At this time the vaginal opening dilates and the first amniotic sac should be seen. Although many kittens are born head-first, some are born hind legs-first and some hindquarters and tail-first. In the latter cases the queen may find it easier to deliver with her hind legs against the side of the box. Usually the queen’s persistence brings success but if she weakens or becomes distressed you should call your Vet.

Once a kitten is born the queen should start to lick it, rupturing the sac if this still intact, and this will stimulate the kitten’s breathing reflex and it should start to squirm and cry. She should then sever the umbilical cord with her teeth about an inch (2 to 3cms) from the kitten’s body. The afterbirth (placenta) may follow on next or it may be that the next kitten comes first. Many queens will eat the placenta, which is a good thing, others will not. Either way you should make a note of the number of placentas delivered as any retained in the queen’s body will cause serious infection.

In the event that the queen does not attend to a kitten’s breathing or cord, either through inexperience or because she is busy with the next kitten’s arrival, you will need to take over. If the kitten is still attached to mum by the umbilical cord you should pull the cord very gently towards the kitten’s body and tear it with your nails leaving it again about an inch (2 to 3 cms) long: cutting it may cause bleeding or lead to an infection. You should be very careful not to pull the cord away from the kitten as this may cause an umbilical hernia.

After that you can offer the kitten back to mum to lick it into breathing but unless she does this promptly you should take over again. Firstly, if the sac is still intact, make a small tear in it at the head and peel the membrane back. Then, holding the kitten with its head lower than its tail, rub the kitten with a clean, rough towel to remove any amniotic fluid and stimulate breathing. You can be quite brisk.

In some instances you may need to take more drastic steps. For this you need to know how to swing a kitten. Hold the kitten on its back firmly in the palm of your hand with its head away from you then swing it sharply several times using a straight arm from waist level to knee. If this doesn’t work you can try mouth-to-mouth breathing remembering that a kitten’s lungs are tiny so that you need to blow very, very gently. In the meantime keep going with the towelling and, if you have it, you can also try giving just one drop of Dopram V under the tongue, which is obtainable from vets.

Once the kitten is breathing you can offer it back to mum to finish cleaning. If she takes over that is fine, if not dry the kitten with a towel and place it on a warm hot water bottle or heated pad that has some cosy bedding on top. Wet or cold kittens can very quickly succumb to hypothermia.

There is no way of knowing how long it will take to produce all of the kittens. Some queens will produce kittens every 15 to 20 minutes, others can produce 2 or 3 kittens in this time and yet others will rest after each kitten for 1 or 2 hours. In rare cases a queen will go for 24 to 48 hours after producing her first kittens before delivering the rest of the litter. If the queen shows signs of weariness after having a few kittens you can help by offering her an easily digested snack such as an egg yolk mixed into a saucer of evaporated milk or a small amount of her favourite food.