What I Learned about Postpartum Cats and Panting

Last Sunday night while other folks were wrapping up their Super Bowl Sundays, my smart watch buzzed with a special alert I’d been waiting for all week: Kitten Academy’s rescued mom cat, Pumice, was about to give birth

I’d never before observed kitty labor. I stayed up late, glued to the Kitten Academy live stream, while five adorable kittens came into the world.

When I woke Monday morning I couldn’t wait to get back to the live stream and make sure the newborns were doing well. Happily all five had become heat seeking missiles who piled on top of each other for warmth and mewled supersonic squeals when they needed milk.

But I was worried about their mom. As she patiently nursed her babies, Ms. Pumice was panting pretty hard. Over years of loving and caring for my own cats, panting like that has sent me to the emergency vet more than once. Nonstop panting is usually not a good sign. I was worried for Pumice and for the day old kittens whose lives depended on her.

I’m an absolute newbie to kitten birthing, but the wonderful rescuers at Kitten Academy are seasoned pros. The next time I checked in with the live stream,  a message assured viewers that the panting was perfectly normal. Shortly after, the channel posted a video explaining that all of Kitten Academy’s mom cats panted after giving birth. Not to worry.

Still, I couldn’t quite shake my uneasiness.

Later that day I checked in with the online chat for Kitten Academy supporters. Turns out I wasn’t the only one a bit unnerved by Pumice’s panting. A trusted community member, who also happens to be a veterinarian, explained that panting is actually part of the postpartum healing process. Panting aids in bringing the mom cat’s uterus back to normal size–no small feat after stretching that uterus with five cute, wiggly kittens!

As soon as I understood the reason for all that heavy breathing, I relaxed. And sure enough, as the days went by and the size of the new mom’s belly noticeably slimmed, her breathing also returned to normal. Just as the experts said from the beginning, no need to worry.

The experience taught me something new about healthy behavior after a cat has given birth. But my reluctance to be reassured taught me something new about my mind, as well. Being told that something is okay, even by people I trust and respect, doesn’t truly set me at ease. If a worry worms under my skin, the only path to reassurance is an explanation. I need to construct a narrative. If I can retell the explanation in my own words, then I’ve bought into the cause and effect and will start to relax. Without an explanation, the worry wheels refuse to still.

It’s almost a week since that amazing night counting tiny kittens emerge one by one. Pumice and her kittens continue to thrive under the protection of their amazing caregivers. It’s such a joy to check daily and see how fast they’re growing! Kitten Academy is a warm-hearted charity and does wonderful work. All five kittens (and their champion mom) will be available for adoption through the Kitten Academy website!

NB: I am not a veterinarian, and panting in postpartum cats can spell trouble in tandem with other concerning symptoms. Please consult your veterinarian or local humane society if you have any worries about a mom cat in your care!

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