The average cat gestation period is about 65 days. During this time, your kitty's physical needs, appearance, and even behavior may change significantly. Caring for a pregnant cat is not difficult, but there are a few things you should know to ensure good health for the mother and kittens.
How to Detect Pregnancy in Cats
It is nearly impossible to detect a feline pregnancy with the naked eye for the first three weeks. However, there are some signs to watch for, and your vet has other ways to determine whether or not your cat is truly pregnant.
Signs of Pregnancy
About three weeks after conception, a pregnant cat's nipples will turn pink. This is usually the earliest sign that any cat will show, and the kittens will be born approximately six weeks after this occurs. The queen's belly will not start to show visible enlargement until the fifth week. Most of her growth will be during the last two weeks of pregnancy.
Some cats exhibit more signs of pregnancy than others, and these can include:
- Initial loss of appetite
- Increased appetite as pregnancy continues
- Increased need for affection and attention from her owner
- Irritability toward other pets, regardless of prior relationship
- Increased restlessness and discomfort during later pregnancy
- Occasional incontenence due to growing pressure on the bladder and bowels
- Hunting for a secluded place to nest prior to delivery
- Ultrasound - According to Web MD, an experienced technician can perform an ultrasound to detect kittens as early as 15 days into the pregnancy.
- Palpation - Once the cat is 20 days pregnant, an experienced veterinarian can gently palpitate the queen's stomach to detect the presence of kittens. Extreme care should be used with this method since miscarriage can result if the palpation is done improperly.
- Feline pregnancy test - Once the feline is 20 days pregnant, a pregnancy test called Witness® Relaxin can accurately determine whether or not a cat is pregnant. This test must be administered by a vet.
- X-rays - Although the use of X-rays should be avoided during the first 43 days a cat's pregnancy, they can be taken after that time to make certain a cat is not experiencing a false pregnancy or to find out how many kittens the cat is carrying.
Care Required During Pregnancy
If a cat was healthy before pregnancy, it shouldn't be difficult to keep her in good health through delivery.
There is no need to limit a cat's normal activity during pregnancy. Cats are fairly good at determining what they can and can't do as a pregnancy progresses, and they should get normal exercise during this time to maintain muscle tone and good health. This will ultimately make the birth easier and safer.
Providing proper nutrition is the most important thing you can do for your cat and her kittens. Feed her the highest quality food, but be careful about supplements. Supplements can throw nutrition out of balance and hurt more than they help, so only use supplements under veterinary supervision.
About four weeks into pregnancy you should begin increasing her food. Many breeders recommend mixing kitten food into her normal food at this point and continue offering this diet until she finishes nursing. As the kittens grow and take up space inside her body, the cat will eat smaller, more frequent meals. Free feeding works well, and if you cannot free feed, the cat will need the opportunity to eat several times a day. During the last week of pregnancy, she will eat every three to four hours. A day or two before she gives birth she may stop eating completely.
During the last three to four weeks and while nursing, a pregnant cat should eat about two to four times her normal amount of food.
Talk to your regular vet and find out if you can contact him/her if you have an emergency. Also, keep your vet's emergency contact information handy. Avoid medications and de-worming if possible. Whenever possible, worming should be carried out before a breeding takes place because these parasites can be quite harmful to the mother and can also be passed to the kittens. There are some remedies for worms that are safe to use during pregnancy, but most are not. Talk to your vet if you suspect your cat has worms.
Preparing for Birth
At least two weeks before her due date, set up a box for birthing. A box filled with newspaper works well. It is also good to have several boxes set up around the house in quiet locations so your cat can choose the one she prefers.
Do not use clumping litter as your cat nears her due date. Some cats will not use the birthing boxes you have set up and use the litter box instead. Clumping litter will stick to the newborn kittens, and your cat may not clean them off after birth if this happens. Cleaning the kittens immediately after they are born clears the air passageways and stimulates breathing, so this is necessary for their survival.
Do not let your pet outside close to her due date, or she may have the kittens outside in a hidden and unsafe location.
Labor and Delivery
Auburn Veterinary Hospital suggests that owners monitor the queen's body temperature twice a day as the cat's due date arrives. About 24 hours before labor will begin, the cat's temperature may drop to 98 or 99 degrees. The cat will then go through three stages of labor.
- Stage one - During the first stage of labor, the cat becomes restless and seeks a quiet, comfortable place to have her kittens. She will exhibit specific symptoms, such as refusing to eat, panting and crying, nesting activity and licking her vulva. This stage lasts between six and twelve hours. If your cat's labor has not progressed within 24 hours, take her to a veterinarian immediately.
- Stage two - This stage of labor is marked by visible straining. Your cat may look like she is trying to defecate. Other signs she has entered this second stage include visible contractions and kittens being delivered.
- Stage three - This is when the placenta of each kitten is expelled.
The cat will go through stages two and three, and then return to stage two to deliver the next kitten. At times, several kittens may be born rapidly, and then multiple placentas are expelled. If more than four hours pass between kittens being born and you feel she is still carrying one or more kittens, seek veterinary assistance immediately.
Watch a Delivery
The following video shows a Sphynx queen delivering a kitten. Although this is a very natural occurrence, it is graphic so be forewarned.
Understanding a cat's heat cycle can help you plan a pregnancy or avoid one as you wish. A cat can go into heat about two to five times a year. Her first heat usually occurs at five to six months of age, but it may not occur until she is one year old. There is no actual mating season for cats. Domestication has obliterated the natural breeding cycle, so they can go into heat any time of year.
Cats can also go into heat during pregnancy and carry two litters at the same time. For this reason, a female should be kept indoors during pregnancy for her safety and to prevent additional pregnancies.
Each Pregnancy Can Be Different
Pregnancies and deliveries often don't go as expected, so be prepared to face changes as they come. The information presented in this article is not meant to replace professional veterinary care. Let your vet be your partner throughout the process to make sure your cat receives everything she needs to have a healthy and successful pregnancy and delivery.