It seems as though cats get pregnant easily and often. Neutering and spaying your pets are very important in keeping the population under control and reducing how many kitties end up in shelters, on the streets, or euthanized.
Plus, cats that have been neutered or spayed are often healthier. However, things happen, and cats do have kittens, whether you plan for it or it just happens.
When your pet is conceiving, you may be wondering how long your cat will be pregnant, and what the cat pregnancy stages are from week to week. Hopefully, this brief guide will help give you some ideas on what to expect when your feline is pregnant.
5 Stages of Feline Pregnancy
There are roughly 5 cat stages of pregnancy. The first stage is when a cat goes into feline estrus (also known as heat). This is a cat’s fertile period. Cats can go into heat and breed as early as 5 to 6 months old. Although a cat’s breeding season is technically year around, the western hemisphere breeding season is typically regarded as happening between March and September. Interestingly, a cat can have a litter of kittens from more than one father. It just depends on how many male cats your girl has mated with.
Once a cat mates and the egg is fertilized, they enter the 2nd stage of their feline pregnancy. This is where your cat will begin to show signs of being pregnant. Signs a cat is pregnant includes loss of appetite, weight gain, and possibly little lumps you can feel which are the kittens developing in her stomach.
In the 3rd stage of pregnancy, the kittens begin growing quickly and your cat will continue to gain weight and develop a belly.
The 4th stage is where your cat begins labor, roughly about a week before she is due. During this stage, she will begin nesting and about two days before the kittens arrive she may even stop eating.
Finally, in the fifth stage, your cat will begin labor. Of course, labor is never comfortable, and if your kitty is a new mama she may behave as though she is anxious, pace, and meow or yowl. The first kitten is usually born about an hour after labor begins, and then a new kitten should follow roughly every 15 to 20 minutes until all have been born. Most cats will know what to do from that point. Your new mama will begin to clean up her litter and eat the placentas.
How long are cats pregnant? – Cat Pregnancy Week-by-Week
Now that you know the 5 pregnancy stages of a cat, let’s break down your cat’s pregnancy week-by-week. A cat’s gestation period is roughly 10 weeks, or about 64 days. This gestation period is much shorter than humans, which means fetal development moves fast.
Again, this is where the magic happens. Cats are highly fertile and if she has mated, even though you may not be able to tell for a couple of weeks, it is highly likely she is pregnant. Once your cat has mated, it takes about 1 to 10 days for the sperm to find the eggs and fertilization to occur.
During week two, your cat’s fertilized eggs will be implanted, and your mama’s little kittens will begin developing into fetal membranes.
During the third week of pregnancy, the kittens begin development in earnest, including their organs. Hormones begin to rage during this week and you will notice changes start to happen to your cat’s body. Their nipples will enlarge and turn pink and she will start gaining weight.
This is a busy week! Just like humans in their first trimester, during week four cats can suffer from a bit of “morning” sickness. It may trigger vomiting in your kitty, as well as appetite loss. Also, just like humans, morning sickness doesn’t always happen in the morning. Your cat can get sick at any time throughout the day.
Though this behavior is normal, if you think that your cat’s morning sickness is unusually severe or seems to be lasting longer than it should, seek veterinary care. In the meantime, your cat’s body weight should continue to increase, too. By the end of the fourth week, you may be able to feel the kittens actually forming in your cat’s belly. Week four also means you should not pick her up from this point on, because you could accidentally hurt the babies. If you do need to take her anywhere, use a small cat carrier.
This is the week where your vet can perform a manual exam and feel the shape of the kittens extremely well. They might even be able to take a head count, so you know what litter size to expect. Two? Three? Maybe ten? Who knows!
Once your cat has reached week six in gestation, her appetite will grow even more as she starts getting ready for the monumental job of nursing her kittens after the birth. She will need all of that extra nutrition to keep herself healthy and feed her babies.
Let her eat as much as she wants and make sure the food she is consuming is healthy and balanced. You may also look for food that contains extra minerals and iron, to ensure both she and the kittens are getting all they need. Also, the fun part… this is the stage you might even be able to see her belly move as the kittens inside wiggle and squirm.
By the 7th week, it will be very apparent that your cat is pregnant. She will have a large, rounded belly and may begin the process of nesting. Nesting is when your cat starts looking for a safe and comfy place to birth her babies. It’s similar to the human nesting instinct. She also may lose her appetite here and there as the kittens take up more space and press against her stomach. If you make sure your furry Queen has a comfy resting place throughout her pregnancy, hopefully she will choose that as her place to give birth.
During this week, those little kittens will be extremely visible beneath the surface and move around a lot. You will be able to feel and see them moving around at this stage of the feline pregnancy. Your cat’s nipples will be very large and swollen as labor looms closer and closer. You will also notice your cat seems to be grooming herself a lot. She may even begin shedding her belly fur. This is a normal behavior and the fur will grow back pretty quickly once the kittens are born.
Again, her appetite may be hit or miss during this time as the kittens are taking up a lot of room and pressing against her stomach, and she may still be looking for that perfect spot to have her babies if she hasn’t already found it or chosen the bed you created for her.
Another thing you may notice is her milk dropping. This could happen during week eight or week nine. When it does, you might even see a little milk being secreted from the nipples.
This is an exciting and apprehensive week. Your cat could have her babies any day now. You might notice that your feline is leaking some vaginal discharge. The discharge might be a little red in color, or you might not even see it at all because she will be constantly licking at it. She may also pace and behave as though she is anxious and seek you out for reassurance, or simply lay around a lot. She could also pant, meow, and show other signs of disturbance. If you notice any of these behaviors, they are clear warnings that the babies are due any time.
Sometimes cats don’t deliver until 10 weeks of gestation or longer. This can be related to breed or be just the way your cat is wired. However, it means you’re stuck waiting and watching, anticipating the big reveal. If your cat has not gone into labor after 10 weeks, you should contact your vet and have her checked to make sure everything is okay and that she is healthy. If something is wrong, better to know right away so that your vet can help the process along and try to prevent any major issues during the birthing process. If nothing is wrong, just sit back and continue to wait for nature to take its course.
There you have it, a week-by-week breakdown of each stage in a cat’s pregnancy. Gestation is a busy time for your sweet feline and the stages progress quickly. Once you reached week ten, your cat should begin labor and barring any complications, you should soon have a litter of tiny, mewling kittens to love on.
Cat Labor Emergency Kit
If your cat is pregnant, it’s always a good idea to prepare an emergency kit ahead of time with items you may need. In many cases you don’t have to do a thing, nature takes care of it. But it’s good to have one on hand, “just in case.” Note that you should never try to help your cat unless you know there is a real problem. Cats are quite good at having babies without any human intervention.
In your kit, make sure you have plenty of clean sheets and towels. Flannel is great, especially for after the kittens are born because they are less likely to get their little claws tangled up in this material.
Make sure you have a clean pair of scissors on hand or a suture kit to cut any of the cords if necessary, and stock iodine to swab the kitten’s little bellybuttons and prevent infection. You should stock your emergency kit with disposable gloves too, in case you have to handle the kittens at all, as well as sterilized gauze pads and non-waxed dental floss. The dental floss will be used to tie off the cords if your mother cat doesn’t do it on her own.
Another good idea to keep in your emergency kit is a notebook and pen so you can take notes on the birthing process and note any other important information like the time and date. You can also make sure your vet information is written in there in case you need to call them for help.
Some owners like to also include a scale to weigh kittens that are born small. You can add things like kitten milk replacement formula and an eyedropper with feeding bottles too, in case you run into problems after the birth and one of the kittens has trouble nursing.
You might also want to include Q-tips in your emergency kit and keep a little suction bulb for babies to help clean any mucus from tiny little kitten mouths and noses. If you live in very cold weather and you’re worried the new family can’t adequately stay warm, you could try placing a heating pad on low heat in their bed or use a hot water bottle to help keep them warm. Only do this if absolutely necessary though, especially using a heating pad. It’s very easy for overheating to occur with pads and for your cat and her babies to get burned.
Finally, contact your vet right away if your cat’s pregnancy extends beyond 66 days, if she seems to have uternine contractions for an extended period of time but no more kittens have been born, or if she is leaking any kind of odd discharge that smells off or seems as though it could be an infection. You should also contact your vet if you have any other concerns during the labor process or if something doesn’t seem right. Your vet should be your go-to resource for any feline birthing questions! Just remember, it’s always better to be safe than sorry!
“Cat Breeding at This Time of Year” Vet Westm Accessed May. 2019. https://www.vetwest.com.au/pet-library/cat-breeding-at-this-time-of-the-year-0
“The Stages of Feline Labor – When Your Cat Gives Birth.” 2nd Chance, Accessed 16 Oct. 2018. www.2ndchance.info/felinelabor.htm.
“Understanding the Signs and Stages of Pregnancy and Advice on Caring for Your Pregnant Queen.” MedicAnimal, Accessed 16 Oct.