When kittens arrive backward, with the tail or bottom coming out initially, it's known as a breech birth. In some species, such as people, a breech birth is uncommon and fairly risky. In felines, breech births run as high as 40 percent. Even though most breech kittens come out easily, problems can occur.
When your cat's first stage of labor begins, she's restless, possibly meowing a lot. This stage can last up to 12 hours. The second stage is the actual delivery. In normal delivery, kittens arrive front feet or head first, emerging after several hard contractions. Each kitten arrives enclosed in an amniotic sac. If the sac doesn't break during the birth process, the mother cat licks it off the kitten's nose and face. If she doesn't do this, the kitten can suffocate; be ready to gently wipe the fluid from the kitten's face with a clean wash cloth or lightly moistened gauze pad. In the final stage of labor, the placentas emerge. They're often eaten by the mother cat.
Breech births are frequent, and often aren't a problem in cats. However, if the first kitten is a breech birth, especially in the first-time mother, it's possible that it can become stuck in the birth canal. This can happen with any breech-birth kitten, but it's more likely with first kittens and births. While the kitten's tail and rear end are protruding from the birth canal, the hind legs extend toward his head. If he's stuck, it's possible that saving him and his brothers and sisters will require an emergency Caesarian section.
A breech birth is riskier in some types of cats than others. Breeds with very large heads, such as Persians and Himalayans, are already at risk for birth complications because of the head size. When a breech birth occurs in these cats, it's less likely that the kitten will deliver safely. Mother cats of these breeds might rest for up to an hour between kitten deliveries, while normal kittens arrive every 15 minutes or so.
Don't hover over your cat, but watch from a distance to make sure the birth process is going smoothly. When your cat is close to delivery, have your veterinarian's contact information on hand, as well as a carrier or basket in which to take the mother cat and any kittens to an emergency veterinary hospital, if necessary.
Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.