Understanding Cat Pregnancy and Birth: From Bump to Babies

cat pregnancy

Are you preparing to welcome a litter of new furballs into your home? If you suspect your cat is pregnant, it’s important to prepare as early as possible. You want to make sure her space is as safe and comfortable as possible when the big day arrives. 

Today, we’re sharing a complete cat pregnancy guide to help you get ready!

When Can a Cat Get Pregnant?

As soon as your cat reaches sexual maturity, she will begin having heat cycles and can become pregnant. For most cats, this milestone occurs around five to six months of age; however, some cats can go into heat as young as three months old. 

Your cat’s heat cycle will repeat once every three weeks or so. While her fertility will start to decline around eight years of age, neutering her before her first heat season is the most effective way to make sure she doesn’t reproduce. 

How Long Is the Cat Gestation Period?

Most cat pregnancies last for about two months, or 63 to 67 days. However, it can be difficult to tell exactly when your cat becomes pregnant, as most won’t show signs of gestation until they’re a few weeks into their term. Like a human, you can divide cat pregnancy stages into trimesters, with each one lasting approximately 20 days. 

How Can I Tell If My Cat Is Pregnant?

In the first two trimesters of your cat’s pregnancy, she might seem like her normal self. The first real sign you may notice is a change in the color and shape of her nipples, which should occur about 16 to 20 days into her term. This is known as the “pinking up” stage, and it will cause her nipples to become pinker and more prominent than usual. 

In addition, you might find that your cat seems calmer and more docile in the early weeks of her pregnancy. If you find her presenting these changes or if it appears that pregnancy is a possibility, contact your veterinarian to rule out illness. 

Toward the final trimester, your cat will exhibit a more pronounced abdomen. She may also begin to groom her belly and lick the area under her tail. Her appetite will increase, and she should gradually gain between two and four pounds. 

If you’re seeing all of these cat pregnancy signs and want to affirm your suspicions, check to see if your vet offers ultrasounds. By around the 40-day mark, they should be able to detect not only if she’s pregnant but also the number of kittens she’s carrying. 

How to Determine Your Cat’s Due Date

It can be challenging to pinpoint a cat’s exact due date, but there are several techniques the veterinarian can use to estimate the timeline. These vary based on the trimester and can include:

  • Palpating or feeling the fetuses: 2.5 weeks into pregnancy
  • Taking an ultrasound: Three to four weeks into pregnancy
  • Taking an X-ray: Six weeks into pregnancy

Talk to your veterinarian about the milestones you’ve noticed your pregnant cat reaching, including any behavioral changes. They can use this information to gauge how far along she is in her pregnancy. A vet visit is also recommended to rule out pseudopregnancy, a condition in which a cat exhibits many signs of pregnancy, including mammary enlargement and even lactation, but isn’t pregnant. 

How to Care For Your Pregnant Cat

Once you’ve confirmed your cat is pregnant, it’s time to make sure she has everything she needs for a successful delivery. Let’s take a look at the steps responsible pet parents can take. 

What to Feed a Pregnant Cat

While your cat is busy growing healthy kittens, she’ll need more calories than usual. To ensure she gets all the vitamins and nutrients she needs, use a commercial cat food specifically formulated for pregnancy or lactation. 

Try to make this switch at least by the end of her first month of pregnancy, and keep her on it until the kittens are no longer nursing. To avoid upsetting her stomach, introduce the new food a little bit at a time until you fully transition. 

Vaccinating Cats During Pregnancy

If possible, it’s best to vaccinate your cat before she becomes pregnant. This protects her against illnesses and birth defects and also lowers her risk of catching an infectious disease, which can lead to pregnancy loss. If she’s vaccinated, she can even pass on those antibodies to her kittens through nursing. 

If your cat wasn’t vaccinated before she became pregnant, it’s best to hold off on vaccinating her until after she’s had her litter. This is especially the case with live vaccines, which can pose a serious risk to developing fetuses. If the vaccine is a “killed” one (which is the case with most rabies vaccines), your veterinarian might approve them for your cat during pregnancy. 

Cat Parasite Prevention During Pregnancy

Parasite prevention is a critical part of responsible pet care and should continue during your cat’s pregnancy. However, you do need to check and ensure that your cat’s flea and tick medicine is safe for her to take during pregnancy. If this information isn’t on the label, check with your veterinarian to make sure!

If you suspect your pregnant cat might be suffering from intestinal worms, you can bring a fecal sample to your vet’s office. Some worms can pass from a mother cat to a kitten, which can impede their healthy growth. 

Identifying Signs of Illness in a Pregnant Cat

When a cat is pregnant, it can be hard to distinguish normal gestation symptoms from signs of illness. If you notice your cat doing any of the following, reach out to your vet as soon as possible:

If she begins to have any type of vaginal discharge, with or without blood, take her to the emergency veterinarian as soon as possible. This symptom can be very serious and isn’t a normal side effect of pregnancy at any stage. 

Preparing Your Cat for Labor and Delivery

When your cat’s pregnancy is drawing to a close and delivery is near, you can start preparing everything at home to make sure she’s comfortable. 

Start by making sure she has a special spot where she can nest, preferably a private, quiet area away from the noise and chaos of the main house. It doesn’t have to be elaborate — a simple box lined with towels or blankets is fine. Put it in a place where you can observe her from afar without interfering with her routine. 

Signs That Your Cat Is in Labor

As in pregnancy, there are three stages of cat labor, and each one will have its own signs. Let’s go over a quick breakdown of what to look for at each stage.

First Stage

In the first stage of labor, your cat may have slight changes to her behavior. She may stop eating, scratch around her nesting area, or seem a little anxious and agitated. Contractions usually starting to occur, though they aren’t noticible to anyone but your feline friend. 

Second Stage

When your cat enters the second stage of labor, her actions will begin to appear more strained. At this point, the kittens will begin to pass through her pelvis. It can take anywhere between five minutes to half an hour for your cat to deliver one kitten. 

You can expect most of the kittens to come out head first, born inside a sac of membranes. Each kitten has its own placenta, which gives it nourishment. 

Third Stage

During the third stage of labor, your cat will continue to deliver the remainder of the fecal membranes and placenta for each kitten. The membranes will be green-black in color, and it’s not uncommon for laboring cats to eat them. 

In some cases, cats will begin to deliver a second kitten before the third stage of labor is complete for the previous kitten. It’s normal for these stages to alternate. 

Timeline for Average Cat Labor

Most cats labor for only about six hours. However, they can pause their labor if they feel unsafe or threatened for any reason. This break can last up to 24 to 36 hours. 

How to Care For Your Cat Post-Partum

When all of your new kittens have arrived, check to make sure their airways are clear and dry them off. Try not to disturb your cat while she’s bonding with her new family, but see if you can gently remove any soiled cloths or towels to keep her nesting area clean. 

For the next few days, make sure your cat is nursing normally, and enjoy your new additions! If you have any concerns about her nursing habits, reach out to your vet for an evaluation. 

Lead Your Pet Through a Successful Cat Pregnancy

A cat pregnancy can be an exciting time! Most felines exhibit the same patterns of behavior that help pet parents know when they’re expecting and when labor is beginning. 

Throughout this journey, it’s important to stay in close communication with a trusted veterinarian. At All Animals Veterinary Clinic, we have decades of experience in pet care, including cat pregnancies, and we’re here to help. Request an appointment online today and let’s connect!

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