Cat Pregnancy: An Overview
By Dr. Carly I. O'Malley October 21, 2019
Cats are prolific and tenacious breeders. This has caused cat overpopulation issues in many communities. Many people have realized the importance of spaying and neutering their house cats, and many cats adopted from shelters are already fixed by the time they make it into their new homes. Some people may take it upon themselves to take in pregnant momma cats, either as strays or part of a foster program at the local shelter. Sometimes accidents happen though. Maybe you have an un-spayed female cat and she broke her way out of the house when she was in heat, and now you think she may be pregnant. There are important steps to take to ensure your pregnant momma cat stays healthy throughout her pregnancy so that the kittens are born healthy and happy.
How Do I Know If My Cat Is In Heat?
Did you know that female cats are known as queens and male cats are known as toms? The queen’s reproductive cycle often coincides with longer day lengths. This means that in the northern hemisphere, cat breeding season begins in early spring and can continue throughout the summer.
Throughout the breeding season, a queen will come “into heat” about every 14 days until she gets pregnant. Coming into heat is also known as estrus and is a period of time where females are fertile and receptive to sexual activity with the goal of getting pregnant. It is typically very obvious when a queen is in heat as they behave in a very distinct manner. Queens in heat will become flirtatious, rubbing and rolling on different surfaces. Queens also become very vocal. The vocalizations will be loud and continuous as she tries to attract a tom. Queens also emit pheromones, which are chemical signals in her body odor. Tom cats within a couple miles of a queen in heat will respond to these signals and do everything they can to get to a receptive queen to mate. This is a common time for tom cats to fight outside, as they compete for the queen. If a tom cat is successful at finding a receptive female, she performs lordosis, which is a receptive posture that allows him to mate. It may take multiple mating sessions with the same or different toms to stimulate ovulation in the queen, which would lead to a successful pregnancy.
Is It True That A Female Cat Can Have Kittens From Multiple Male Cats In The Same Litter?
Yes, this is true. It can take 2 days after mating for the egg to descend into the uterus for fertilization. If the queen has mated with multiple toms, sperm from all of them could survive in the uterus and be responsible for the resulting litter (ICC).
How Do I Know If My Cat Is Pregnant?
The first sign of pregnancy cat owners typically notice is known as “pinking up.” This is when the nipples swell and get more of a pink hue to them. If you witnessed your cat mating or know the general time frame of mating, you can bring your cat to the vet around 3-4 weeks after mating. At this stage, the veterinarian should be able to confirm a pregnancy (Cats.org). If your cat is confirmed to be pregnant, work with your veterinarian to arrange a plan to monitor your cat and her kittens throughout her pregnancy and afterwards. Your veterinarian will be able to provide you all the information you need on how to care for your queen and her kittens, especially when it comes to providing proper nutrition, and maintaining your cat on appropriate preventative medications (such as flea and tick treatment) that is safe for pregnant cats and kittens.
Throughout her pregnancy, the queen’s stomach will begin to enlarge as the kittens grow. Some pet parents may mistake this for a cat gaining weight if they are not aware that she is pregnant. Towards the end of her pregnancy, the queen will begin to show nesting behavior where she is searching for a place to give birth (ICC). In an attempt to find a suitable place, she may break into bizarre places of the house, like up into the ceiling or similar small hiding places.
How Long Are Cats Pregnant?
Cats are pregnant for about 9 weeks, or 60-65 days (Cats.org; ICC).
How Do I Care For A Pregnant Cat?
As your cat progresses through her pregnancy, she will need more nutrients, especially in the last 3-4 weeks. It is recommended to increase your queen’s food intake by about 25% in the last 3-4 weeks before birth. It is advised to feed a pregnant queen kitten food throughout her pregnancy and lactation. The kitten food should also be offered to the kittens when they begin eating solid food and through their first birthday to support growth and development (Cat.org). Kitten food provides more nutrients. It is higher in protein, fat, amino acids, vitamins, minerals, and overall calories. It is specifically designed to help support growing bodies. If you want to learn more about caring for a kitten, then read our article here.
How Do I Create A Safe Space For My Cat To Give Birth?
During the nesting phase, your queen may search far and wide for just the right spot to have her kittens. This may occur up to 2 weeks before she goes into labor. You can provide her a nest box such as a cardboard box or bed. You can also provide bedding like towels or sheets; just be sure it’s nothing the kittens can get trapped in and that the bedding can be easily washed and replaced. Be sure to secure any place you do not want your cat to have kittens in. Some cats may break into ceiling tiles or cupboards to have their kittens. Try to provide her a quiet, clean, and dry place to have her kittens to prevent this (ICC).
What Are The Signs Of Labor?
When a queen is going into labor, she may become restless and vocal. The queen may also groom herself, especially around the vaginal area and teats. Cats are very independent and rarely need human help during labor. Momma cat will clean the kittens herself. It is best to give her the space she needs to care for her kittens. Some queens, especially if they are new mothers, may get nervous with too much commotion so it is best to leave her alone until labor is finished and the kittens are out and nursing. Labor should be complete within 6 hours of the onset. Kittens should come every 10-60 minutes until all of them have been born. If your queen’s labor seems prolonged or if she is struggling and uncomfortable, then there may be a problem and a veterinarian should be called (Cats.org).
What Do I Do After My Cat Goes Into Labor?
It is important to give momma cat space and time to bond with her kittens. If momma cat is comfortable, she should be calm and attentive to the kittens and need very little from you (just food, water, and clean, dry bedding). If your cat seems nervous when you approach her and the kittens, try giving them more space until she is settled. If momma cat is nervous and restless, she may abandon her kittens or try to bring them to a different nesting spot.
After birth, try to monitor if the kittens are nursing. They should nurse within the first half hour of birth. If any of the kittens do not nurse soon after birth, you may need to contact a veterinarian about providing substitute milk. Kittens need to eat every couple of hours to survive. If momma cat is calm, check the kittens and queen over to make sure everyone is healthy. If you notice anything alarming, like vaginal discharge or prolapse, unusual behavior from the queen, swollen or hot teats, you may need to consult a veterinarian.
If your cat is not being attentive to the kittens, you may need to step in to hand-rear them. It is best to consult with your veterinarian or local animal shelter on how to do this if it occurs. Sometimes abandoned kittens can be fostered onto another momma cat who is still lactating, which would be the best for the kittens (and human caretakers). Hand-rearing kittens is difficult and risky, and therefore it should only be done if absolutely necessary. Kittens should remain with their mother and littermates until at least 8 weeks of age. Momma cat and the littermates help teach kittens proper socialization and bite inhibition. Cats who leave mom before 8 weeks of age may develop inappropriate behaviors with humans.
After your female cat has given birth to her kittens, it is important to get her and her kittens checked out by a veterinarian. The veterinarian will make sure everyone is healthy and provide all the necessary preventative measures kittens and momma need to live a long, happy life. Your veterinarian will probably also recommend that you get momma cat and all her kittens spayed or neutered to prevent future litters. If you are not prepared to be a cat breeder as one of your hobbies (that means that you have the resources to care for not only the momma cat, but also every single one of her kittens that do not find homes of their own), it is important to have your cat spayed and neutered. Cats should be fixed by the time they reach 4 months of age, but they can be fixed as young as 2 months of age (ASPCA; ICC).
In conclusion, cat pregnancy is a dynamic process that ends with adorable kittens that now need homes. Your local shelter will be helpful in making sure those kittens find good homes. It is important for cats to be spayed and neutered before they reach sexual maturity to help control the pet population. Every year, animal shelters go through a period called “kitten season” where they are overrun with momma cats and kittens that need homes (this is usually in the spring in the northern hemisphere; ICC). This can really reduce the resources available for all animals inside the shelter and may result in unwanted animals being euthanized. If you are not a cat breeder who is prepared to provide homes for every kitten your cat produces, it is important to make sure your cat is spayed or neutered. Even if you have a male cat, it is important to make sure they are properly fixed. As mentioned before, cats are tenacious breeders. Male cats can smell a female cat in heat from miles away, and they will do everything in their power to get to her. However, if a mistake happens and you wind up with a pregnant momma cat, you can help provide her a safe home to have her kittens in.
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ASPCA. Spay/Neuter your pet. Retrieved October 17, 2019.
Cats Protection (Cats.org) Caring for your pregnant cat. Retrieved October 17, 2019.
International Cat Care (ICC). Cat pregnancy. Retrieved October 17, 2019.