Your pregnant cat looks like she's about to explode. You're a nervous wreck waiting for her to give birth. If you notice her teats leaking milk, relax. That's normal, and means her kittens will arrive within the next 48 hours. Prepare for kitten watch, with your vet's contact info handy.
By the time your cat's teats start leaking, she's been pregnant approximately two months. The typical feline gestation period lasts between 63 and 67 days. By her fifth week of pregnancy, her mammary glands start enlarging, but you probably won't notice them getting bigger until the seventh week, when it becomes more obvious. That leaking milk gives you a good idea of impending birth. If her milk starts leaking and she shows no signs of labor after 48 hours, call your vet. If you're sure your cat has been pregnant longer than 67 days, contact your vet, especially if there's no signs of imminent birth like milk leakage.
Before the kittens arrive, prepare a place for Fluffy to give birth. Choose a private area, away from any hustle and bustle in the house and inaccessible to other pets. Line a large box with newspaper or clean towels and provide a cover for it. She might not care for your choice -- cats being cats -- so keep your closet doors closed and your drawers shut so they don't become the birth places.
You can also take your cat's temperature to determine if she's soon to deliver, if she's cooperative. Normally, her rectal temperature falls between 100.5 to 102 degrees. It drops below 100 degrees about 24 hours prior to labor. Your cat becomes restless and vocal, making trips back and forth to her "nesting" box. She'll lick her privates. Depending on her personality, she could become extra-friendly or keep her distance and seek privacy.
The Big Event
Labor begins with the start of uterine contractions. Your cat might start panting. Keep an eye on her, but don't bother her unless the birth process appears to be going awry. Fussing over a cat during labor can cause her to stop for a while to leave and have her kittens away from prying eyes. Have your vet's contact information handy. Each kitten emerges into the world in a placental sac, which the mother cat opens with her teeth so the kitten can breathe. She also separates the umbilical cord by chewing it. She grooms each kitten thoroughly and might eat the afterbirth. Kittens generally arrive in 15 minute intervals, although an hour between births is still in the normal range. If your cat is in labor and no kitten arrives after an hour, call the vet.
Most feline births proceed smoothly, but there are always exceptions. Make sure the mother cat cleans the sac off each kitten. If she doesn't, you'll need to gently wipe it off the kitten's face so he can breathe. If bright red blood discharges from your cat's vulva and continues more than a few minutes, call the vet. Do the same if there's a bad-smelling, thick, dark discharge. If you can see a kitten or a bubble in the vagina with no birth within ten minutes of serious straining by your cat, that's another red alert. Have a large crate or other suitable carrying case on hand to take mother cat and kittens to an emergency veterinary hospital.
Supply the nursing mother with plenty of food and water. She requires additional food in order to feed her litter. Ask your vet for specific brand recommendations and amounts for your cat. Many vets recommend feeding high-protein kitten food to nursing mothers. Make sure all the kittens are nursing without any problems. Constantly crying kittens indicate hunger. Check your cat's nipples every day, making sure they aren't sore or discolored. If kittens aren't receiving sufficient food or your cat appears to have problems with her nipples or milk production, take them to the vet. Mother cat weans her kittens when they're about five weeks old.
Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.