Our Rochester vets get a lot of questions from pet parents about how to tell whether or not 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 not spayed, she can go into heat and potentially get pregnant as early as 4 months old? This can pose risks for both the young mother cat, known as a queen, and the kittens. If your kitten or cat is not spayed and is allowed to roam freely or lives with unneutered male cats, she may become pregnant without your knowledge.
If you want to avoid the possibility of your cat having litters of kittens, our veterinary team strongly recommends getting your pet spayed. This procedure not only prevents unplanned pregnancies but can also help prevent various health issues in your cat.
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
To get a better understanding of your cat's pregnancy, your vet has various diagnostic methods and tools at their disposal. Around 16 days into gestation, ultrasound can be used to confirm the presence of kittens, although it won't provide an exact count.
X-rays, on the other hand, can give an estimate of the number of kittens, but they are not always accurate and are not considered safe for the unborn kittens until at least 42 days into gestation. It is generally recommended to wait until the cat is past 55 days of pregnancy before taking X-rays.
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.
Preparing for Your Cat's Pregnancy - and Kittens!
Just like many other animals, pregnant cats typically require additional food to ensure their health and strength until they give birth. This means they will need access to more healthy calories. Expect your cat to eat about 1.5 times their usual amount, especially as the time for giving birth approaches. Your vet may also recommend feeding your cat kitten food or food specifically formulated for pregnant and lactating cats during the pregnancy and while they are nursing their kittens.
Similar to newborn babies, newborn kittens are susceptible to viruses and illnesses that can be transmitted from the mother. Therefore, it's important to keep your cat's vaccinations up to date. Consult your vet to determine if scheduled vaccines or other preventive medications are safe for your pregnant cat.
Getting Ready For the 'Big Day'
While the following tips can be helpful in creating a comfortable and inviting space for your cat to have her kittens, it's important to remember that cats will ultimately choose where they feel most comfortable giving birth. Whether it's in your bathtub, under your bed, or in a laundry basket, being prepared to support the new mother and her tiny kittens will be beneficial.
If your cat is accustomed to going outdoors, it's advisable to keep her indoors closer to her due date to ensure she doesn't go into labor in an unsafe or hard-to-find location.
Around two weeks before the kittens are due, you may notice changes in your cat's behavior as she enters a "nesting mode." You can assist her by identifying cozy areas in your home that could serve as suitable birthing spots. These areas should be quiet, dry, and clean.
Placing a medium to medium-large box with low walls can create a secure space for the mother and kittens, allowing you to observe them without causing too much disturbance during their first days. To make the box or nesting area cozy, you can line it with newspapers, old towels, and soft blankets to provide a relaxing environment for the mother and her 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.