Any birth, human or animal, is a special event. Kittens and puppies add joy to a home just like human babies. Most births go just fine, but if your cat is having kittens, you need to be prepared for the unexpected and have some idea how to handle what could happen. Some cats need moral support and some may need emergency help. If your cat is having kittens, know what to do, just in case she needs your help.
The first sign your cat is having kittens.
The time between conception and birth is generally 60-64 days. You won't notice any changes until her nipples turn a pinkish color about 3 weeks into the pregnancy. She'll begin gaining weight usually during the 5th week. During this time, she'll be quieter. An outside cat should be kept inside so you can keep an eye on her. Most pregnant females become friendlier and may want more attention than usual. She'll sleep more and her appetite will increase. It's important to make sure she's eating well. Mix some kitten chow in with her meals for added calories and nutrients, but make sure not to over feed her. It's normal for her to lose her appetite around the 3rd week for 3 to 10 days. As long as she's still eating something, there's nothing to worry about.
The next sign you'll notice that your cat is having kittens.
You can feel the kittens moving about 6 - 7 weeks into the pregnancy. Around 5-7 days before they're ready to be born, you can see them moving. A day or two before labor starts, the mother cat will lose her appetite and sleep longer to conserve energy she'll need during labor and she'll meticulously groom herself.
If your cat is having kittens, have a birthing area prepared in advance.
Decide where you want her to have her kittens. She may not use it, but at least it's there and ready to go. If she has her kittens in an inappropriate place, you can move them into the area you prepared for her. A mother cat looks for an out of the way place that's quiet, secure, comfortable and dark. So keep that in mind. Other pets in the home, will be curious about what's going on once labor starts.
Shredded newspaper or a sheet works best for bedding during labor. Avoid blankets or towels because newborn kittens and momma cat can get their claws easily caught in them. After the kittens are born, clean out the soiled papers or sheet and put in appropriate bedding that's clean and warm. Make sure the bedding doesn't have areas where a newborn could get trapped in.
When your cat is having kittens, complications can happen.
Labor can be anywhere from an hour up to 24 hours before the kittens are all born and it can take an hour or more in between each birth. But if it drags on too long, call your vet. Most births take place without any problems, but occasionally a kitten can become stuck. If this happens, you need to step in and help. Make sure the kitten is really stuck and it's not just a pause between contractions for momma cat. Take a clean cloth and carefully grasp the kitten. A newborn only weighs between 2-4 ounces, so be firm but gentle. Gently pull the kitten downward using steady pressure. Time your pull with the mother's contractions if possible. If you can't get the kitten out or momma won't let you pull, call your vet immediately. I've gone through my share of kitten births and have only had this happen a couple of times, but you need to know what to do, just in case. If you're still trying to remove a stuck kitten after 10 minutes, call your vet.
Each kitten is born inside a sac containing fluid that has to be removed ASAP so the baby can breathe. If momma cat doesn't do it, you'll have to remove the sac starting with the head. The sac will collect at the umbilical chord. Do not cut the chord without tying it off first. Take a clean cloth and wipe the kitten's nose and mouth to clean out mucus and fluid and rub its body vigorously, but gently, to help stimulate it. If it still isn't breathing, make sure the nose and mouth is clear, hold the kitten in the palm of your hand on its back, wrap your thumb around the head to stabilize it. Hold the kitten in place with your other hand, lift your hands up to your head and then swing your hands down towards the floor. Repeat if needed. When the kitten begins to cry and breathe on its own; stop. I had a kitten I thought I had lost during one birth. Nothing worked, so I moved him to the side. A few minutes later, I saw him move slightly. I cuddled him on his back in my hand and cleaned his nose and mouth again and rubbed his chest until he started to wiggle and cry. So don't be too quick to give up on a kitten.
How to disconnect the umbilical chord from the mother if she doesn't do it.
Tie thread an inch or so above where it attaches to the kitten. You don't want to tie it off too close to the kitten's body. Cut the chord above the thread. Once the chord has been cut, you can remove the fetal sac if it's still on the kitten. Put the kitten next to mom. If she refuses the kitten or if complications develop, call your vet immediately. It's alright for the mother to eat the afterbirth. Most will eat it, but some moms don't.
If your cat is having kittens, she does know what to do even if it's her first litter, but she may need help. Some cats have an easy time and others want you to hold their paw, so to speak. Never hesitate to call your vet if you think it's necessary. It's always better to be safe than sorry. Caution: never put flea control on a pregnant or nursing mother or her kittens.
Sheldon Rubin, DVM., How to Help a Cat That is Having Kittens, howstuffworks
Breeding Cats, Part II: Labor and Delivery, HDW Enterprises & Foothill Felines Bengals
Dr. Dawn Rubin, Feeding the Pregnant Cat, PetPlace.com