You might have read stacks of books when you were expecting your own bundle of joy. But do you know what happens when your cat becomes pregnant?
Don’t load Fluffy's bowl with pickles and ice cream. Just treat them like the queen that they are -- literally.
The process of a mama cat getting ready to have kittens is called "queening." A female cat can get pregnant when they are as young as 4 months old, unless they have been spayed to prevent that.
Queens can keep going into heat every 2 to 3 weeks from the spring through the early fall, making them ready to reproduce more often than not.
A cat’s pregnancy lasts about 63-65 days. So, a cat can have kittens when they are only 6 months old.
Are They Pregnant?
The best way to find out is to make an appointment with your vet. They can confirm that kittens are on the way, and get an idea of how many, in a few ways:
- Feeling your cat's belly is sometimes useful but not always accurate.
- Ultrasonography is best performed at 25–35 days gestation. Before 21 days, “false-negative” results can be seen. Ultrasound cannot tell you how many kittens your cat is carrying.
- X-rays can determine the number of kittens to expect, but they are not always accurate, and they shouldn't be done until your cat is at least 42 days pregnant - and generally not recommended until 55 days.
There are a few clues that you may notice, too.
The cat's belly will get big around 30 days after they mate. Another symptom that appears as the pregnancy continues, 2 to 3 weeks after they conceive, is their nipples enlarge and redden (also called "pinking up").
Caring for Your Pregnant Queen
It’s rare, but in the earliest stages of pregnancy, your cat may have "morning sickness" that might show up as a lack of appetite or vomiting. If that keeps happening, take them to the vet. With the surge of hormones and changes to their uterus, they may show signs of fatigue. This phase will eventually fade after those first few weeks pass.
Just like many other females in the animal kingdom carrying a bun in the oven (or for a cat, an average of 4 buns per litter), your cat may need extra food and calories while they are expecting.
They’ll eat about 1.5 times their normal diet as their pregnancy draws to a close, so make sure they have constant access to their normal fare. Your vet will probably recommend that you feed your pregnant cat kitten food or food that's labeled for pregnant and lactating cats throughout their pregnancy and during the period they nurse their young one.
Viruses can spread to kittens before they’re born, so keep up with your cat's vaccination schedule. If your pregnant cat is due for their regular vaccination and deworming/flea treatment or needs medication, check with your vet first to make sure the treatment is safe for them. It is best to vaccinate prior to breeding, as most vaccines are not safe to give during pregnancy.
Tips to Prepare for the Big Day
Make your home a comfortable place for the impending birth. If you normally let your cat go outside, stop that, to avoid them to go into labor during one of their walkabouts.
About 2 weeks before the due date, you may notice your cat is acting different as they get into nesting mode. To help out, you can scan your home for a good birthing spot for them. Find a medium-sized box with a low opening, and cover it with newspapers, old towels, and soft blankets to create a relaxing area for the mother and their future 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.
Keep in mind that you can guide your cat as much as possible and set up the ultimate birthing spot, but they are going to do what they are going to do. If they want to give birth in a laundry basket, behind the garbage can, or in the back of your closet, they will.
When you notice that the cat is in nesting mode, take them to the vet for their final prenatal visit. The vet will give you more information about how to prepare for the delivery, check on the mother and kitties’ health, and tell you want to do if there’s an emergency during the birth.
Two clues that the big day is coming: Cats usually stop eating 24 hours before they give birth, and their temperature drops below 100 F. You’ll meet those kittens soon!