When humans get pregnant, it’s an exciting and tumultuous occasion. We visit a myriad of doctors, check out a library’s worth of parenting manuals and make exhaustive preparations in anticipation of the new arrival. And if we still don’t feel prepared, we know plenty of experienced parents with advice to give – friends, family, neighbors, support groups, midwives and even strangers on the street all have their own words of wisdom to contribute.
Sometimes, though, the newest mother-to-be in our lives is not a human but a cat. She can’t read, speak or understand our advice, but she’s got a great maternal instinct passed down to her through hundreds of generations of successful mothers. And if the humans in her life do a little research of their own, she’ll have all the support she needs to make it through her pregnancy and successfully bring her babies into the world.
Feline pregnancy may not be the subject of as many books, classes and workshops as human pregnancy, but fear not: we’re about to go over everything you need to know. From the feline reproductive cycle to the stages of pregnancy to caring for your expecting cat, this guide has you covered. Read on to learn how to support and nurture your cat as she prepares to become a mother, and get ready to experience the joy of kittens alongside her!
Week By Week: The Timeline of Cat Pregnancy
Each week of a cat’s pregnancy brings with it new changes and new needs that must be met to ensure the health of her and her kittens. As her body changes, so too will her mood, her energy, her appetite and (of course) the fetuses growing inside her. Knowing what to expect with each passing week will empower you to provide your pregnant cat with the best possible care.
A typical cat pregnancy lasts between 63 and 65 days, though occasionally it lasts as few as 59 days and as long as 72 days. On average, though, a cat is pregnant for nine weeks, which is often divided into three-week trimesters. These trimesters correspond roughly to the trimesters of human pregnancy, making for a convenient way to conceptualize the changes that occur during this time.
For the purposes of this timeline, we’ll assume a typical nine-week pregnancy, but because every cat is different there is likely to be some variation in your cat’s symptoms and progress. The important thing is that each development occurs roughly according to schedule. If major milestones are missed or if your cat seems ill or pained, consult a vet.
As soon as she reaches sexual maturity (also known as puberty) your cat is able to get pregnant. The age at which this happens varies depending on breed and genetics. Some breeds, such as Siamese and other Oriental varieties, hit puberty at around four months of age; others, such as large or long-haired breeds like Maine Coons and Persians, take up to eighteen months.
Usually, though, puberty hits when the cat is around six to eight months old. Most vets recommend spaying cats before this happens, as the flood of hormones associated with attaining sexual maturity can cause a lot of stress and even behavioral problems. Some will perform the spaying procedure on kittens as young as eight weeks old while others prefer to wait until the cat weighs around four pounds, which is a typical weight for a three to four month old kitten.
If a cat is spayed before puberty sets in, she’ll go the whole rest of her life without experiencing it. However, if she reaches sexual maturity with her reproductive system fully intact, she’ll begin to experience the feline fertility cycle. This is analogous to the human menstrual cycle and determines when she is able to get pregnant – don’t worry, the signs are hard to miss.
Heat of the Moment
An unspayed sexually mature female cat will experience a fertility cycle, also called an estrus cycle, that lasts around three weeks on average. Up to a week of the cycle is spent in heat – the time during which she is ready and willing to mate. While in heat, she will display some unusual behaviors indicative of her reproductive urges.
These behaviors often include an extreme desire for attention and affection, persistent vocalizations and increased sensitivity of various body parts, particularly the hindquarters and belly. A cat in heat may begin spraying urine around the house; this urine contains high concentrations of pheromones that attract male cats. You may notice lots of unfamiliar male cats visiting your house while your cat is in heat, drawn to her by the smell of her spraying and the sound of her yowling.
Who’s the Father?
In order to become pregnant, a female cat needs to release eggs from her ovaries, or ovulate. This occurs automatically in humans, but in cats, ovulation must be triggered by mating. Though some cats will ovulate after just one encounter with a male, most require three or four matings within 24 hours in order for ovulation to be induced.
Though it’s possible for the same male to mate with a female repeatedly, it’s also possible for multiple males to mate with her prior to ovulation. This is particularly likely if the female is allowed outside while in heat, as she is exposed to many more males while out of the house. In these cases, kittens within the same litter may have different fathers.
Whether she mated with one male or several, a female cat is considered pregnant once she is triggered to ovulate. At this point, it’s only a matter of about nine weeks before she gives birth – and what a wild nine weeks it’ll be!
The First Trimester
Once ovulation is induced, usually within 24 hours but up to three days after mating, the eggs begin to descend from the ovaries. On their way down through the Fallopian tubes, they are fertilized by the sperm from the male(s) and become zygotes – the very earliest stage of a kitten’s life.
During the first days of a zygote’s existence, it starts to divide itself to form new cells. Initially, one fertilized egg may split into two separate zygotes; these will be identical twins as they share the exact same combination of DNA. Identical quadruplets are also possible if the two twin zygotes split themselves in half as well.
Travel in the Fallopian tubes is slow going, giving the zygote cells plenty of time to divide and form the foundations of feline anatomy. At around day six, the very beginnings of the digestive system begin to take shape. The placenta, a special organ that attaches the fetus to the uterus and transports oxygen and nutrients, also forms at this time.
Pregnancy is undetectable at this stage. Not even the cat herself will know that she’s pregnant, though by day three she will be out of heat and getting back to normal behavior-wise.
You probably won’t notice any symptoms of pregnancy during week two, either, and neither will your cat; from the outside, everything should look just as it always does. Rarely, cats can get morning sickness at this stage, so she may vomit or eat less, but this is far less common in cats than in humans. Chances are that you won’t notice any differences at all.
On a microscopic scale, there’s plenty going on inside your cat’s body. This is the week in which zygotes become embryos, kicking the development up a notch as they settle into the womb, where they’ll spend the rest of the pregnancy.
As the zygotes near the end of their journey down the Fallopian tubes, they begin to prepare themselves for gestation. Each zygote takes on an egg-like shape with three layers: the ectoderm, which will become the skin and nervous system; the endoderm, which will become the gastrointestinal system; and the mesoderm, which will become the skeleton, muscles and organs. At this point, the zygotes begin to develop distinctly from one another, expressing their own unique genetics.
Around day 10, the zygotes finally make it out of the Fallopian tubes and into the uterus, where they attach to the uterine lining via their placentas. Over the next few days the newly-implanted embryos grow rapidly, expanding from 1mm to between 3 and 5mm by day 14. They don’t have a lot of distinguishing features right now, but the spinal cord is beginning to form, as are the very beginnings of the central nervous system.
Often, the number of successfully-implanted embryos is less than the number of eggs that were originally fertilized. Some zygotes prove nonviable due to unlucky genetics or unsatisfactory development and do not implant in the uterus. Anywhere between one and ten embryos will successfully attach to the uterus; a typical litter consists of three to five kittens.
We’re closing out the first trimester with a week full of exciting new developments. Around day 15, take a look at your cat’s belly and observe her nipples, as they may be starting to look larger and pinker than normal. This is often the earliest outward indicator of pregnancy; the swelling will continue over the following weeks as the cat’s mammary glands begin to produce milk.
Inside the womb, things are getting quite intense as the embryos continue to grow. By day 15 their tails have started to form, as have their circulatory systems. At day 17, the embryos are up to 10mm in length and begin to look vaguely kittenlike, with discernible front and back ends and prominent spaces for eyes and ears.
Between days 18 and 21, an explosion of growth occurs, and it’s hard to believe that the embryos looked like featureless eggs just a week ago. Their hind legs are still joined together, but their front legs are separated and their tails are long. Almost all of the internal organs are present – lungs, stomach, kidney, liver, thyroid, pancreas and cerebellum are formed and beginning to function.
As week three ends, the embryos are around 24mm long, making them large enough to be felt through the mother’s stomach. If you aren’t experienced at palpating, don’t attempt this yourself, as the embryos are very delicate and the mother’s stomach is very sensitive. Ideally a vet will perform this task and may do an ultrasound to confirm the pregnancy if the embryos still can’t be palpated.
The Second Trimester
Your cat’s body is definitely starting to change now, as is her mental state. Her nipples are getting bigger and pinker by the day, and the fur on her stomach is thinning to allow easier access to them. She’s more likely to experience morning sickness now, so she may be vomiting once in a while; if it becomes frequent, take her to the vet.
Foods that once captivated the mother-to-be may now be rejected. This could be due to nausea or she might simply want something more nutrient-dense. Many commercial cat foods come in special formulas for pregnant or nursing cats and their kittens; look for canned foods that have been enriched with taurine, as taurine deficiency can result in severe birth defects.
Fatigue may begin to set in as the growing kittens consume more and more of the cat’s energy. She’ll be more lethargic than usual and may begin seeking out extra comfort and affection from you. Be gentle when touching her as she’s quite sensitive right now, especially around her abdomen, which may be showing the earliest signs of swelling.
The embryos are now officially fetuses, looking more and more catlike with each passing day. At 23 days, the skeleton is still made of cartilage, but it’s becoming more and more distinct from the muscles that surround it. Facial features are becoming more refined, especially the lips and the newly-formed tongue.
Day 25 is a big one for the brain and nervous system. The pituitary gland, which produces vital hormones that regulate everything from sexual development to fur growth to thyroid activity, forms in the brain. Nerves take on more refined compositions, with gray and white matter separating inside the spinal cord.
When week four ends, the fetus has really started to take shape, measuring up to 40mm and sporting a well-defined face with distinct nose, chin and cheeks. The teeth are formed and some of the bones are starting to harden; soon they’ll be visible on an x-ray. As we approach the halfway point of the pregnancy, it’s quite humbling to think about just how much the kittens have changed over the course of a month – and exciting to think about how much growth still awaits, both in and out of the womb!
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Poor mama cat is starting to look unmistakably pregnant now, especially if she’s carrying a lot of little ones. She’s not used to the extra weight and her hormones are all over the place, so she’s liable to be a bit lazy and moody. The last thing she wants (really, the last thing any cat wants) is to get in the cat carrier and go to the vet.
Now, however, is a good time to take her to the doctor and make sure everything’s going smoothly inside her. The vet will definitely be able to feel the fetuses through her stomach now, and may even be able to count them.
Back at home, your cat may be giving off conflicting vibes. One minute she’s craving attention and purring happily in your lap, while the next she’s off in a corner by herself, glaring at you if you so much as look in her direction. Try not to take it personally; she’s just as confused as you are and will do best if she’s left in charge of her social interactions.
In the uterus, the fetuses continue to progress, reaching 50mm in length by day 32. The ears in particular really take shape this week. Outside, little triangular flaps appear, while inside the eardrum and the rest of the auditory system form.
By day 35, the sex of each fetus can be discerned as the genitalia have formed. The paws have separated into clearly-defined toes and the bones continue to calcify. At 60mm long, the fetuses are gigantic in comparison to how they were just five weeks ago, and they’re only going to get bigger from here on out.
As we enter the final stretch of the second trimester (and prepare to enter the final stretch of the pregnancy) things may be getting really uncomfortable for your cat. She’s gained a pound or two over the past five weeks and may be struggling to adjust to the immense changes that her body is going through. Her anxiety is probably high and her mood more volatile than ever, so give her space if she wants it and love if she asks for it.
The babies in her womb are big enough that her uterus is pressing on her bladder, so she may have an accident here and there. It is critical to her health, and thus the babies’ health, that you don’t react harshly if this happens, as stress could cause her to fall ill or even miscarry. Know that if she urinates outside the litterbox, it’s unintentional and completely outside her control; you can provide her with an extra litterbox or potty training pads if this is a recurring issue.
After day 40, you have the option of taking your cat to the vet for an x-ray to determine the number of kittens she’s carrying. The bones have mostly calcified at this point, so they’ll be visible on an x-ray. Use your best judgment here; if your cat already seems stressed out, it’s best to avoid stressing her out even more with a vet visit.
In the womb, most of the development from here on out is more about fine-tuning than making big changes. All the organs are present but many are only partially functional. Behind the eyelids, the eyes have formed, though they won’t open until around two weeks after birth.
Day 42 marks the end of the second trimester. Now measuring a whopping 80mm long, each fetus is still totally hairless, but visible exterior changes are starting to take place. The skin, once taut and smooth, begins to wrinkle and toughen up, and the tail grows ever longer.
The Third Trimester
Mama’s belly is very swollen by now, and her appetite may or may not have grown to match. Although she should be eating more in preparation for the arrival of her kittens, her uterus has gotten so large that it may be pressing on her stomach, causing her to eat less. Encourage her to eat as much as she’s able to; you may need to feed her more calorie-dense food in these final few weeks to accommodate her reduced stomach capacity.
Anxiety is at an all-time high now. Your cat can’t tell you this, but she’s probably sick of being pregnant and can’t wait for her mood and energy to return to normal. She’s likely to shun contact and may act out if you try to approach her or touch her without her express permission.
By day 49 the kittens are up to 95mm in length and may be a little restless themselves, moving about in the uterus as their skeletal and muscular systems assume their final forms. They’re a little less naked now, covered from head to tail in a fine velvety coat. In just two weeks they’ll be out of the womb and meeting their mom for the first time.
Reality is setting in for your cat as week eight rolls around. Her due date is just around the corner and she hasn’t made any preparations yet. As her restlessness deepens and her belly grows, she may have trouble sleeping; you might notice her pacing back and forth around the house, as if she’s looking for something.
In fact, she is looking for something: a nest in which to give birth. You can help with this by creating a cozy spot in a quiet area of the house and leading her to it. A box with high sides, an openable top and a raised but easily accessible entrance is a good start; fill it with old blankets, towels and newspapers that you won’t mind throwing out after birth.
Your cat may take to your nest right away, or she may end up not using it at all, opting instead for your bed or your laundry basket as her birthing site. Ultimately, it’s her choice, and as the owner of a pregnant cat you have to accept that there’s a chance that things will get messy.
If possible, take your cat to the vet one last time to make sure everything is as it should be. The vet will do an ultrasound and give you advice on how to handle the rest of the pregnancy and the labor process. If a trip to the vet is too stressful for the cat, don’t risk harming her or the babies; many vets do house calls upon request, and some even have mobile clinics that they can bring directly to your home.
The kittens are putting their final touches on themselves, refining their facial features and solidifying the last of their bones. Their coloration is starting to come in now, with the first indicators of their markings showing at around day 50. They now approach 125mm in length as they enter their final week in the womb.
This is it: the final week of pregnancy, and it could not have come any sooner for your cat. Swollen, exhausted and fraught with anticipation, she’s extremely uncomfortable and may be yowling in pain, especially when touched. Her fur may begin to fall out, which is alarming but completely normal.
The cat’s nipples, already enlarged, will be at their largest now, and may even leak milk periodically. It’s tempting to shower her with attention during this stressful time, but she probably wants to be left alone, so don’t be pushy with your affection.
A day or two before labor begins, your cat will stop eating and begin spending a lot of time in and around her chosen nesting site. This is perfectly normal and although you should still provide food and water, don’t force them on her. Around 24 hours before labor begins, her body temperature will drop to 100 degrees Fahrenheit; if she allows you to, you can monitor her temperature with a rectal thermometer to predict when labor will begin.
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Day 63: Labor
Labor begins with cervical dilation, much as it does in humans. As the cervix begins to widen, it may produce yellow or red discharge that the cat will attempt to lick off of herself. This is often a good indicator that labor is starting and should be watched for if possible, as dark or very bloody discharge signals a medical emergency.
As labor continues, the cat’s uterus will begin to contract. You may be able to see the contractions and you’ll definitely hear them – they’re very painful and the cat will yowl and moan as they occur. At first, she may pace around anxiously and make a digging motion on the floor, then move to her nesting site as the contractions become more frequent.
Stay close to your cat while she’s in labor, but do not touch her unless absolutely necessary. The stimulation from your touch can cause her to freeze up and stop pushing the babies out. Instead, remain calm, keep food and water nearby and give her as much privacy as you can while still keeping an eye on her.
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After about an hour of contractions, the first baby will start to crown. You’ll see the clear amniotic sac emerge first, then the rest of the kitten; once it’s all the way out, the mother will remove the sac and lick the kitten clean. It can take a while for the first kitten to make it all the way out, but after that, the rest usually come out faster.
The kittens usually come out in intervals of 15 minutes or so, though this window can lengthen to up to two hours towards the end of the labor. It may seem like cause for concern, but watch your cat and trust her – if she doesn’t seem panicky and isn’t screaming in pain, things are probably fine.
Some situations, however, require medical intervention, particularly if your cat strains heavily for longer than 20 minutes or weakly for longer than 2 hours without delivering a kitten. If a kitten is stuck in the birth canal or if stillborn kittens are being delivered, call your vet immediately.
Labor usually lasts between four and eight hours altogether, though if the cat gets too stressed out partway through, she may take a long pause before resuming. In these cases, labor can take up to 48 hours. You’ll know when she’s done for good because she’ll get up for a drink of water and some food, things that don’t occur to her to do until she’s delivered all her babies.
Once she’s done giving birth, your cat will be exhausted. She’ll eat the placentas as they’re packed with nutrition that she desperately needs after the ordeal of labor. Then she’ll probably just want to clean her kittens, nurse them and take a much-needed nap.
You’ll probably feel compelled to lavish your cat with pettings and cuddles, but it’s best to leave her be for the next couple days and refrain from touching the kittens until their eyes open. They have a lot of very important bonding to do and the first days they spend with each other are critical for development. You’ll have plenty of time to get to know each other soon; for now, let Mama do her thing and bask in the newfound joy of motherhood.
Product data was last updated on 2019-10-21.