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Are cats in pain when they give birth?

Giving birth can be a painful and stressful experience for any mammal, including cats. As cats’ owners, it’s natural to wonder if our feline companions suffer when they deliver their kittens. Understanding if and when cats feel pain during delivery can help us provide better care for a pregnant cat.

Do cats feel pain during delivery?

Yes, most evidence suggests that cats do feel pain during labor and delivery, but their experience of pain may be different from humans. Here are some key points about pain in birthing cats:

  • Cats likely feel contractions as uncomfortable or mildly painful.
  • The fetal passage through the birth canal causes moderate pain.
  • Cats may feel intense pain if complications occur, such as obstructed labor.
  • Cats demonstrate less obvious signs of pain compared to humans, due to their prey animal instincts.
  • Pain tolerance varies between individual cats, much as it does in people.

Let’s explore these ideas in more detail.


Contractions are muscle tightenings that push the kittens through the birth canal. Research shows that the hormone oxytocin, which causes contractions, also acts as a mild analgesic or pain reliever. So while cats probably feel some discomfort during contractions, the pain sensation is somewhat blunted. Cats may pace, pant, vocalize, or show nesting behaviors as signs of discomfort from contractions.

Passing Kittens

The fetal passage through the narrow birth canal puts pressure on the vaginal tissues, which likely causes moderate pain for the mother cat. Kittens have sharp little claws that can scrape the vaginal wall as they are born, adding to the discomfort. Some studies suggest that the fetal movement triggers the release of endorphins, brain chemicals that help dull pain sensations. Even so, the birth of each kitten is likely uncomfortable. The queen may stop purring, cry out, or bite at the area around her vulva.

Birth Complications

While routine deliveries are painful enough, complicated births can cause severe pain for cats. Dystocia, or obstructed labor, happens when a kitten becomes stuck in the birth canal. This causes intense painful contractions as the cat’s body strains to expel the stuck kitten. Uterine inertia, where the uterus stops contracting, can also be painful as it interrupts the normal progression of labor. Help from a veterinarian may be needed for dystocia, uterine inertia, or other delivery problems.

Prey Animal Instincts

Unlike humans, cats rely on prey drive instincts, meaning they hide signs of pain and weakness to avoid appearing vulnerable. So even a cat in great pain may merely appear restless or anxious, rather than crying out. Only with very severe pain will a cat vocalize or show overt distress. This stoic nature makes it harder for us to recognize just how uncomfortable a laboring cat may be.

Individual Variation

Some cats have higher pain tolerances than others, just as people do. While one cat may seem relatively calm and comfortable during delivery, another cat may be quite distressed. Genetics, health status, temperament, and other factors influence each cat’s pain experience. As cat owners, the best approach is to watch for subtle signs of discomfort and provide supportive care tailored to that individual.

When does the most pain occur?

The most painful stages of feline labor and delivery are:

  • Late stage labor when contractions are strongest.
  • The passage of kittens through the birth canal.
  • Expulsion of the placentas after birth.
  • Any delivery complications like dystocia.

The early nesting stage when cervix dilation occurs causes milder discomfort. Likewise, the early contractions are not severely painful, thanks to natural pain-relieving hormones. But pain tends to intensify as labor progresses.

By the time the kittens are passing through the vaginal canal, contractions are frequent and intense. The perineum stretches tightly around each passing kitten, putting pressure on nerves and causing moderate to severe pain.

After all kittens are born, expelling the placentas causes additional cramping and discomfort, though not as intense as fetal passage. Finally, any delivery complications add more pain on top of the usual discomforts of normal labor.

Do pain levels vary between cats?

Yes, the amount of pain experienced by a cat giving birth can vary significantly based on these factors:

Size of Kittens

A cat delivering large kittens often experiences more pain due to increased stretching and pressure on the birth canal. Larger babies must pass through a smaller opening. This amplifies the discomfort and risk of injury.

Number of Kittens

Birthing a large litter naturally increases the time spent in labor, total number of contractions, and repeated fetal passages through the birth canal. So a cat giving birth to six kittens often feels more pain than a cat only having one or two kittens.

Birthing Experience

Cats giving birth for the first time usually feel more anxiety and pain than experienced queens who have had kittens before. The unfamiliar sensations are more frightening and intense for first-time mothers.

Individual Traits

Some cats are simply more sensitive to pain than others. Breed tendencies, health issues, temperament, and pain tolerance vary between cats. For example, purebred cats like Persians and Himalayans often have lower pain thresholds.

Delivery Difficulties

Any delivery complications like uterine inertia or obstructions greatly magnify pain levels. Cats experiencing dystocia or other problems suffer more than cats with routine, smooth deliveries.

So a first-time mother birthing a large litter of kittens is often in more pain than an experienced adult cat delivering one or two average-sized kittens. But keep in mind that every cat’s labor experience is unique.

How can you tell if a cat is in pain during delivery?

Since cats don’t verbalize pain like people, look for these more subtle signs that a cat may be uncomfortable or hurting while giving birth:

  • Restlessness, anxiety, agitation
  • Guarding the hindquarters
  • Excessive licking around the vulva
  • Biting or scratching at her belly or hind legs
  • Crying out or meowing during contractions
  • Digging or rooting at bedding
  • Flattened ears, widened eyes (signs of stress)
  • Aggression like hissing, growling, or swatting
  • Reluctance to settle into birthing position
  • Shivering, muscle tension, or panting
  • Lack of grooming between kittens or after delivery

Any of these behaviors suggest the cat is experiencing some degree of pain or distress during the birthing process. The more signs a cat shows, the more intense her discomfort likely is. If you observe multiple signals, talk to your veterinarian about options for pain relief.

Do cats receive pain medication during labor?

In most cases, veterinarians do not administer pain medication to cats during routine, unassisted births. Here’s some background on this practice:

  • Medication may prolong delivery or distress the newborn kittens.
  • Most cats tolerate normal labor without medication.
  • Owners can provide comfort measures at home.
  • Medication risks likely outweigh benefits for routine delivery.
  • Meds are more appropriate for complicated deliveries.

Vets follow a “wait and see” approach for medicating birthing cats. If the cat seems comfortable and labor is progressing normally, pain relief is often unnecessary. But if complications develop or the cat becomes extremely distressed, medication may be prescribed to ease her suffering.

Talk to your vet about your preferences regarding pain medication for your cat. Some owners wish to provide it, while others prefer to avoid medication unless absolutely needed. There are reasonable arguments on both sides. Your vet can advise you based on your cat’s specific circumstances.

What about a C-section?

A cesarean section (C-section) surgery delivers kittens through an incision in the abdomen rather than through the birth canal. This eliminates the pain of vaginal delivery.

Cats receive anesthesia and post-op pain medication for a C-section. Since kittens don’t pass through the vagina, this greatly reduces the mother’s discomfort. However, a C-section is major surgery with its own risks. It’s typically reserved for delivery emergencies when vaginal birth is impossible or dangerous for the cat or kittens.

The benefits of pain prevention must be carefully weighed against the increased risks of anesthesia, infection, bleeding and other surgical complications. Most vets perform C-sections only when medically necessary, rather than for pain management alone during an otherwise normal delivery. But in an emergency situation, a C-section may be the best option to save kittens and limit the mother’s suffering.

Pain Relief Measures for Birthing Cats

While medication may not be used routinely, there are many steps cat owners can take to help ease discomfort during labor:

  • Provide a quiet, dark, comfortable nesting area.
  • Limit disruptions and monitor from a distance.
  • Allow the cat to position herself as needed.
  • Gently stroke or massage areas not near the vulva.
  • Use calming pheromone products in the nesting space.
  • Keep food and water easily accessible.
  • Monitor for signs of prolonged or obstructed labor.
  • Contact the vet if complications occur.

Creating a soothing environment and letting the cat follow her natural instincts helps progression while limiting stress. Monitoring the cat closely and involving the vet at the first sign of trouble can also minimize pain. With supportive care from her human family, even an uncomfortable delivery process can still result in a happy, healthy mother and kittens.

When to call the veterinarian

Contact your veterinarian right away if:

  • Labor stops progressing for over 30 minutes once it has begun.
  • The cat experiences very strong contractions for over 20 minutes without birth.
  • More than 2 hours pass between births of kittens.
  • Active labor exceeds 12 hours with no kittens born yet.
  • The mother cat appears distressed or in severe pain.
  • Excessive bleeding occurs.
  • A kitten becomes stuck in the birth canal.
  • Any other concerning symptoms arise.

Waiting too long to get veterinary help for dystocia or other delivery problems can be life-threatening for mother and kittens. Always monitor closely and contact your vet promptly for any concerns.


The process of labor and delivery causes moderate to severe pain for many cats, though they may hide discomfort due to prey instincts. Feline pain thresholds vary based on size of kittens, number in the litter, individual factors, and any birthing complications.

While cats don’t receive pain medication routinely during labor, owners can still prioritize comfort through supportive care. Paying close attention and involving the vet at the earliest sign of trouble provides the best chance of minimizing suffering for a birthing cat and ensuring a safe arrival for her kittens. With some advanced planning and care, a cat’s delivery experience can be as comfortable as possible.