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How Do You Know When Cat Labor Is Over? 6 Signs to Look For


May 11, 2023
Cat and her kittens in a box


Cat and her kittens in a box
Dr. Paola Cuevas Photo

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If this is your first time presiding over a cat in labor and you’re unfamiliar with the signs, it can be tricky to know exactly when the birthing process is over. On average, cats are in labor for between 4 and 16 hours, but it can take even longer in some cases, and give birth to 4–6 kittens, but sometimes more or less.

In this post, we’ll reveal the signs that your cat may have finished giving birth or is nearing the end of the process, so you know what to look for when the time comes.


The 6 Signs That Cat Labor Is Over

1. Nursing and Grooming the Litter

After each kitten is born, the mother will typically give them a quick clean to clear their nose and mouth and remove them from the amniotic sac if they are still inside it at that point (you’ll have to do this if she doesn’t do it herself). This is a resting phase between kittens that typically lasts anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour, but it sometimes lasts up to 4 hours.

However, when the cat is nearing the end of labor or has finished the process, she will start to focus her attention on grooming her entire litter more thoroughly and bonding with them. The kittens should also start to suckle from her.

Interrupte Labor

On rare occasions, some queens go through what is known as interrupted labor, a resting stage of 24-36 hours between the births of the first kittens and the rest of the litter. Interrupted labor is normal. After delivering some kittens, the queen will stop straining, take a rest, feed the newly born kittens, and even eat and drink. This occurs even though she still has more kittens to deliver. After the resting stage, the straining recommences and the remainder of the litter is born normally.

Newborn kittens and a rare female ginger cat. Ginger queen nursing newborns
Credit: NataVilman, Shutterstock

2. She’s Calm

Prior to giving birth, cats often become restless and agitated. While in labor, the mother will experience contractions that cause her to strain, pant, cry out, and yowl because, simply put, she’s having a pretty rough time. When she’s done giving birth, she will become much more serene, content, and focused on her newborns.

She will need plenty of rest and space to bond with her litter. You can help by providing her with a calm, quiet, and comfortable space to give birth in and spend time after the birth. Kittening/nesting boxes are great for this purpose.

3. She’s Breathing Normally

During labor, the mother will breathe heavily (pant) and quickly from the effort she’s having to exert. If she’s still panting at any stage during labor, she likely hasn’t yet finished giving birth. If, however, her breathing has returned to normal, she may be done.

We use the word “may” because, as mentioned, there are sometimes resting phases between the birth of each kitten or several kittens at once in some cases. During these resting phases, the mother may seem completely calm and content, but the birth may not be over yet.

orange tabby kitten smelling mother cat's ear
Image Credit: Prasad Panchakshari, Unsplash

4. A Few Hours Have Passed Without a Kitten

Resting phases between kitten births last 10 minutes to an hour as a rule, but they can last up to 4 hours in some cases, and the labor process can even extend up to 36 hours. If a few hours have passed since the birth of the last kitten and your cat is calm, relaxed, and resting or attending to her litter, she might have finished giving birth.

However, if your cat has been straining for more than 20–30 minutes without giving birth to a kitten, contact your vet right away, as this could mean there’s an issue preventing the kitten from being born.

If you can still see movement in the cat’s belly, she may have interrupted her labor.

5. All Placentas Have Been Passed

Placentas are usually expelled around 15 minutes after a single kitten or two or three kittens at once are born. If a placenta or placentas are not passed within 15 minutes, there could be more kittens to come.

Another possible reason for this happening is a stuck placenta, so if the placenta doesn’t appear in a timely manner, you should contact your vet in case it’s stuck inside the uterus.

red cat with newborn kittens
Image Credit: Tiplyashina Evgeniya, Shutterstock

6. The Mother Is Hungry

In the hours that follow labor, the mother cat may start to regain her appetite. Some cats start eating again shortly after labor is over, but some refuse food for up to 24 hours. This is normal, so don’t worry.


Signs of Birthing Complications

The medical term for difficult birth is dystocia. Dystocia can be caused by a number of issues, including (but not limited to) a fetus that’s too large or has an abnormal posture and uterine inflammation. Below are some of the signs of dystocia. Please contact your vet if you spot any of these signs:

  • Bleeding (more than just a few drops).
  • Straining for 20–30 minutes without giving birth to a kitten.
  • More than 2 hours have passed between births (the resting phase can last up to 4 hours, but contact your vet after the 2-hour point to be on the safe side).
  • It takes more than 4 hours since stage two of delivery started to produce a kitten.
  • Your cat’s rectal temperature dropped below 99 degrees Fahrenheit, but they haven’t gone into labor within 24 hours of this point.
  • Bloody discharge before the first kitten is born or between births.
  • Green discharge.
  • Foul-smelling discharge.
  • The cat panics during the first stage and the birthing process stops (hysterical inertia).
  • Stopping straining due to exhaustion.
  • Failing to give birth to a kitten that’s stuck halfway out.
  • Constant licking of the vulva during contractions.
cat giving birth showing the kitten in the vagina
Image Credit: Nipol Plobmuang, Shutterstock

Preparing for Cat Labor

Unless there’s a problem (like, for example, the mother doesn’t remove a kitten from a sac or a kitten is stuck on the way out), you’ll only need to observe while your cat gives birth but let her do her thing in peace. Be on hand to contact a vet in case something doesn’t seem quite right. Here are some ways you can help prepare your cat for giving birth.

Prepare a Nesting Box

This is simply an easily accessible box suitable for your cat’s size that’s lined with a towel or another kind of absorbent material. Nesting boxes offer your cat a private, quiet spot to give birth and take care of her kittens after they’re born. Give your cat some time to get used to this box before she gives birth.

Keep Your Cat Calm

Your cat should be kept as calm and stress-free as possible leading up to the birth. Place her nesting box or chosen birthing area away from areas with loud noises or where there’s a lot going on. Don’t be surprised if your cat becomes clingier than usual prior to giving birth—this is normal. You can soothe her by giving her lots of attention and love.

Feed an Appropriate Diet

Pregnant cats can be switched to high-quality kitten food because it contains more protein and a higher number of calories. Speak to your vet if you’re not sure which kind of food would be best for your cat.

smalls human-grade fresh cat food recipes on feeding bowls

Be Ready with a Vet’s Contact Details

As a precautionary measure, before your cat gives birth, do your research and have some vet contact details on hand in case you need to call them quickly. It’s a good idea to have an emergency vet’s phone number on hand in the event that your cat gives birth outside of regular working hours and there’s a problem.



The principal signs that a cat’s labor has ended are a calm, relaxed demeanor and the mother tending conscientiously to the whole litter. However, in some cases, labor can be delayed either by interrupted labor, a resting phase between births, or a medical issue, and these factors can make it difficult to truly tell when labor is over.

Keep a close eye on your cat during labor and, if they strain for 20–30 minutes without giving birth or show other signs that something isn’t right (such as excessive bleeding, green or foul-smelling discharge, etc.), contact your vet straight away.


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