How to tell your cat is pregnant?
Unless you’re breeding your cat chances are you won’t know your cat is pregnant until she is well along in the gestation period. The mother doesn’t begin to bulge noticeably until a couple of weeks before delivery time. Here are a few signs and symptoms you may see if your cat is pregnant:
- Nipples will begin to enlarge and become more soft and pink (this is the #1 sign)
- Weight gain, especially around the mid-section
- Increase in appetite, this usually occurs close to birth
- Some cats may become more affectionate than usual
- Cats may also exhibit morning sickness
- Nesting activity begins
Length of Cat Pregnancy and Number of Kittens
How long does pregnancy last and how many kittens will my cat have are two of the most common questions cat owners have. The regular gestation period for cats is between 58 and 65 days, or approximately 9 weeks. A queen (pregnant cat) may have anywhere from 1 to 8 kittens at a time. The average being 2 to 5 kittens. Your veterinarian may be able to estimate the number of kittens felt on palpation of the abdomen during examination. Your vet may also perform an ultrasound to verify the pregnancy and count the number of kittens.
Care of Pregnant Cat
The first thing you should do if you suspect your cat is pregnant is take her to the vet for a prenatal check-up. The queen should continue to have exercise in order for her to keep muscle tone and to avoid gaining too much weight. Assuming you have a healthy cat, the best care you can give her is a diet high in nutrients, along with plenty of fresh, clean water. Approximately 3 weeks before she is due begin adding a premium kitten food to her diet. Each week increase the amount of the kitten food, so when she is in her final week of pregnancy, she is on all kitten food, and continue on it until after the kittens have been weaned. Feed small, frequent meals (approx. 3-4 meals a day). During the last week of pregnancy and the first 3-4 weeks of lactating, she may eat twice the amount she ate before pregnancy. As long as she is gaining a healthy amount and not becoming obese, she should receive the food.
If she has external parasites such as fleas or ear mites or internal parasites such as roundworms, discuss treatment options with your veterinarian. It would be preferable to treat her for these infections before she becomes pregnant. You should never administer any drug or supplement to a pregnant or nursing cat unless instructed by your veterinarian. This is especially important during pregnancy, where relatively safe and common drugs can be harmful.
A week or two before the kittens are to be born, you can prepare a delivery box for the birth of the kittens. You can use an old laundry basket lined with towels, or you can make one out of a cardboard box. It should be large enough for her to stretch out in with a little room to spare. Leave the top on so it's dark inside, but slit the edges on three sides so it hinges open. Cut an entrance in one end from the top of the box to within five inches of the bottom. That way mom can step over the edge to get in, but the kittens can't spill out. Put lots of shredded newspaper in the bottom and cover it with a soft towel or baby blanket. Place the box in a quiet spot away from traffic and drafts. Though you have done your best, when the time comes, she may decide not to use the box. During the final three weeks of pregnancy the mother should be separated from other cats in the household and should be kept indoors at all times.
Labor and Delivery
There are a number of signs to let you know when your queen is about to give birth.
- Decreased activity
- Milk discharge from the nipples
- Calling as if in heat
- Licking of the vaginal area
Even if you know when she is ready to give birth about the best you can do is to protect her quiet and privacy. Keep fresh water and food nearby. Mover her litter box to an easily accessible spot, but not too close to the maternity area. Just before the first kitten is delivered she'll start to pant heavily. As soon as it arrives, she will clean the envelope that covers it away, and lick the newborn vigorously to stimulate its circulatory and respiratory systems. Then she'll usually eat the afterbirth. Don't interfere with this process: it contains nutrients she needs. Between kittens she may get out of her box and walk around or eat and drink a little. Kittens may arrive a few minutes to a couple of hours apart. Then entire birthing process can take from 2 to 6 hours depending on the number of kittens, age of the mother, and whether or not this is her first litter.
Your assistance won't be needed or desired unless the mother fails to clean the fluid-filled sac away. In that case, puncture the sac with your fingers and remove all matter from around the kittens face and nostrils with a piece of sterile cotton. Tie sterile string around the umbilical cord about 1 inch from his body. Cut the cord on the side of the knot away from the kittens body. Dip the end of the cord in a small amount of iodine. Give the baby immediately to the mother to lick. If she refuses rub the kitten vigorously yet gently with a dry towel.
When to Seek Veterinary Care
Chances are that your pregnant cat will have a completely normal pregnancy and delivery. However, there are times when you need to seek veterinary care.
- A delay of greater than 3 hours between the kittens
- A kitten lodges in the birth canal that cannot be gently removed
- The mother is in hard labor with abdominal contractions for greater than an hour with no signs of a kitten
- Greenish discharge or excessive bright red bleeding (if at any time after birth you see a greenish foul smelling discharge call the vet immediately)
- The mother appears weak or sick
- A placenta is not seen for each birth.
Care of Newborn Kittens
The mother and her kittens should be left alone for at least the first 3 days. Restrain your enthusiasm and desire to handle them until they are at least a week old. Keep the box in its dark location until the kittens have had their eyes open a few days - about 2 weeks. The mother will take care of all the kittens' needs - feeding, cleaning and toilet training for the first 4 to 8 weeks. You may want to purchase a litter box with lower sides so the kittens can climb in and out of it easily. As the kittens begin to toddle around on their own, they may nibble at her food. When they are about 4 weeks old, start offering them a dish of easy on the gums canned food or dry food moistened with water or mother's milk substitute (available in pet shops). The kittens will be weaned and eating an entirely solid diet between 7 and 10 weeks. For frequency of feedings and amounts see our Feeding Suggestion Chart on our Cat Food page.
Kittens will be ready for adoption when they are 8 weeks old. Either you or the kitty's new family should take the cat to the vet for a checkup and vaccinations. If you do not already have homes for the kittens, the Animal Protection Institute of America recommends that you advertise them "for sale" rather than "for free." People who want kittens for other purposes than pets may be discouraged by a price tag, even a small one. Also, its a good practice to interview prospective owners before letting the kitten go to make sure he will have a responsible loving home.