Feline gestation period: when will my cat give birth?

Understanding when your cat is likely to give birth is important so you can make sure you can keep her company

A kitten in the womb

When will my cat give birth?

If your cat is pregnant and you are eagerly awaiting her kittens, you will be desperately trying to work out when your cat will give birth and the average feline gestation period is the best place to start.   It is useful to know when your cat is likely to give birth, so you can arrange to be around to support her and in case there are any problems. Cases of difficult births are quite rare in cats, but do happen, and the more extreme breeds such as Siamese and Persian cats have much higher incidences of birth problems, presumably because they have been so selectively bred for unusual head shapes and bone structures, so the natural birthing process is pushed to its limits. Thankfully, the British Shorthair is generally a very healthy breed with few birthing problems. This is why it is important that we do not breed for very flat faces, as this would lead to higher rates of birthing problems. Read more about very flat faced cats.

The feline gestation period

The average feline gestation period is 65 days from mating, but kittens can be born from day 60 through to day 70 of the pregnancy. Kittens born before day 60 will probably be too small to survive. If your cat gets to day 70 of her pregnancy and there are still no signs of labour, then it may be time to call your vet and get their advice. Kittens born early do not do very well, whereas kittens born late tend to do very well, unless they get too big to be birthed naturally. That is why if a cat gets to day 70 a vet trip is in order, and possibly a cesarean section.  Oxytocin can be given to cats to aid with the birthing process, or to speed it up, but should never be given unless active labour has started. If it is given before active labour commences it can either rupture the womb, or cause the uterus to clamp down on the kittens, preventing them getting out and actually crushing them. Feline gestation period varies slightly from breed to breed. British Shorthair cats tend to have a 65 day feline gestation period.

If the mating was planned, then you will be able to work out precisely when your cat is due.  If the mating was not planned, then think about when you last noticed your cat had signs of being in heat/on call. This would include being very vocal, trying to get outside and being more affectionate than usual. You can guess that your cat mated the first time she went outside when she was last on call. Work out the dates to give you a guideline to your feline gestation period.

You can also consider when your cat started showing signs of pregnancy: pinking up occurs at around 7-14 days, your cat should start to show at around 5 weeks, and you should start to see the kittens moving inside her at around 7.5 weeks. Of course, every cat is different, so these signs are guidelines only, but if you don’t know the exact date of the mating, every piece of information is useful!

feline gestation period when will my cat give birth

Signs of cat labor

There are 3 stages to feline labor:

Stage 1: the cervix and uterus basically relax, ready for birth and the uterus gently contracts, which pushes the kittens down towards the birth canal. This stage can last 12-36 hours, and the signs are subtle. Signs can include:

  • Losing the mucus plug: your cat may have a small amount of discharge, which is the mucus plug coming out ready for the kittens to pass through. This marks the start of stage 1 of labour. Your cat will usually lick herself clean pretty quickly, so you may not notice the mucus plug coming out. It will be a small amount of green or pink-ish discharge, usually around the size of a two pence piece. Once the mucus plug has been lost, the first kitten will usually arrive within 24-48 hours, but it can vary and a maiden queen may take longer. If your cat loses her mucus plug and there are no kittens more than 48 hours later, it is worth calling the vet. The mucus plug prevents bacteria from entering through the cervix, so if it is lost and the pregnancy continues for days, it can be a risk to the pregnancy.

  • Being more affectionate

  • Grooming herself more than usual

  • Nesting behaviour, which includes looking for a suitable nest, and re-arranging the bedding in the nest

  • Restlessness: particularly lots of scratching in her litter tray. We have noticed that this usually happens the day before the kittens arrive. 

  • Kitten movement, usually a sort of bubbling or rippling movement

  • She may stop eating, or eat much less than usual, although none of our cats have ever exhibited this behaviour!

  • You might see some slight contractions, but they are probably too subtle for you to notice. A contraction will probably look like a slight, jerky movement: her feet may just move about an inch every now and again

  • Your cat may have a loose stool

Of course, not every cat will have all or any of these signs, but most cats will exhibit at least a few of these behaviours

Stage 2 and Stage 3

These two stages tend to happen together. Stage 2 is the birth of the kittens. The uterus contracts much more strongly and pushes the kittens out. The kitten will be in a protective mucus membrane. The kittens can come out head first or feet first and either way is normal. The queen will lick the kitten, removing the mucus membrane and biting through the umbilical cord of the kitten. It normally takes between 5 and 30 minutes to deliver each kitten. If your cat is actively straining for more than 30 minutes and no kitten appears, or looks in serious distress at any point, contact your veterinarian.

Stage 3 is when the placentas are passed. Often each placenta will be passed after each kitten is born, but sometimes 2 or more kittens can be born before the placentas are passed. Occasionally twins may share a placenta. If you can, try to count the placentas as they come out, and make sure there are the same number as there are kittens - a placenta left inside a cat can cause serious health issues and needs a vet trip.

Read more about breeding and kitten birth....

- how many kittens is my cat having?

- is my cat pregnant?

- cat colour genetics 

- litter tray hygiene