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How long are cats pregnant for? Feline facts and figures

Fluffy white cat with blue eyes lying down.

Your cat will need lots of time to rest during pregnancy, often taking herself off to a quiet space.

© Jim Polakis - Shutterstock

If you suspect your cat is pregnant, you may be wondering when to expect the pitter patter of tiny paws. Here we cover what you need to know. 

By Greta Inglis

Updated on the 07/06/2021, 10:23

As cat lovers, nothing is more exciting than the prospect of new life joining the family. There's almost nothing cuter than a fluffy kitten, filling a home with their antics and need for affection.

Female cats can become pregnant as early as four months old, unless spayed, and kittens may be born by the time your cat is six months of age. If you don’t plan on a litter, getting your cat spayed is always recommended, as it offers long-term health benefits for your feline friend. With lots of unwanted cats abandoned each year, breeding is really best left to the experts. It can be stressful, expensive, and comes with the huge responsibility of finding the right homes for these little bundles of love.

Having said that, you may find your cat is accidentally pregnant, have taken in a pregnant rescue or feel this is the right choice for your pet. If you suspect your cat might be pregnant, there are signs you can look out for. Here we take a look at what these are, along with what to expect during the gestation period.

What are the signs my cat is pregnant?  

If you suspect your cat is pregnant, you’re probably wondering what to look out for. This can be an exciting but nerve-wracking time, and it’s helpful to be able to prepare. As with people, the body’s response to the experience can be varied, but there are key signs of pregnancy you can look out for.

A pregnant queen (female cat), may show signs of weight gain and a need for more affection than usual. Their nipples may become larger and red, also referred to as ‘pinking up’ and they may want to eat more than usual. Feline pregnancy puts strain on the body, so making sure your cat feels comfortable and secure can go a long way in helping her through the process.

How long are cats pregnant for?

The gestation period for cats is usually between 63 and 67 days, although this can be as short as 61 days in some cases. This equates to around nine weeks of pregnancy, during which you will notice changes in your cat’s behaviour and appearance. Free roaming cats could become pregnant more than once a year, so if you’ve taken in a stray or rescue, do bear in mind that the gestation period may be shorter, due to unknown conception dates.

A pregnant female cat’s hormones are altering all the time, so you may notice differences in temperament. While some cats become extra cuddly and affectionate, others need time alone. It’s important to respect this, to ensure they feel relaxed at all times.

How can I tell how far along my cat is in her pregnancy?

Similarly to us humans, each cat is an individual, and their body will adapt to pregnancy differently. Depending on the number of kittens they’re carrying, your cat may show signs more obviously, with a more swollen abdomen and growing belly. Here we take a look at a week-by-week timeline of stages and signs, to help you work out how soon you may expect the arrival of kittens.

Week-by-week: A gestation timeline for your cat

During the first couple of weeks of pregnancy, your cat might not show any visible signs of pregnancy, as the body is adapting and changing internally. Over the weeks, you will start to see more obvious indicators that your cat’s expecting, so you can prepare accordingly.

Days 0-12: Pre-implantation phase. During this period, the fertilised egg enters the uterus and the placenta forms, connecting the mother and kittens.

Days 16-21: An ultrasound will be possible during this time, to check whether there is a fluid sac in your cat’s uterus. This will indicate whether or not she is pregnant.

Week three: The first visible signs will start to appear. The nipples may become larger or darker in colour, also known as ‘pinking up’. This is the body preparing for lactation.

Week four: During this week, exciting changes will start to take place. Your cat’s abdomen may swell and her belly will grow. Make sure you don’t squeeze or prod her, as this could affect the unborn kittens and cause her discomfort.

During this week, some cats may experience nausea and vomiting. Much like morning sickness in people, this doesn’t affect all cats, but it can happen. If your cat is pregnant, you may find she refuses food during these moments. If the vomiting is consistent, or you’re concerned she isn’t eating enough book to see your veterinarian for a check-up. Just as some cat’s suffer morning sickness, others feel extra hungry, and you may notice your cat’s appetite increase.

Pregnant queens may eat 1.5 times the amount of food they normally would, putting on between 0.5-2kg in weight.

Week five: At 40-45 days of pregnancy, an ultrasound can be performed to see how many kittens your cat is carrying.

Week six: This is the week where your cat’s behaviour may outwardly change. She may become more affectionate, purring regularly and seeking attention, or she may withdraw into quieter corners of the home.

Aggression towards other pets in the home, may seem concerning, but is not unusual. Pregnant females may defend certain areas from resident dogs, male cats and other females, as they would need a hidden and secluded spot to care for their babies in the wild.

Week seven: You may notice a sudden increase in appetite during week seven of gestation, as the kittens grow rapidly inside. Kitten food is often well-suited to mother cats due to its high calorie content. Your cat may also need to rest more at this stage, sleeping a lot throughout the day.

Week eight: Nesting will begin, as your cat prepares to give birth. Creating a comfortable birthing space is always a good idea, with newspaper and washable blankets. Ideally, find a quiet and secluded spot with low lighting. This will help your pregnant cat to feel comfortable.

Week nine: Perhaps the most exciting week of them all; the week the kittens arrive!

During the final stages of pregnancy your cat is likely to refuse food and will take herself of to the nesting area. During labour, and particularly in the 24 hours before giving birth, your cat’s body temperature will drop. They may vocalise and clean themselves repeatedly.

How long your cat is pregnant for can vary. If you’ve reached the 67 day mark with no sign of kittens, don’t worry unnecessarily. The gestation period can be as long as 72 days in some cases, so you’ll be blessed with tiny fluffballs before you know it. If you have any concerns about labour or your cat’s wellbeing, consult your veterinarian.

How long after a cat starts showing will she give birth? 

Having started showing during week four, your cat is about half way through her pregnancy. If you’re seeing signs such as increased appetite or refusal of food or a growing belly you can expect the pitter patter of tiny paws in approximately five weeks.  

Do cats usually give birth at night? 

Pregnant queens need to feel safe and secure before giving birth. This means they will find a secluded and calm space in which to have their babies. In the wild, they may even create multiple spaces, to ensure they can move their kittens if danger arises.

It isn’t uncommon for cats to give birth at night, as this is a time when the household is calmer and your cat may be feeling more relaxed. Your cat will know when it’s the right time for her to give birth and it’s best not to interrupt the birthing process, whether this happens day or night.

Click here to read more on how to help your cat during labour. It is best not to interfere unless she seems distressed.

How many kittens does a cat usually have? Are there less in a first litter?

If your cat is experiencing their first pregnancy, they will most likely have a smaller litter than usual. You can expect one to three bundles of fun. On average though, most cats will have between four and eight kittens, and an average of five. For older cats, litters are often smaller.

Caring for your pregnant cat creates a bond that you’ll never forget. You get to be with them through the most magical of processes, with all the fun and love that comes from watching them create and care for their babies.

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