If you have an unspayed female cat around, she’ll likely get pregnant. When that happens, it’s important to know the signs so that you can be prepared.
Cat pregnancies last for 63-70 days, which is about 8-9 weeks. They produce a litter of kittens—at least one, and sometimes up to ten, although three to six kittens are most common. During the first few weeks of pregnancy, it’s almost impossible to tell for sure, but as the pregnancy progresses, signs begin to stack up. These steps will help you decide if a cat is pregnant.
1. Watch for Nipple Changes
For most cats, the earliest signs of pregnancy occur about two weeks in. Between days 10-15 of pregnancy, a mother cat’s nipples will swell up and darken to a deeper pink. These changes help prepare the mother cat to nurse and are a clear sign of pregnancy.
2. Check for Other Physical Signs of Pregnancy
Along with nipple changes, there will be other physical signs. Some cats experience morning sickness with physical symptoms, including vomiting. If your cat vomits but doesn’t show serious signs of sickness, it might be a sign of pregnancy.
Most cats gain about 2-4 pounds throughout pregnancy. Your cat’s belly will be noticeably bigger around 5 weeks into the pregnancy, or just past the halfway point, and will continue to expand. Unlike normal weight gain, the growing belly shouldn’t feel soft or flabby.
3. Note Behavioral Changes
Building a whole litter of kittens is hard work! One common sign of pregnancy is reduced energy. Expecting mothers often spend several extra hours sleeping. They also have higher nutritional needs than most cats, so look for signs of increased hunger.
Pregnant cats can have other behavioral changes too. Many queens become especially affectionate during pregnancy. They are more likely to ask for pets and cuddles and spend time near humans or other cats. You might see nesting behaviors near the end of pregnancy when the cat starts looking for a cozy and quiet place to give birth.
4. Confirm via a Vet
If you aren’t sure if your cat is pregnant, you can always ask a vet to confirm. Practiced vets can palpitate a cat’s stomach—feel the difference by touch—as early as three weeks into the pregnancy. Vets can also use an X-ray or ultrasound to confirm a pregnancy. About 5-6 weeks into pregnancy, an X-ray will let you count the kittens.
Caring for a Pregnant Cat
During pregnancy, a cat will need additional care. She’ll need more calories and protein than usual. Replace her cat food with a growth/kitten formula and give slightly larger meals.
Your cat will also need a safe area to give birth. In the later stages of pregnancy, create a safe, comfortable place for her to give birth—for example, a large cardboard box lined with old blankets. This space should have low traffic and be safe from other pets in the home. Give your cat easy access to food, water, and litter near her nesting site.
Signs of Approaching Labor
As cats prepare to give birth, there are several signs that kittens are just around the corner. Restlessness is a common sign of approaching labor. Starting up to 48 hours before, the cat might pace back and forth, yowl, and knead. Cats usually retreat to their chosen birthing area anywhere from a few hours to two days before giving birth.
Another sign that your cat is ready to give birth is decreased appetite. Many cats stop eating about 24 hours before labor. If you have a thermometer, you can also check her temperature—a cat’s body temperature drops below 100°F before labor.
When labor is imminent, the cat will likely begin licking her vulva incessantly as she cleans away small amounts of discharge and prepares for birth. As labor begins, you may be able to see contractions occurring. At this point, kittens usually appear in intervals between a few minutes to an hour apart, although it may be longer or shorter.
Kittens are cute, but pregnancy can be hard on the mother cat. Whenever possible, you should spay female cats to avoid unwanted kittens and protect them from pregnancy-related health issues. If you suspect your cat is expecting, we hope that this article will help you know what to expect.
Featured Image Credit: Boy67, Shutterstock