When caring for a pregnant cat, there are some challenges that you should be prepared for in case they arise. For starters, you may be wondering how long a cat pregnancy will last. Typically, a cat is pregnant for 63–65 days or about nine weeks. But just like humans, cats can give birth earlier or later than that period.
In this guide, you’ll learn more about feline pregnancy, from your cat’s gestation period to their symptoms to how to properly care for mother cats.
Understanding the Cat Gestation Period
Gestation period, in simple terms, refers to the time it takes for a cat’s pregnancy to reach full term. The average gestation period for cats falls within the 63- to 65-day ballpark. However, in some cases, cats can go into early labor due to several medical and environmental factors. These include bacterial or viral infections, hormonal imbalances, and changes in their environment that cause them stress.
If you are concerned about the length of your cat’s pregnancy, consult with your veterinarian. They can assess your cat’s health and determine if there is any underlying cause for the early or late delivery.
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Signs of Pregnancy
Recognizing the signs of pregnancy is essential for feline parents to provide proper care and support for their pregnant kitty. Some physical changes to expect when your cat is pregnant include:
- Enlarged nipples. Around two weeks after being impregnated, your cat’s nipples may become more prominent and rosier in color. This change is a result of hormonal shifts preparing the cat’s body for nursing.
- Abdominal enlargement. As the pregnancy progresses, you may notice your cat’s belly getting bigger. But it’s not uncommon for people to notice the belly enlarging, particularly in larger cats.
- Weight gain. Aside from a rare case of morning sickness, weight gain of around 2 to 4 pounds is often considered normal, but it’s best to regularly monitor these changes. Of course, consult a veterinarian when you start noticing drastic changes when your cat is pregnant.
Aside from noticeable physical changes, you may observe certain changes in your female cats’ behavior as well, such as:
- Increased appetite. Expect a pregnant feline to show a heightened interest in food, often consuming more than usual. Providing a highly digestible, high-caloric meal is crucial during this time. Best options for food would be diets that have passed feeding trials for gestation/lactation or for all life stages.
- Nesting instincts. As the time for giving birth approaches, a pregnant cat may start to look for quiet, secluded spots. She may gather and arrange blankets, towels, or other soft materials to create a comfortable nest. You may notice her kneading, pawing, or rearranging these materials to her liking.
- Changes in activity levels. While some cats may become more affectionate, others may display changes in activity levels. Some become more sedentary, while others may become more restless. Offer support during these changes by limiting stressful situations, such as loud noises or sudden movements, and ensuring all her needs are met.
Stages of Pregnancy
Cat pregnancy typically spans over three trimesters spanning 20 days each, marked by distinct physiological changes and milestones. It’s important to get regular trips to the vet clinic during this time to monitor your cat’s health and the kittens’ development.
First Trimester (Weeks 1–3)
The first trimester begins with fertilization, as the sperm meets the egg, to implantation, as the embryo implants into the cat’s uterine lining. During this time, you may still not notice any external signs on the mother cat. Although rare, they may also experience morning sickness during this time.
Second Trimester (Weeks 4–6)
By the fourth week, physical changes become more apparent, such as enlarged nipples and a slightly bigger abdomen. The kittens’ skeletal structures begin to develop, and their heartbeat can be detected.
As the kittens’ development accelerates, the cat’s nutritional needs rise. Getting her a high-quality, nutritionally balanced diet is essential at this stage—it’s important she does not lose weight when she’s pregnant. The veterinarian may recommend supplements to support the cat’s health and the optimal growth of the kittens.
Regular veterinary check-ups become increasingly important during the second trimester. The veterinarian will monitor the mother’s weight gain or loss, assess the kittens’ development through ultrasound, and address any emerging health concerns.
Also, this would be the perfect time to find good homes for your kittens. The earlier you start, the better your chances of finding responsible families who have the time and finances needed to properly care for the kittens.
Each kitten needs a loving and safe home. Look for people who understand the responsibility and have a suitable home for a kitten. Explain the long-term commitment of cat ownership. Doing this early helps ensure the kittens are well cared for and promotes a community of responsible cat parents.
Third Trimester (Weeks 7–9)
In the final trimester, the kittens’ fur and features become more defined. When your cat is pregnant, you’ll also notice a more visibly enlarged abdomen during this time as their kittens occupy more space.
Pregnant cats may become more restless and seek out a suitable birthing location. As a cat parent, your role is to provide a quiet, comfortable space for the impending birth. Monitor the mother cat closely for any signs of labor, such as restlessness, pacing, or increased vocalization.
Caring for a Pregnant Cat
Caring for a pregnant cat is a big responsibility. While cats are generally good at taking care of themselves, there are a few things you can do to make sure your cat has a healthy pregnancy.
Aside from having regular trips to the veterinarian, ensure they get the best nutrition possible during this time. When a cat is pregnant, they need more calories and nutrients than before. This is because they are not only supporting their own body but also the development of their kittens.
Feed your pregnant cat high-quality, high-calorie cat food that will provide her with the nutrients she needs to support her growing kittens. You can also feed her small amounts of cooked chicken or fish with no seasoning, dressing, or other ingredients like onions, garlic, etc.
Pregnant cats also need to stay active, both physically and mentally. Regular gentle exercise helps maintain muscle tone and strength, which can be beneficial during the birthing process. Meanwhile, keeping her mind active can prevent boredom and associated stress, especially if she’s less active than usual.
Encourage your cat to exercise by playing with her and providing her with toys, puzzles, and cardboard boxes and tunnels. You should also make sure she has access to a scratching post. This will not only help her relieve stress but keep her claws trimmed. Keep an eye on her to ensure she doesn’t overexert herself.
Pregnant cats will start to look for a nesting place about a week before they give birth. You can help her by providing her with a nesting box.
The nesting box should be in a quiet, dark place. There are plenty of pre-made nesting boxes you can purchase, but a sturdy cardboard box should suffice. Make sure that it’s large enough for her to fit in comfortably with her kittens. Keep it comfy by using soft, clean, and absorbent materials, such as old blankets, towels, puppy pads, or clean large paper towels. Avoid materials that can fray or that newborn kittens might get tangled in.
Place food, water, and a litter box near the nesting area for convenience, but not so close that it contaminates the nesting area.
It’s not necessarily required to deworm your cat during pregnancy, but you can always continue doing so to prevent parasites. Your veterinarian will use medications that are safe for pregnant cats.
Regular flea control is also important, as fleas can transmit tapeworms and cause anemia, especially in young kittens. Your vet can recommend safe flea control products for pregnant cats.
Aside from medical treatments, maintaining a clean and hygienic environment is key to preventing parasites. This includes regularly cleaning the litter box, disposing of feces promptly and safely, and keeping the queen’s living area clean. Do not let your pregnant cat go outdoors—they risk contracting parasites from the soil, other animals, or contaminated environments if they do.
How to Prepare for Labor and Delivery
Once labor starts in a cat, it’s important to provide support and ensure a safe birthing process while also knowing when to seek veterinary assistance.
Cats usually exhibit signs like restlessness, vocalization, nesting behavior, loss of appetite, and possibly grooming excessively. You may also notice her abdomen contracting or her behavior becoming more withdrawn as she prepares to give birth.
Make sure she has access to the nesting box you’ve prepared. Keep an eye on your cat during labor. Your cat may want you close while she’s in labor.
Knowing When to Call Your Veterinarian
Most cats can give birth without human assistance. As a cat parent, it’s important to avoid interfering more than absolutely necessary so as not to upset her.
But watch out for certain issues that may need your veterinarian’s assistance or advice, which may include:
- No kitten has come out after 20 minutes of intense labor.
- A kitten appears to be stuck in the queen’s vulva for the past 10 minutes.
- Gently pulling the stuck kitten causes the mother pain.
- The pregnant cat is lethargic or has a fever (rectal temperature of more than 103°F or 39.4°C).
- The queen is losing more and more blood for more than 10 minutes.
If you’ve noticed any of the symptoms above, contact your veterinarian immediately for advice or bring her to the pet clinic promptly.
Postpartum Cat Care
After giving birth, the mother cat should start cleaning her kittens and encouraging them to nurse. This is important for their survival and helps stimulate their bodily functions. Make sure all kittens are getting a chance to nurse and that the mother is not neglecting any of them.
The mother cat will need extra nutrition to produce enough milk and recover from giving birth. Vets recommend feeding lactating cats with high-quality kitten food, which is higher in calories and nutrients, and make sure she always has access to fresh water.
Schedule a postpartum vet checkup to ensure that the mother is recovering well and that the kittens are healthy. This visit can also include discussions about when to start the kittens on vaccinations and deworming.
Spaying Your Cat after Giving Birth
While the concept of cute little kittens running around your home sounds adorable, it’s not something we encourage. Unlike a male cat that doesn’t go into heat, a female cat does so often every 2 to 3 weeks during their breeding season, usually lasting from several days to two weeks.
Spay your cat to keep them from being in heat and reproducing an unwanted litter. If there’s not yet an opportunity for you to spay your kitty and there are intact male cats in your home, separate them. This helps reduce the number of cats in shelters and increase the chances of homeless cats being adopted. In 2022 alone, 1.4 million unwanted cats and kittens entered animal shelters in the US.
How Many Kittens Can My Cat Have the First Time?
Typically, cats have a litter size of 1 to 9 kittens, with an average of 4 to 6 kittens. However, if a cat is pregnant for the first time, they may have a smaller litter than average, with 2 to 3 kittens. This is because their bodies are still maturing, and they are not yet producing as many eggs.
How Long Does It Take for a Cat to Give Birth Again?
A cat can become pregnant again very quickly after giving birth. Nursing her kittens will not prevent pregnancy, and her next heat cycle may occur just a few weeks after her kittens are born. In fact, a cat can re-enter her heat cycle just a week after giving birth, making it possible for her to become pregnant again very quickly.
The Final Meow on a Cat’s Pregnancy
Discovering your cat is pregnant can be unexpected yet exciting. You’ll have to quickly make plans, contact the veterinarian, and arrange a space for your cat to be comfortable. But otherwise, you can go on as usual, spoiling your cat and letting her know how loved she is.
As cute as kittens are, however, it’s essential to consider the long-term health and well-being of your cat post-pregnancy. Spaying your cat after she has kittens offers multiple benefits. Not only does it prevent future unintended litters (there are already too many homeless cats as it is), but spaying can also reduce the risk of certain cancers, infections, and behavioral urine marking. By choosing to spay, you’re taking a proactive step towards ensuring your cat remains healthy and happy, for many years to come, and not contributing to unintended breeding.