Cat Pregnancy: Everything You Need to Know


Updated: September 22, 2023

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The anticipation of a new life entering the world is a momentous occasion, whether it’s a human or a feline. Expectant parents, be they human or cat, embark on a journey filled with excitement and uncertainty. We consult numerous medical professionals, devour parenting guides, and meticulously ready our surroundings for the impending arrival. And when confidence still eludes us, a chorus of seasoned voices stands ready to offer guidance – from trusted friends and family to supportive neighbors, fellow parents, midwives, and even the occasional passerby.

Yet, there are instances when the prospective mother in question is not a member of our own species, but rather a cherished feline companion. While she may not comprehend our words of advice, her ancient maternal instincts have been finely honed through countless generations of successful mothers. With a bit of dedicated research on the part of her human companions, she can find all the support she needs to navigate her pregnancy journey and safely bring her offspring into the world.

Although the subject of feline pregnancy may not be as extensively covered as its human counterpart, fret not. In the pages ahead, we will delve into every aspect you need to be acquainted with. From understanding the feline reproductive cycle to discerning the various stages of pregnancy and providing optimal care for your expectant cat, this comprehensive guide leaves no stone unturned. Join us in discovering how to nurture and stand by your cat as she steps into motherhood, and brace yourself for the boundless joy that comes with welcoming a litter of kittens into the world alongside her!

Week By Week: The Timeline of Cat Pregnancy

Throughout the course of a cat’s pregnancy, each passing week introduces new transformations and demands that must be addressed to safeguard the well-being of both the mother and her developing kittens. As her physique undergoes shifts, so too will her disposition, energy levels, appetite, and, naturally, the growing fetuses within her. Familiarizing yourself with the anticipated changes week by week will equip you to offer optimal care for your expectant cat.

A standard feline gestation period spans from 63 to 65 days, though occasionally it may range from as few as 59 days to as long as 72 days. On average, a cat carries her pregnancy for approximately nine weeks, conveniently divided into three-week trimesters, akin to those in human pregnancy. This framework provides a useful means to grasp the evolving stages during this crucial period.

For the purposes of this timeline, we’ll base our discussion on a typical nine-week pregnancy. However, it’s important to acknowledge that every cat is unique, and there may be variations in your cat’s symptoms and progress. The key is that each milestone aligns roughly with the expected schedule. Should significant milestones be missed or if your cat displays signs of distress or discomfort, seeking guidance from a veterinarian is crucial.

Before Pregnancy

The phase preceding pregnancy in a cat’s reproductive journey is a critical period that warrants careful consideration and preparation. During this time, it is essential to ensure that both the male and female cats are in good health. Providing a balanced diet, regular exercise, and maintaining up-to-date vaccinations are vital steps. Additionally, consulting a veterinarian to address any existing health concerns or to receive advice on optimizing fertility is recommended.

Puberty Blues

Upon reaching sexual maturity, commonly known as puberty, a cat becomes capable of reproduction. The timing of this milestone varies based on breed and genetics. For instance, breeds like Siamese and other Oriental varieties may reach puberty as early as four months, while larger or long-haired breeds like Maine Coons and Persians may take up to eighteen months.

Typically, puberty sets in around six to eight months of age. Most veterinarians recommend spaying cats before this stage, as the surge of hormones associated with sexual maturity can lead to significant stress and potential behavioral issues. Some vets may conduct spaying as early as eight weeks, while others prefer to wait until the cat reaches around four pounds, a typical weight for a three to four-month-old kitten.

If a cat is spayed before puberty, she will never go through the reproductive cycle. However, if she reaches sexual maturity with her reproductive system intact, she will experience the feline fertility cycle. This cycle mirrors the human menstrual cycle and dictates her fertility, with unmistakable signs indicating when she is able to become pregnant.

Who’s the Father?

To conceive, a female cat must undergo ovulation, the release of eggs from her ovaries. Unlike in humans, where ovulation occurs naturally, in cats, it necessitates the stimulus of mating. While some cats may ovulate after a single encounter with a male, most require three or four matings within a 24-hour window to induce ovulation.

It’s worth noting that a female cat may mate with the same male repeatedly, but it’s also possible for multiple males to mate with her prior to ovulation. This scenario is particularly likely if the female is allowed outside while in heat, exposing her to a greater number of potential mates beyond the household. Consequently, kittens within the same litter may have different fathers.

Regardless of whether she mated with one or several males, once ovulation is triggered, the female cat is considered pregnant. From this point, it’s only a matter of approximately nine weeks until she gives birth – and these ensuing nine weeks promise to be quite the adventure!

Heat of the Moment

An unspayed sexually mature female cat undergoes a fertility cycle, also known as an estrus cycle, which typically spans around three weeks. Approximately one week of this cycle is devoted to being in heat – a phase during which she is receptive and eager to mate. This period of heat is characterized by distinct behaviors that signal her reproductive instincts.

These behaviors often encompass an intensified craving for attention and affection, persistent vocalizations, and heightened sensitivity in specific areas of her body, particularly the hindquarters and belly. Additionally, a cat in heat may engage in urine spraying within the household; this urine carries elevated levels of pheromones that attract male cats. Consequently, you may observe a surge in unfamiliar male cats visiting your residence, enticed by the scent of her spraying and the sound of her vocalizations.

The First Trimester

The first trimester of a cat’s pregnancy marks a period of significant development for both the mother and her growing litter. This phase spans approximately three weeks from conception to around 21 days into gestation.

During this initial stage, the fertilized eggs embed themselves into the uterine lining, commencing the formation of placental connections. This crucial process ensures proper nourishment and oxygen supply to the developing fetuses.

Week One

After ovulation is induced, typically occurring within 24 hours but extending up to three days post-mating, the fertilized eggs embark on a descent from the ovaries. Journeying through the Fallopian tubes, they encounter sperm from the male(s), resulting in their transformation into zygotes – the very nascent phase of a kitten’s existence.

In these initial days, the zygote undergoes a process of division, giving rise to new cells. Initially, a single fertilized egg may cleave into two separate zygotes, giving rise to identical twins that share an identical genetic makeup. It’s even possible for these twin zygotes to further divide, resulting in identical quadruplets.

The transit through the Fallopian tubes is unhurried, affording the zygote cells ample time to proliferate and lay the groundwork for feline anatomy. By approximately day six, the rudiments of the digestive system begin to take form. Concurrently, the placenta, a specialized organ that establishes a connection between the fetus and the uterus, facilitating the exchange of oxygen and nutrients, undergoes its development.

At this juncture, pregnancy remains imperceptible. Even the cat herself remains unaware of her pregnant state, though by day three, she will have transitioned out of her heat cycle and resumed her typical behaviors.

Week Two

During the second week of pregnancy, noticeable changes are unlikely to occur for both you and your cat. Externally, everything should appear just as it always does. Although it’s rare, some cats may experience morning sickness during this period, potentially leading to vomiting or a reduced appetite. However, this occurrence is far less common in cats compared to humans, so chances are you won’t observe any significant differences.

Yet, on a microscopic scale, a flurry of activity is underway inside your cat’s body. This week marks the transition from zygotes to embryos, intensifying the pace of development as they settle into the womb, where they will remain for the remainder of the pregnancy.

As the zygotes approach the culmination of their journey through the Fallopian tubes, they begin preparing for gestation. Each zygote takes on an egg-like structure featuring three layers: the ectoderm, destined to form the skin and nervous system; the endoderm, which will give rise to the gastrointestinal system; and the mesoderm, responsible for the development of the skeleton, muscles, and organs. At this juncture, the zygotes commence distinct differentiation, expressing their unique genetic makeup.

Around day 10, the zygotes complete their journey into the uterus from the Fallopian tubes, securing attachment to the uterine lining via their placentas. Over the ensuing days, the newly implanted embryos experience rapid growth, expanding from 1mm to a range of 3 to 5mm by day 14. While their distinguishing features are limited at this stage, the formation of the spinal cord and the rudimentary beginnings of the central nervous system are underway.

It’s worth noting that the number of successfully implanted embryos may be fewer than the initially fertilized eggs. Some zygotes may prove nonviable due to genetic factors or inadequate development, failing to secure implantation in the uterus. Typically, anywhere from one to ten embryos successfully attach to the uterus, resulting in a typical litter size of three to five kittens.

Week Three

Entering the final stretch of the first trimester brings a flurry of thrilling developments. Around day 15, take a moment to inspect your cat’s belly and pay attention to her nipples, which may appear larger and pinker than usual. This early swelling often serves as the initial visible sign of pregnancy. Over the ensuing weeks, this enlargement will continue as the cat’s mammary glands kick into gear, producing milk in preparation for her impending litter.

Within the womb, the pace of activity intensifies. By day 15, the embryos have begun forming tails, alongside the development of their circulatory systems. At day 17, they measure up to 10mm in length, taking on a faint semblance of kitten-like features, complete with distinct front and back ends, and noticeable spaces for eyes and ears.

Between days 18 and 21, a remarkable surge of growth occurs, rendering it difficult to believe that just a week prior, they resembled featureless eggs. While their hind legs remain fused, their front legs separate, and their tails elongate. Nearly all internal organs have taken shape – the lungs, stomach, kidneys, liver, thyroid, pancreas, and cerebellum are formed and initiating their functions.

As the third week draws to a close, the embryos measure approximately 24mm in length, now substantial enough to be palpated through the mother’s stomach. If you lack experience in palpation, it’s advisable not to attempt this on your own, as the embryos are delicate, and the mother’s abdomen is quite sensitive. Ideally, a veterinarian should perform this task and may even utilize ultrasound to confirm the pregnancy if the embryos remain elusive.

The Second Trimester

The second trimester of a cat’s pregnancy spans from week four to week six, marking a pivotal phase in the development of the growing litter.

Week Four

As your cat progresses further into her pregnancy, you’ll observe noticeable changes in her both physically and mentally. Her nipples are growing larger and taking on a pinker hue with each passing day. The fur on her stomach is thinning to facilitate easier access to them. She may experience bouts of morning sickness, resulting in occasional vomiting. If this becomes frequent, it’s advisable to consult a vet.

Her dietary preferences may shift, with foods that once intrigued her now being rejected. This could be due to nausea, or she may simply be seeking more nutrient-dense options. Specialized formulas designed for pregnant or nursing cats and their kittens are available in many commercial cat foods. Look for canned varieties enriched with taurine, as a deficiency in this essential amino acid can lead to severe birth defects.

As the growing kittens demand more of her energy, your cat may start to experience fatigue. She’ll likely be more subdued than usual, seeking extra comfort and affection from you. Be gentle when touching her, as she’s particularly sensitive right now, especially around her expanding abdomen.

At this stage, the embryos have officially become fetuses, taking on increasingly feline characteristics. By day 23, while the skeleton remains cartilaginous, it’s becoming more distinguishable from the surrounding muscles. Facial features, particularly the lips and the newly-formed tongue, are becoming more refined.

Day 25 marks a significant milestone for the development of the brain and nervous system. The pituitary gland, responsible for producing crucial hormones that regulate various aspects of development, forms in the brain. Nerves undergo further refinement, with gray and white matter distinctively separating within the spinal cord.

As week four comes to a close, the fetus has truly begun to take shape, measuring up to 40mm and boasting a well-defined face with distinct nose, chin, and cheeks. Teeth have formed, and some bones are starting to harden, soon to be visible on an x-ray. Approaching the midpoint of the pregnancy, it’s truly awe-inspiring to contemplate the remarkable transformations the kittens have undergone in just one month – and exciting to anticipate the continued growth, both within and outside the womb!

Week Five

As your mama cat advances further into her pregnancy, her burgeoning belly makes her unmistakably pregnant, especially if she’s carrying a sizable litter. The added weight and fluctuating hormones may leave her feeling a bit sluggish and moodier than usual. Understandably, the last thing she (or any cat, for that matter) wants is to be confined in a cat carrier for a trip to the vet.

Nevertheless, this is an opportune time to schedule a veterinary check-up to ensure that everything is progressing smoothly within her. The vet will likely be able to palpate the fetuses through her abdomen and may even provide a count.

Back at home, your cat’s behavior might seem a bit contradictory. One moment she may be seeking attention, happily purring in your lap, while the next she could be in a corner, giving you a stern look if you dare to approach. Try not to take it personally; she’s just as bewildered as you are, and she’ll fare best if you allow her to dictate her social interactions.

In the womb, the fetuses continue their advancement, measuring 50mm in length by day 32. Notably, their ears begin to take on a more distinct form this week. Externally, triangular flaps emerge, while internally, the eardrum and the rest of the auditory system undergo development.

By day 35, the sex of each fetus becomes discernible as their genitalia have fully formed. Their paws have separated into clearly defined toes, and their bones continue to undergo calcification. At 60mm in length, the fetuses are significantly larger compared to their size just five weeks prior, and their growth will only continue from here on out.

Week Six

As we approach the final stretch of the second trimester, your cat may be experiencing significant discomfort. With a weight gain of a pound or two over the past five weeks, she’s likely grappling with the profound changes her body is undergoing. Her anxiety levels may be elevated, and her mood swings more pronounced, so be attuned to her needs. Offer her space if she seeks it, and shower her with love when she asks for it.

The growing babies in her womb have reached a size where her uterus is exerting pressure on her bladder, potentially leading to occasional accidents. It’s crucial for both her health and the well-being of the babies that you respond with gentleness if this occurs. Harsh reactions could induce stress, which may in turn lead to illness or even miscarriage. Understand that any urination outside the litterbox is unintentional and beyond her control. You can consider providing an additional litterbox or using potty training pads if this becomes a recurring issue.

Post day 40, you have the option of taking your cat for an x-ray to ascertain the number of kittens she’s carrying. At this stage, the bones have mostly calcified, making them visible on an x-ray. Use your discretion; if your cat is already displaying signs of stress, it’s advisable to avoid further unsettling her with a vet visit.

In the womb, most of the ongoing development revolves around refining existing structures rather than introducing major changes. While all organs are present, many are only partially functional. Behind the eyelids, the eyes have formed, although they won’t open until approximately two weeks after birth.

Day 42 signifies the conclusion of the second trimester. At this point, each fetus measures an impressive 80mm in length. They are still devoid of hair, but observable external alterations are starting to take shape. The once taut and smooth skin begins to wrinkle and toughen, and the tail continues its steady growth.

The Third Trimester

The third trimester marks the culmination of your cat’s pregnancy, encompassing weeks seven to nine. During this period, the final preparations for the arrival of the kittens take place, both inside the womb and in your cat’s behavior and physical appearance.

By week seven, the kittens have grown significantly, and their development is nearing completion. Their organs are now fully functional, and they are covered in a soft coat of fur. The skeletons have ossified, making them more resilient.

Week Seven

At this stage, mama cat’s belly is noticeably swollen, and her appetite may or may not have kept pace with her increasing needs. While she should ideally be eating more to prepare for the arrival of her kittens, the enlarged uterus might be exerting pressure on her stomach, potentially causing her to eat less. Encourage her to eat as much as she’s comfortable with; you may consider offering more calorie-dense food in these final weeks to accommodate her reduced stomach capacity.

Anxiety levels are likely peaking now. Even though your cat can’t communicate this, she’s probably weary of pregnancy and eagerly anticipating the return of her usual mood and energy. She may be inclined to avoid contact and might act out if approached or touched without her explicit consent.

By day 49, the kittens have reached an impressive length of 95mm and may be displaying a bit of restlessness themselves, moving about in the uterus as their skeletal and muscular systems reach their final forms. They are now a bit less naked, adorned from head to tail in a fine, velvety coat. In just two weeks, they’ll make their debut into the world and have their first encounter with their mom.

Week Eight

As week eight arrives, reality is sinking in for your cat. Her due date is just around the corner, and she hasn’t made any preparations yet. With increasing restlessness and a growing belly, she might find it challenging to get a good night’s sleep. You may observe her pacing back and forth around the house, as if she’s on a quest for something.

Indeed, she is searching for something: a safe and comfortable nest in which to give birth. You can assist by creating a snug spot in a quiet area of the house and guiding her to it. A box with high sides, an accessible entrance, and a top that can be opened is an excellent choice. Fill it with old blankets, towels, and newspapers that you won’t mind disposing of after the birth.

Your cat might take to the nest immediately, or she may choose not to use it at all, preferring your bed or laundry basket as her birthing site. Ultimately, it’s her decision, and as the owner of a pregnant cat, you have to be prepared for the possibility of things getting a bit messy.

If feasible, consider taking your cat for one final vet check-up to ensure everything is progressing as it should. The vet can conduct an ultrasound and provide guidance on managing the remainder of the pregnancy and the labor process. If a trip to the vet is too stressful for your cat, it’s best not to risk causing harm to her or the babies. Many vets offer house calls upon request, and some even have mobile clinics they can bring directly to your home.

In the womb, the kittens are putting the finishing touches on themselves, refining their facial features and solidifying the last of their bones. Their distinct coloration is beginning to emerge, with initial signs of markings appearing around day 50. Approaching 125mm in length, they enter their final week of development in the womb.

Week Nine

The final week of pregnancy has arrived, and for your cat, it couldn’t have come soon enough. Swollen, fatigued, and filled with anticipation, she’s enduring a high level of discomfort. You may hear her yowling in pain, especially when touched. Don’t be alarmed if you notice her fur starting to fall out; this is a normal part of the process.

Her nipples, already enlarged, will now be at their largest and may even release milk from time to time. While it’s tempting to shower her with attention during this trying period, she likely prefers to be left alone, so be mindful not to be overly pushy with your affection.

In the day or two leading up to labor, your cat will likely cease eating and spend a considerable amount of time in and around her chosen nesting area. This behavior is entirely normal, and though you should still provide food and water, refrain from pressuring her to consume them. Approximately 24 hours before labor commences, her body temperature will drop to around 100 degrees Fahrenheit. If she permits, you can monitor her temperature using a rectal thermometer to help predict when labor is about to begin.

Day 63: Labor

Today is the day you’ve been anticipating – the day your cat goes into labor. It’s an exciting and crucial moment for both your cat and her soon-to-arrive kittens. Here’s what you can expect:

Pre-Labor

Labor initiates with cervical dilation, a process akin to that in humans. As the cervix begins to widen, it may produce yellow or red discharge, which the cat will try to clean off herself. This often serves as a reliable sign that labor is commencing and should be monitored attentively. If there’s a presence of dark or excessively bloody discharge, it signals a potential medical emergency.

During labor, the cat’s uterus will start to contract. You may witness these contractions, and you’ll certainly hear them – they are quite painful, and the cat may vocalize loudly and plaintively. Initially, she might display anxious pacing and engage in a digging motion on the floor, then gravitate towards her chosen nesting site as the contractions intensify.

Be nearby to support your cat during labor, but refrain from touching her unless absolutely necessary. The stimulation from your touch could cause her to tense up and cease her pushing efforts. Instead, maintain a calm presence, ensure food and water are readily available, and afford her as much privacy as possible while still keeping a watchful eye on her.

Giving Birth

After approximately an hour of contractions, the first kitten will begin to crown. Initially, you’ll observe the emergence of the clear amniotic sac, followed by the rest of the kitten. Once fully out, the mother will naturally remove the sac and thoroughly clean the kitten. The initial delivery of the first kitten can take some time, but subsequent deliveries usually occur more swiftly.

Typically, the kittens arrive in intervals of around 15 minutes. Towards the latter part of labor, this window may extend to up to two hours. While this might seem cause for concern, observe your cat and have faith in her instincts. If she appears calm and isn’t exhibiting signs of extreme distress, chances are everything is proceeding as it should.

However, certain situations may necessitate veterinary assistance. This includes instances where your cat strains intensely for more than 20 minutes or weakly for over two hours without successfully delivering a kitten. If a kitten becomes lodged in the birth canal or if stillborn kittens are being delivered, it’s crucial to contact your vet promptly.

After Birth

The duration of labor typically spans between four to eight hours in total. However, if the cat experiences excessive stress midway, she may take an extended break before resuming. In such cases, labor can extend up to 48 hours. You’ll discern that she’s concluded the birthing process when she rises for a drink of water and some food, actions that may not occur to her until after all her babies are delivered.

Once the birthing is complete, your cat will be thoroughly exhausted. She’ll consume the placentas, as they are rich in essential nutrients vital for her recovery post-labor. Following this, she’ll likely focus on cleaning her kittens, nursing them, and indulging in a well-deserved rest.

While you may be tempted to shower your cat with affectionate gestures and cuddles, it’s advisable to give her space for the next couple of days and refrain from handling the kittens until their eyes open. They have significant bonding to accomplish, and these initial days together are crucial for their development. You’ll have ample time to build your own connections with them soon. For now, let Mama attend to her responsibilities, and relish in the newfound joy of motherhood.

How Long is a Cat’s Pregnancy?

Unlike humans, cat pregnancies are relatively short, lasting approximately 63 to 65 days. Understanding this timeline is crucial for anticipating your cat’s delivery date and making necessary preparations.

What Are the Signs of Pregnancy in Cats?

Recognizing the signs of pregnancy in cats is vital for providing appropriate care. Look for physical changes such as enlarged nipples, increased appetite, and behavioral shifts like nesting behavior and heightened affection towards their owner.

How Should I Adjust My Cat’s Diet During Pregnancy?

Proper nutrition is paramount during pregnancy. Transition your cat to a high-quality, balanced diet suitable for expectant mothers, ensuring it meets her increased nutritional needs. Consult your veterinarian for tailored dietary recommendations.

Do Cats Require Prenatal Veterinary Care?

Yes, regular veterinary check-ups are essential. Your vet will monitor the pregnancy’s progress, offer advice on care, and address any potential complications or concerns.

How Can I Create a Comfortable Birthing Environment?

Preparing a cozy, stress-free birthing space is crucial. Provide a quiet, secluded area with soft bedding, ensuring it’s easily accessible and free from disruptions.

What Should I Expect During Labor and Delivery?

Familiarize yourself with the stages of labor, which may include restlessness, nesting behavior, and active contractions. Be prepared to offer support and assistance if needed, but allow your cat space and privacy when she’s in active labor.

How Can I Care for Newborn Kittens?

After birth, ensure the kittens are nursing and staying warm. Monitor their weight gain and consult your vet for guidance on any concerns.

When Should I Spay My Cat After Giving Birth?

It’s generally recommended to wait until the kittens are weaned, which is around 8 weeks of age. Consult your veterinarian for the best timing based on your cat’s individual circumstances.

Conclusion

Embarking on the journey of cat pregnancy is a remarkable experience that requires careful attention and nurturing. By delving into these frequently asked questions, you’ve equipped yourself with essential knowledge to guide your expectant feline companion through this transformative period. Remember, each cat is unique, so always consult your veterinarian for personalized advice and support.

As you prepare for the arrival of the new litter, create a serene and secure birthing environment, monitor your cat’s well-being, and be on hand to offer comfort and assistance during labor. After the kittens arrive, ensure they receive proper care and consult your vet for any concerns.


Michael R

Michael R

I'm a publisher and editor at Cat Guide 101. I imagine that since you’re here, you likely own a cat — or two! — so helping you better understand them is my aim. I'd like to invite you to check out our about page to learn more about the Cat Guide 101 story.

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