 3cm (2 inches) from the navel.
* Put a double knot in the cotton and then cut the umbilical cord 0.5cm (1/4 inch) beyond the knot on the placental side of the knot.
* Put the kitten in the kittening box beneath an infra-red lamp.

Labour problems
Labour problems are unusual, but if they do arise, arrange for the vet to make a house call, or take the cat to the surgery. Time is the vital factor. Don’t try poking your finger inside the vagina of the queen. Put her into a well-padded box and take her to the vet in a warm car.

Contact the vet during birth

* When a queen has been bearing down for two hours without delivering a kitten.
* When no bearing down at all has been seen six hours after blood or any other coloured discharge appeared from the vulva.
* When bearing down has stopped for more than two hours, although the queen is obviously still carrying a kitten or kittens.

Contact the vet after the birth

* If the queen bleeds significantly from the vagina (more than about two teaspoonful).
* If you see a coloured, white or foul-smelling vaginal discharge.
* If she seems lethargic or dull.
* If normal eating isn’t resumed after the first twenty hours.
* If the queen is still straining after birth of the last kitten and the expulsion of its placenta.
* If the queen seems abnormally restless or feverish.
* If the queen shows no interest in her new kittens.