Cat pregnancy lasts about two months, after which the queen gives birth. Although the delivery of almost every creature follows the same contraction-push-birth cycle, not every labor is the same. The famous water breaking sign of impending birth in humans doesn't necessarily hold true for the feline mother.
Womb For More
Mother Nature implanted a need to breed into your cat, and to accommodate this urgency, she allows the queen to become pregnant many times over in the same heat cycle. Each successful mating with a tom releases a new egg, a process called induced ovulation, meaning a queen could become pregnant to numerous males. In turn, each of these successful sperm and egg meetings results in a kitten suspended in its own little amniotic sac. If she's carrying a litter of four kittens, she has four individual little sacs in her womb, each with a tiny kitten floating and developing inside.
"My Water Broke!"
That famous cry uttered by heavily pregnant women in movies is usually followed quickly by the birth of the baby. This “water” that traditionally signals the impending delivery is actually amniotic fluid. In the throes of labor, strong contractions rupture the protective amniotic sac around the baby, releasing a rush of the fluid that surrounded the developing fetus throughout the pregnancy.
In the case of cats, kittens have a two-layer amniotic sac. The outer layer ruptures as the queen pushes the kitten into the birth canal, which helps lubricate and ease delivery. The inner sac typically stays intact as the queen gives birth. Sometimes the pressure of pushing the kitten out ruptures the sac, meaning you may not see her “water break” until she is in the act of giving birth.
Typically, the kitten is delivered anywhere from five minutes to half an hour from the onset of stronger contractions and the appearance of any amniotic fluid. You may not even see the amniotic fluid, as the queen is in super clean mode and licks it away as soon as it appears.
Here Come The Kittens
While still cocooned inside the inner sac, the kitten travels the rest of the way down the birth canal and to birth. Once its wedge-shaped head is out, the rest of the tiny body slips through easily. Mama is there in an instant, tearing open the sac and cleaning her baby to encourage breathing. Once the placenta is delivered, the queen bites through the umbilical cord to sever the connection to the kitten. She may or may not eat the placenta, and either option is not unusual.
She repeats this process with the birth of each kitten. The time between births could range from a few minutes to up to an hour or more.
Watching For Trouble
Although your cat's instincts guide her through delivery, there's always the possibility of something going wrong. Watch for signs of heavy bleeding or sudden lethargy. If she strains for more than an hour with no kitten in sight, call your vet immediately. Keep count of all placentas, there's one for each kitten, as if any remain inside your cat's uterus it could cause a serious infection.
Speak to your vet before your cat's due date to know what to watch for and what to do in case of an emergency. Above all, take a tip from your cat during this period -- if she doesn't seem distressed or troubled, odds are she's fine.
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