There are over 600 million cats around the world and having a cat is wonderful. But if you’re not prepared for an unexpected litter of kittens or be able to care for them, we recommend getting your cat spayed.
Cat pregnancy is a nerve-wracking experience for cat owners and you’re likely to have questions especially if you’ve never looked after a pregnant cat.
This guide covers everything you need to know about cat pregnancy. It will help answer your questions so you can effectively support your cat throughout her pregnancy
- What age can a cat get pregnant
- How to tell if your cat is pregnant
- Signs a cat is pregnant
- What are the stages of a cat pregnancy
- How to care for a cat in labor
- How long are cats in labor
- Signs of a cat in labor
- When your cat is giving birth
- How to care for a cat in labor
What age can a cat get pregnant
Your cat can get pregnant when she’s as young as 4 months of age unless she’s spayed to prevent that.
How to tell if your cat is pregnant
There are several signs that will help tell if your cat is pregnant without going to the vet. It’s important to note that the average length of pregnancy in cats is 65 days (or 9 weeks). But it can vary from 61 to as long as 75 days when you know exactly when your cat was in heat.
[Cats have a special condition called heat, or estrus, which is a period of approximately four to ten days during which they seek a male to mate with.]
But if you have no idea if your cat was in heat, there are a few indicators you can use to help determine if maybe she was in heat.
- Time of the year – Spring and fall are the prime months for cats to go into heat because of the rising temperature, so there is a possibility that she could have gone into heat but you weren’t around to witness it.
- Age of the cat – If you have an adult cat, then most likely she’s gone into heat multiple times since she’s already gone through puberty.
Signs a cat is pregnant
Here’s a list of cat pregnancy symptoms:
- Pink and enlarged nipples – this usually happens between 15 days to 18 days after ovulation and is one of the earliest ways to detect pregnancy in cats. It is easier to recognize for first-time cat mums since prior to pregnancy, they usually have very flat white nipples. But if it is your cat’s second or third pregnancy, it may be harder to tell because after having babies their nipples stay enlarged.
- Receding hair around the nipples – hair actually recedes away from the nipple so when the kittens are born they can easily find the milk. If your cat is laying down on her side and you notice all of a sudden that the nipples are poking through her fur.
- Increase in appetite – when your cat eats more than normal or when she eats like crazy and is always begging for food every single day, then your cat is probably pregnant.
- Increase in sleep – a pregnant cat tends to sleep more and you’ll often find them sleeping in places typically they wouldn’t sleep in.
- Morning sickness – when cats are pregnant, they can also fall ill in the early stages of the pregnancy and even in the later stages. This usually happens when the stomach enlarges and puts a lot of pressure in their digestive tract so this can cause them to puke and get a little bit nauseous.
- Bulging abdomen – you’ll notice your cat’s stomach begins to swell around 35 – 45 days. The kittens are growing as they’re getting a lot of nutrients and you’ll see your cat’s belly sticking out when she’s laying on her side. If you’re skeptical about the bulging and think it’s possibly worms or parasites, we recommend at least going to the vet and getting an ultrasound scan. If the cat is over 40 days pregnant, they’ll be able to detect kittens in the ultrasound scan by the number of skulls they see.
7. Nesting behavior – towards the end of the pregnancy, you might notice that your cat is going in secluded places that they normally wouldn’t have been in such as a dark closet, or a laundry basket. Since cats don’t often show any pregnancy symptoms until a few weeks into their term, make sure to take her to the vet for confirmation once you think she’s pregnant.
Stages of cat pregnancy
Pregnant cats go through many changes within a shorter amount of time than a pregnant woman’s nine-month gestation period. Here’s a cat pregnancy timeline with pictures, which you can refer to anticipate the stages of your cat’s pregnancy and how you can help.
Stage 1 – Implantation and Fertilisation (Week 1 – 2)
By the second week, the male cat’s sperm will find the female cat’s eggs, fertilise them and make the journey to the uterus where pregnancy will develop.
At this stage, the cat shows no physical signs or symptoms of pregnancy.
Stage 2 – Kittens’ Organ Development (Week 3 – 4)
By week three, the kittens’ bodies slowly develop. This is the best time to take your pregnant cat to a veterinarian to perform an ultrasound scan. In the scan you will see the eyes, limbs and tails are starting to form.
Your cat will then show the following signs and symptoms:
- Weight gain (1-2kg depending on the number of kittens)
- Nipple enlargement
- Nipple color turning pink (‘pinking process’)
- Thinning/receding hair around the nipple.
- Morning sickness (vomiting and nausea)
How You Can Help:
- When vomiting is prolonged or particularly severe, consult your veterinarian.
- During this early stage, your vet can discuss with you the option to terminate the pregnancy and spay your cat, especially if it’s an unexpected pregnancy.
- Do not pick your cat up to avoid inadvertently hurting her kittens.
- If you need to take her anywhere, use a small cat carrier.
Stage 3 – Mid Stage (Week 5 – 7)
Week five shows an almost complete organ development. As the kittens continue to grow, you might see visible movement inside your cat’s tummy by week six. After week seven, the ultrasound will show the kitten’s skeletons and some fur.
The obvious signs at this stage are:
- Increase in appetite as your cat is building up food stores she will need to nurse the kittens.
- Increase in belly size (‘pot belly’)
- Constant self-grooming
How You Can Help:
- Increase your cat’s food ration but don’t overfeed.
- Provide extra nutrition, iron and minerals.
Stage 4 – Pre-labor (Week 8 – 9)
Week eight is when your cat may start looking for a nesting place to have her kittens. By week nine, your cat will gain up to 25% weight and there will be more pressure on her stomach as the kittens continue to grow.
Here are more visible signs at this stage:
- Well visible movement of kittens
- Nipple enlargement with a few drops of milk secretions
- Loss of appetite
- Increase in sleep
- Nesting behavior
- More Shedding of belly hair
How You Can Help:
- Prepare for the start of labor at any time
- Feed her frequent small meals
- If your cat appears anxious, this indicates imminent labor. Give her reassurance as she establishes herself in her nesting box.
Stage 5 – Labor and Delivery (Week 9 – 10)
It’s almost time! And your cat will soon be a mum. When she’s close to delivering her babies, she may show the following:
- Super affectionate
- Very vocal, producing a lot of “meows” and other disturbance
- Slight vaginal discharge
- Grooming herself a lot, especially licking her vulva
- Temperature often drop 12 hours before delivery
Some breeds don’t deliver until 10 weeks of gestation. If your cat has not gone into labor after 10 weeks, contact your vet to have her checked.
Caring for a cat in labor
When it’s time for your cat to give birth, give her space and just observe from a safe distance. Most cats need little to no human intervention. But make sure to be on standby in case she is in distress and requires assistance.
How long are cats in labor
There are three stages of cat labor.
- The first stage usually lasts around 24 hours to 36 hours.
- The second stage is when contractions occur to push a kitten out, which usually happens within 5 minutes to 1 hour in between kittens. In total, this could take about 2 hours to 6 hours for most cats.
- The third stage is expelling the placenta for each kitten that comes out which does not take more than 5 to 10 minutes each.
Signs of a cat labor
Most obvious sign of an imminent cat labor is often marked by a milky discharge from your cat’s nipples. Also her temperature usually drops to below 38.9 degrees C just before delivery.
When your cat is giving birth
It is important to keep track of the time in between each birth and make sure you know how many kittens to expect.
When should you provide your cat assistance?
- When kittens are delivered but the amniotic membrane or sac is intact. Usually kittens start tearing out the sac, or the mother does this task. When neither the kittens nor the mother does this, carefully cut it open to release the kitten.
- When the mother cat is too exhausted to lick her kittens. The mother cat licks her kittens to stimulate breathing. If this does not happen, rub the kitten gently with a towel. Make sure the kitten is face down to clear the fluid from its airway.
- Normally, the mother cat chews off the umbilical cord. If she doesn’t, tie a piece of non-waxed dental floss or a sturdy thread tightly around the cord an inch from the kitten’s body. Tie another loop of thread an inch further up the cord, then tie between the two loops with a sharp pair of scissors.
When must you call your vet for assistance?
- When your cat is having obvious contractions for more than 30 minutes without giving birth to a kitten.
- When two hours go by without the next kitten. Usually a cat pauses 10 minutes to an hour in between kittens.
- When a kitten remains in the birth canal without being pushed out for more than a minute or two. A kitten lodged in the birth canal for more than two minutes is in distress.
- When you suspect a placenta did not emerge or has been retained which can cause infection. There should be a placenta for each kitten. It is perfectly normal for a mother to eat some or all of the placenta, just make sure you’ve made the count.
- When there is excessive bleeding.
General tips when caring for a pregnant cat
- Prepare a labor emergency kit with the following essentials:
- Plenty of clean sheets and towels
- Clean pair of scissors or suture kit
- Stock iodine – help swab kittens’ belly buttons and prevent infection
- Disposable gloves
- Sterilized gauze pads
- Heating pad to keep them warm – use this only when necessary especially in a super cold weather
- Little suction bulbs – help clean mucus from kittens mouths and noses
- Non-waxed dental floss – help tie off the cord if your cat does not do it on her own
- Notebook and a pen – write time of birth and the birthing process
- Feed your cat high-quality food formulated for growth. Search for food with the highest quality ingredients for growth and reproduction.
- Do not overfeed. Excessive weight gain can cause problems for your cat and her kittens.
- Monitor her condition with help from your veterinarian.
- Feed her frequent small meals six weeks into your cat’s pregnancy.
- Prepare a nesting place. Fill out a cardboard box or laundry basket with blankets and tuck it away to a safe, quiet area of your home.
- Do your best to keep her comfortable.