Cat pregnancy: How to care for pregnant cats

Posted by Argos, 14 March 2016, last updated 14 July 2020.

Having a litter of kittens in your home can be a joyful and rewarding experience, but it can also be challenging and expensive.

Before the new-born kittens arrive, you will need to know how to spot cat pregnancy, how to care for the mother-to-be and how to prepare for the birth.

When can cats become pregnant?

Female cats can become pregnant when they are “in heat” or “in season”.

A cat’s first season arrives when they reach sexual maturity, typically between six months and one year old.

The age a cat reaches sexual maturity can vary between breed and some pedigree cats, such as Siamese and Burmese, can experience their first season as young as four months.

While dogs come into heat once or twice a year, female cats are very fertile and can be in season as often as every month.

The heat cycle lasts between five and ten days and conception can occur at any point during this period.

A female cat in the late stages of cat pregnancy

If you want to avoid your cat becoming pregnant unexpectedly, you should have them spayed by a vet before their first season.

If your cat is not spayed, they are very likely to become pregnant, particularly if they are outdoor cats.

If you do not want to have your cat spayed – perhaps because you intend to breed her at a later date, you should take measures to prevent an unplanned pregnancy.

This involves keeping your cat indoors as much as possible and particularly when she is in season.

You should also keep her away from un-neutered males as being close to such a male can trigger a season in a female.

How do I know know when my cat is in season?

It’s hard to be exactly sure when your cat is in heat but there are a few signs that are a giveaway. Here are the top 5 things to look out for:

  • Your cat may become more affectionate and crave your company more often
  • Your cat might try to get outside more to go and search for a mate
  • They may walk with their tail in an upright position or to one side
  • Your cat could become more vocal, meowing loudly to call for a mate
  • She may lie on her front with her tail end in the air

How to tell if a cat is pregnant

Cat pregnancy lasts between 63 and 67 days but in extreme cases can last up to 72 days. Within the first three weeks, her nipples will become enlarged and redden – known as ‘pinking up’.

The mother to be – or queen – might go through a stage of vomiting. This is like morning sickness experienced by women and is usually nothing to worry about. However, if your cat is being sick frequently or is unwell in any way, then see your vet.

The queen’s appetite will almost certainly increase, and she might start beginning to act more maternally, purring more and demanding more attention from you as an owner. After the fourth week of pregnancy, your cat will probably have gained enough weight to make the pregnancy noticeable.

Your cat may behave differently during cat pregnancy

The stages of cat pregnancy

During pregnancy, a cat will gain between 1kg and 2kg, depending on how many kittens she is expecting.

After four weeks, your vet should be able to feel the kittens through the abdomen. Do not attempt this yourself – this could damage the unborn cats and cause a miscarriage.

Cat pregnancy can be detected by ultrasound and, by about the 26th day, the foetuses and heartbeats can be seen.

By day 40, the vet should be able to tell you how many kittens to expect – though this is not always an exact estimate as the little ones have a tendency to hide behind each other in their mum’s tummy.

Looking after a pregnant cat

You’ll need to take extra-special care of your queen.

A high-quality and nutritious diet is essential but avoid changing her food drastically, unless recommended by a vet.

Do not overfeed your cat as too much weight gain can complicate labour.

Keep your cat indoors as much as possible, particularly during the latter stages of pregnancy.

The vet will probably want to check on your cat during the later stages of pregnancy just to see if everything is in order.

How many kittens are in a cat’s litter?

Cat litter sizes vary depending on breed and age of the mother but from three to five kittens is fairly typical.

The diet and health of the mother will also be a factor.

How do I prepare when my cat is giving birth?

If your cat is close to having kittens, it’s vital to ensure you’ve got everything ready. You will need:

  • Clean towels
  • Scissors
  • Antiseptic
  • A syringe or eyedropper
  • Surgical gloves
  • A kittening box
  • Cotton thread or dental floss
  • Kitten milk substitute
  • The emergency number of your vet

How to tell if your cat is close to giving birth

The mammary glands will begin to swell during the last week of pregnancy and your cat will start producing milk about two days before she gives birth.

Her appetite will probably decrease and she will become more reclusive and look to hide out in a cosy, secure part of the home.

Warning signs when your cat is pregnant

You must look out for the following three things:

  • A high temperature – the normal body temperature is between 99.5F (37.5C) to 102.5 (39.1C). Anything higher than 103.5F (39.7C) is cause for concern.
  • If she has not eaten for more than 24 hours.
  • If she becomes depressed or lethargic.

Remember, if you are concerned at any point about your cat’s health during pregnancy, contact a vet immediately.

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