Gestation period, Cat Pregnancy Timeline, And How to Help Your Furry Friend
It is preferred that you spay or neuter your cat so that this does not happen to start with. But, maybe she got out and got busy before you could get it done. (Some cats have been known to breed as young as four months.)
Maybe a stray showed up on your doorstep with a bloated belly. In a few rare cases, someone with a prize show cat might want her bred to make more cats like her. Whatever happened, Kitty got herself knocked up and needs a little help until she has her babies.
So, how do you take care of a pregnant queen?
Ways to Know If Your Cat Is Pregnant
Well, it’s not like she can pee on one of those plastic stick things. And cat’s don’t get periods to start with. It is unlikely she will start craving pickles and ice cream. (The sugar and milk in ice cream isn’t good for her. Neither is the high sodium or garlic used to preserve pickles.)
However, her appetite may increase. She’s not just eating for two, she could be eating for four, five, six or even more!
The belly is the easiest way to figure out if Kitty is pregnant. If she starts getting a potbelly, but only carrying weight in her stomach, it could be pregnancy. In fact, she may start losing weight elsewhere on her body.
Her mammary glands will also start to swell. Later, she may even start secreting milk and colostrum. Some owners notice their female cats become more affectionate and even tempered while pregnant. If there is any doubt, your vet can do an ultrasound or X-Ray. A blood test using Relaxin can be done, but rarely is.
X-Rays and ultrasound can tell you not only if Kitty is pregnant, but how many kittens she’s expecting. You can read more about cat x-ray by clicking here.
How Long is a Cat’s pregnancy?
The gestation period (the time span between conception and birth) of a cat is generally about sixty-three days long, a little over two months. However, for some breeds (the Siamese for example) this may be a day or so longer. Just as it is with human childbirth, cats do not give birth to a tightly fixed schedule. Baby will be born when it’s good and ready, not a moment sooner or later.
Because of this, you should be in preparation for a few days sooner than you would expect. Keep in mind, that textbook guidelines are simple generalizations and may not apply to every cat or kitten.
Cat pregnancy timeline
You may not be able to notice if your cat is pregnant at this point. The sperm may still be on its way to the uterus. In fact, a queen can be impregnated by more than one tom at the same time.
At this point, the fertilized eggs will make their way down to the uterus and be implanted. Vital organs start forming during this week. At this point, they will start developing into kitten embryos and the mother cat may start showing symptoms. She may experience morning sickness and the fur on her belly will thin out.
Weeks three and four
A Relaxin test at this point can determine whether or not your cat is pregnant. This is when fetal heartbeat can be detected. Organs are developing and the queen is producing a surge of hormones. The nipples will become more prominent and may change color.
Like a human woman, a pregnant queen may experience morning sickness. As any pregnant woman can tell you, this is a misnomer as it can happen at any time. Vomiting may temporarily ruin her appetite. A visit to the veterinarian may be in order. Do not pick your cat up after this time as you may hurt her kittens accidentally.
The growing kittens may be felt through the abdominal wall. A vet or breeder may even be able to count them. At about this time her friends will be planning a shower for her, except that cats don’t really do parties.
You, however, might want to gather some things that growing kittens might need and ask around to see if anyone’s interested in taking in a kitten. Give your cat more food than usual, but do not overfeed.
The kittens might be squirming around at this point. You may feel them or even occasionally see them kicking and moving around. Kitty’s appetite will be back with a vengeance! Give her even more food, but take care that she doesn’t gain more than twenty-five percent of her normal weight. She needs it to build energy for the kittens inside her and to make milk for them when they’re born.
The food must not only be of great quantity but great quality. Only feed her foods that are healthy for cats. Look for cat food formulated for nursing and pregnant cats. It would be normal for her to gain twenty to twenty-five percent of her normal weight, which is usually about two to four pounds.
Make sure she’s hydrated! She won’t be jumping up on sinks for awhile, so if she only likes running water now is a good time to consider a kitty fountain. Pressure on her bladder means she might be making frequent trips to the litter box. She may not always make it.
By now the kittens’ skeletons have calcified enough to show up on an X-ray. Kitty will spend most of her time grooming and her teats will be visibly swollen. At this point, it will be fairly obvious that your cat is pregnant.
Other than continuing to feed her and keeping her safe as you have been doing, the only thing you can do at this point is think of clever things to say when idiots ask “Is your cat going to have kittens?” Suggestions would be “No, she swallowed a cantaloupe whole.” or “No, she’s doing her impression of a basketball.” or “No, she’s going to have puppies.” or “No, I got her a boob job and I’m planning a liposuction.”
You will definitely be able to feel the kittens. The queen’s nipples will be even more prominent. They may start to leak. She will start grooming more than usual. It’s normal for her to shed a little hair from her belly around this time. It will grow back eventually. Her appetite might drop as her kittens are pushing against her stomach.
She may start looking for a suitable place to give birth and start bringing blankets, towels and soft toys to that area. It may not be an area that you think is suitable. Keep in mind that some cats are very stubborn about where to keep their kittens. If you move them, she may move them right back!
Those kittens are getting bigger and bigger! A slight discharge from the vulva with a reddish tinge is to be expected. If she seems nervous, restless or clingy or spends a lot of time in the area she chose to have her kittens, birth could be very soon.
All you can do at this point is wait. Oriental breeds in particular take their time in being born. At this point, your cat might start knitting little kitten sized booties. At least, she would if she had opposable thumbs.
When her body temperature drops to bellow 100 degrees Fahrenheit (about 37.78 degrees Celsius) birth will be in less than twenty-four hours. If after ten weeks, there are still not kittens, you may have to take her to the vet to see if anything is wrong.
Kitty may start acting restless and anxious as much as three days before delivery. At this point you should confine her to the room you want her to give birth in. She needs quiet and solitude right now.
If your cat is about to go into labor she will start licking her abdomen and vagina persistently.
There is generally a discharge that precedes birthing. Your cat might lick it away as quickly as it appears. Her cervix will start dilating but no outward signs come with this. Do not try to stick your finger in her.
What Should be Done Before Labor Starts
If she’ll let you, you can take your cat’s temperature to see how close she is to dropping below one hundred degrees Fahrenheit. Ear thermometers are not as accurate as anal thermometers. The room Kitty is to be sequestered in to give birth should be dark and quiet with a solid floor.
It should be neither too hot nor too cold. She may not be interested in eating or drinking, but put her food and water dishes in here anyway.
What Should be Expected During Delivery
Some cats may pace while in labor. She may sit with her mouth open and yowl. Her breathing rate will increase. As her labor continues and uterine contractions start, a pregnant cat will lie on her side and periodically squat and press downward to squeeze the kittens out.
Do not disturb or interrupt the mother during this time. You may watch from a door left ajar so you can keep an eye on her while giving her some privacy. Keep the kids out. They’ll only make her nervous.
How Long to Wait Before Doing Anything
Within an hour after labor starts, the first kitten should arrive. The next kittens could have anywhere from ten minutes to an hour in between. It has been known for cats to surprise their owners (and themselves) by having yet another kitten long after they thought it was all over.
Each kitten will come in an amniotic sac, which will look like a gelatinous membrane filled with a clear fluid. Mama cat will start licking her new kitten. This will get rid of the sac and encourage her kitten to breathe. If you hear tiny mews, the kitten is breathing. It’s very rare that Mama can’t do this job on her own, but if she’s having trouble you can use a soft towel to help. Be vigorous, yet gentle. Remember that new kittens are fragile.
There’s generally no need for you to worry about the umbilical cord as Mama will usually bite right through it. If she misses a few, you can tie off the cord with a bit of dental floss or clean string and snip the cord at about an inch long. This inch will eventually dry up and fall off. It is best to let Mama do most of the work herself whenever possible. This helps her bond with her kittens.
She can nurse right away, even if she is still in labor. In fact, nursing will stimulate her uterus and get the kittens out quicker. Don’t be alarmed if you see a bloody or greenish discharge. This is normal. The kitten may arrive head or tail first. If the kitten seems stuck in the canal for more than fifteen minutes, you can use a soft cloth to gently take the kitten by the hips or shoulders and pull it loose. Mama cat may instinctively want to eat the afterbirth. There’s nothing wrong with that.
It should all be over within two to six hours. If it’s been seven hours and Mama is still in labor, she needs to go to the vet right away. Bring the already born kittens along. All through the delivery, the room must be calm, quiet and dimly lit. Do not become involved unless it is absolutely necessary. When you’re sure it’s done, you can clean up the mess.
Put Mama’s food and water very close by as she won’t want to leave her litter for a day or so. Mama might be warm enough to keep her kittens warm, but if it’s particularly cold, you can use a heating pat or hot water bottle to make things more comfortable so Mama can leave for a minute or so to eat or visit the litter box.
Pointers for Calming Your Cat in this Stressful Situation
Cats do not like change, and having kittens is a big change! Kitty will tolerate some changes for the sake of her babies, but that doesn’t mean she’ll like it. If this is her first litter, she may panic at the unfamiliar sensations and may need your reassurance.
You’re generally advised to keep your distance when Kitty is in labor, but if she panics or sounds like she’s calling out for you, you can let her know you’re there for her. Try not to make any major changes in your cat’s environment this time. She will usually pick out a good nesting spot by herself and may rankle if you do anything to change it. (How would you like it if someone tried to change the wallpaper in your nursery?)
It is important that Kitty stay calm and comfortable at this time. If all else fails, there are pheromone products that can help Kitty relax. Make sure they’re safe for use with pregnant females.
Keep the same feeding schedule you have been keeping, just so she feels like something is routine. She may tire easily and want to sleep even more than she usually does. Let her sleep as much as she wants. If she wants to be left alone, it’s probably best if you do. Keep her as comfortable as you can in the two months her pregnancy will last.
Here Are Some More Grave Issues That Could Occur
Take Mama cat and her kittens to a vet if any of the following happens.
- Her temperature has been below one hundred degrees Fahrenheit for more than one day or drops below ninety-eight Fahrenheit.
- It has been more than sixty-six days and she’s still not in labor.
- Mama won’t eat at all and seams weak, lethargic or depressed.
- Kittens won’t nurse or just appear sickly.
- The kitten is lodged in the birth canal and you can’t get it out.
- It’s been five hours and you are sure there’s another kitten inside her.
- Mama has been in contractions for more than four hours and still no kittens.
- There are fewer placentas than there are kittens and you don’t think she ate them.
- The vaginal discharge appears infected.
- Mama cat’s mammary gland feels hot or hard and she acts as if in pain.
- The kittens do not sleep, constantly mew and appear agitated.
- The kittens are not getting enough milk. After the first day, a healthy kitten should have a plump, distended tummy.
- Mama cat has a fever over 102.5 Fahrenheit (about 39 degrees Celsius) within two days of giving birth.
What is to be Expected After Your Cat Gives Birth
After giving birth, Mama cat may discharge a bloody fluid for up to ten days. Cats usually lick the discharge away as quickly as it is produced. You should only be concerned if the discharge becomes pus-like or has a pungent odor.
Mama will not want to leave her kittens at all for a couple of days, so keep her food and water very close by.
She may be very picky about who she wants visiting her or handling her kittens. If she feels that the place where she has her kittens is no longer suitable due to unwelcome visitors or other factors, she may move her kittens elsewhere. If you try to move her kittens, she may defiantly carry them right back.
Pointers on Taking Care of Newborn Kittens
For the most part, Mama cat will likely be able to handle this all on her own. If you must handle her kittens to check their sex or see if eyes are open yet, do this rarely. Wash and dry your hands before and after handling newborn kittens. Mama cat may try her best, but sometimes a kitten just won’t latch.
If it’s a big litter, Mama may not have enough milk to go around. Some cats just aren’t cut out for motherhood, or the worst can happen to her and the kittens are orphans. That means you need to lend a helping hand.
If a kitten is not getting milk from her mother, first try finding a foster mother for her. A mother cat with only a few kittens or who has had a stillbirth may not mind nursing another kitten. If that is not possible, you may try bottle feeding.
Do not use cow’s milk. This can cause diarrhea. Your vet should be able to recommend a good formula. Keep in mind that newborn kittens cannot regulate their body heat and need stimulation to eliminate.
The kitten must nurse once every one or two hours. Weaning can be done at age of three to four weeks. They can now move on to kitten food. They will need to be fed four to six times a day. They’re growing kitties!
Ideally, Mama will handle the potty training for you. If she doesn’t, well, there’s another article for that. Once the kittens are big enough to get around, they’re going to be curious about everything they see. Give them some toys to keep them interested and develop their minds and socialization.
Pregnancy can be stressful for any creature. If your cat turns up pregnant, you can help her through this trying time and deliver a litter of sweet little kittens. She can handle most of this on her own, but you can do little things to help. Take good care of Kitty so she can take care of her babies.
- Early Contractions and Labor in Cats at wagwalking.com
- Cat Pregnancy Facts: How to Tell if Your Cat is Pregnant at PetMD.com
- Understanding the signs and stages of pregnancy and advice on caring for your pregnant queen at medicanimal.com
- What to Expect When Your Cat Is Pregnant at WebMD.com
- Cat birth – when to wait and when to worry at International Cat Care
- Use of a commercially available relaxin test for detection of pregnancy in cats at Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32608, USA by DiGangi BA, Griffin B, Levy JK, Smith BF, Baker HJ