Our Capitola vets get a fair number of questions from pet parents about how to tell if their cat is pregnant, and what to do if she is. Read on for ways to tell if your cat is going to have kittens, and how to plan and prepare.
Pregnancy in Cats
Did you know that if your kitten is unspayed, she can go into heat and become pregnant as young as 4 months old, which can be dangerous for the young queen (the term for a pregnant cat) and the kittens alike? If your kitten or cat is not spayed and left unsupervised or lives with intact (unneutered) male cats, she can become pregnant without you knowing.
If you do not wish your cat to have litters of kittens, our vet team strongly recommends having your pet spayed. This prevents unwanted litters of kittens, and can also help to prevent several health conditions in your cat.
How Long Are Cats Pregnant?
As mentioned above, kittens can get pregnant as young as 4 months old. Unspayed female cats can go into heat every 2 - 3 weeks from springtime through the autumn, which means that they can get pregnant and birth kittens rapidly - and they can start having litters as young as 6 months old themselves.
Cats are usually pregnant for about 2 months (63-65 days), but further diagnosis (e.g. an examination from a veterinarian) may be needed to determine how far along she is, how many kittens she is carrying, and identify any potential health risks or problems.
How To Tell If Your Cat Is Pregnant
- If your cat tolerates it, gently palpating (feeling along) your cat's belly can sometimes be helpful but isn't always correct
- The cat's belly will grow bigger and rounder about a month after mating, and their nipples will also become darker and redder
- Fatigue, though this should pass after a few weeks
- A sudden increase in appetite, especially when combined with the above signs
- Although unusual, some cats experience 'morning sickness' as human parents do; this can appear in the form of nausea/lack of appetite
For a more accurate look at your cat's pregnancy status, your veterinarian has access to a number of diagnostic methods and tools. They can use ultrasound to confirm the presence of kittens 16 days into gestation, though it cannot determine how many kittens your cat is carrying; X-rays can give an idea of the number of kittens, but isn't always accurate and isn't safe for the unborn kittens until 42 days into gestation - at earliest. Ideally, X-rays aren't taken of pregnant cats until they are past 55 days of pregnancy.
Preparing for Your Cat's Pregnancy - and Kittens!
Like many other species of animal, your pregnant cat will likely need extra food to remain healthy and strong until she gives birth, which means more access to healthy calories. Expect your cat to eat about 1.5 times as much as they usually would, especially nearer to when your vet has determined she may give birth. It's also likely that your vet will recommend you feed your cat kitten food or food for pregnant and lactating cats, both during the pregnancy itself and while they are feeding their kittens.
Like newborn babies, new kittens are vulnerable to viruses and conditions that can spread from the mother, so it's important to keep your cat's vaccinations up to date. Check with your vet to see if scheduled vaccines or other preventive medicines are safe for your pregnant cat.
Getting Ready For the 'Big Day'
Although the following are useful tips for making your home a comfortable and inviting place for your cat with have her kittens - cats will ultimately do what they want. If your cat decides to give birth in your bathtub, under your bed, or in your laundry basket, being ready to support the new mother and her tiny kittens is going to come in handy.
If your cat is indoor/outdoor, keep her indoors closer to her due date to ensure that she doesn't go into labor somewhere unsafe where you can't find her.
About 2 weeks before the kittens are due, your cat's behavior might change into 'nesting mode'; you can help by finding cozy areas around the house that could be a good birthing spot for your cat. The selected areas should be quiet, dry, and clean. You can place a medium- to medium-large box with walls low enough to contain the new kittens and allow you to observe your cat and kittens without disturbing them too much during their first days. To make the box or nesting area cozy, 'furnish' it with newspapers, old towels, and soft blankets to create a relaxing area for the mother and kittens.
You should place the nesting box in a quiet corner of your house. Let your pregnant cat visit it often, before the birth, so they get used to the area and feel comfortable.
For more experienced cat owners, some more hints that their cat may be getting ready to go into labor includes a cessation in eating about 24 hours before, and their temperature drops under 100ºF. Get ready to greet some tiny bundles of joy - our vet team can't wait to see them for their very first check-ups!
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.