Also referred to as a queen, an unneutered female cat will continue to go through heat cycles until she falls pregnant. She'll then display many recognisable symptoms including morning sickness and a raised body temperature.
A cats pregnancy is relatively straight forward, and they do most of the hard work themselves. Still, it's important to keep an eye out for any signs that the labour and delivery are about to begin, such as abdominal palpitations. Some cats will even stop eating a week before the litter of kittens arrive.
Will my cat get pregnant if she hasn't been neutered?
Unless you keep her locked in the house, an unneutered cat is highly likely to fall pregnant. Cats are very efficient breeders. The "heat" season (a period of time in which females are receptive to breeding) lasts from spring until the end of autumn, and each cycle lasts between few days or a few weeks. This means your cat is ready to mate more often than not.
Each “encounter” with a male cat has a good chance of leading to a fertilisation. Cats are induced ovulators, which means the egg is released post-mating.
A female cat matures physically around six months, although it can happen in kittens as young as four-months-old.
How will I know if my cat is pregnant?
You might not. Depending on how many kittens she's carrying, a pregnant cat puts an extra 2-4 pounds in weight. You could easily miss this, especially if your cat is a little overweight or has a very hairy belly! However, a few things to look out for include:
- No more heat cycles
- Swollen nipples that darken in colour
- Morning sickness
- Increased appetite
- Swollen or distended abdomen
- Behavioural changes
- Nesting. This happens close to the due date. Your cat is looking for a safe place to give birth and then care for the kittens.
How long are cats pregnant for?
A cat pregnancy will last somewhere between 63-67 days, although the gestation period can be as short as 60 days, or as long 72. Cats don't start “showing” until a few weeks into the pregnancy, and the average litter is 3 to 4 kittens. If you think your cat is pregnant, take her to the vet. They can confirm the good news and give you additional advice. And they might be able to tell how many kittens are on the way!
Caring for a pregnant cat
Now that you know some kittens are on their way, it's time to get mum ready for the big day.
Tip #1 Water access
Cats are pretty independent creatures. They do a decent job of taking care of themselves, but there are some things you can do to help keep mum strong and safe. Pregnant cats need access to lots of water, so make sure her bowl is nearby and full of fresh water.
Tip #2 Feed them more
Your cat might be eating for up to four little kittens. This means more food! Generally, pregnant cats need about 25% more food than usual, especially in the last few weeks of the term.
Tip #3 Keep an eye out for ticks
Look out for any fleas or ticks on mum. These annoying parasites can be easily transmitted to the new arrivals, and treating kittens is tricky and time-consuming. Most flea treatments are unsuitable for newborns. So focus on prevention rather than cure by treating mum first.
Tip #4 Give them some space
As tempting as it might be, don't rub your cat's pregnant belly. Cats become very protective over the babies, especially in the few weeks before giving birth. Plus, there's a chance you could damage the developing foetuses.
Getting ready for the birth
The most obvious sign your cat is ready to give birth is when she starts “nesting.” This is an instinctual behaviour designed to protect mum and her kittens. Your cat will find a quiet, safe place and start spending most of her time there. So make it comfortable by laying down a box or a crate lined with a few towels and warm blankets.
In most cases, mum will get the job done herself. Still, monitor her closely without overwhelming her. There's always a chance of complications, and she might need medical assistance. Here are some things to look out for:
1. If your cat is having contractions, but there are no signs of any kittens after 20 mins, call the vet.
2. It doesn’t take long for a cat to give birth to her kittens. If you can see the head but the body doesn't follow after a few minutes, your cat might be in trouble.
3. It’s not unusual for a cat to take a rest between having kittens. However, if more than 2 hours pass between kittens, she might need medical assistance.
4. You may notice a discharge coming from your cat's vulva. This is generally nothing to worry about. If it smells really bad, she might have an infection that needs treating.
After the birth, mum will spend most of her time with the kittens. She’ll feed them, clean them, and keep them warm. She might also eat their poop! Don't worry, this is normal. She's just making sure the den is clean, reducing the risk of any infections. But keep a close eye on mum, and contact the vet if she or her kittens appear unwell or suddenly stop eating. Apart from that, just let mum do her thing!