Kittens are one of the most universally adored animals, but they can also be a source of stress for a pregnant cat’s human (that’s you!), particularly if that human isn’t sure what to do. Thankfully, cats show their trademark independence in pregnancy.
Female cats have been birthing and caring for kittens since the beginning of feline history but worry not: there’s still a lot you can help with to keep your beloved pet safe, secure, and happy as she becomes a mother.
That journey starts with discovering as much as possible about your four-footed companion as her pregnancy progresses. Unfortunately, there’s a great deal of misinformation about cat pregnancy, particularly regarding how it happens in the first place. If your cat is pregnant, this guide is for you!
Some Common Myths About Cat Pregnancy Include:
- She can’t be pregnant – she just came out of heat! Believe it or not, cats can go into heat – a period of fertility where she will actively, and often loudly, seek out a male companion – every three weeks. That’s not a lot of down time, and it gives her plenty of opportunities to start a surprise feline family. Unlike most other animals with a distinct ovulation cycle, a female cat will continually go into heat throughout the year, until your pet is spayed or becomes pregnant.
- She can’t be pregnant – she just gave birth! As many human mothers has discovered by accident, it’s entirely possible to conceive again, even while lactating. In fact, if left unchecked, a cat can produce up to five litters of kittens every year – that’s a lot of adorable mouths to feed.
- She can’t be pregnant – she and (other cat) hate each other! Simply put, the call of the wild is a strong call indeed. Even if your unspayed female cat and unneutered male cat don’t typically get along, don’t be surprised if they get a little friendlier on the sly once she goes into heat.
- She can’t be pregnant – she’s too young/old! Believe it or not, cats as young as four months old can become pregnant cats. As many owners of older kittens have discovered, there’s almost no age where it’s “safe” to let an unspayed female cat around an unneutered male. Unspayed female cats can become pregnant throughout their lives, as well: there’s no such thing as feline menopause.
How Do I Know If My Cat Is Pregnant?
As any serial cat owner will attest, kitties can come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. Knowing the difference between a female cat that has been overindulging in too much wet food and one that’s gestating kittens can be decidedly tricky. Here are a few pointers to tell if your cat is pregnant:
- Has she had the opportunity to become pregnant? While this may seem like common sense, some owners are so worried about their potentially pregnant cat that they don’t stop to do the math. Has your female cat had access or exposure to an unneutered tom cat recently?
Note: If your cat is indoor/outdoor as opposed to an entirely indoor cat, the answer to this question is an assumed yes! Even if you haven’t seen or heard males, a female cat in heat will go to great (loud) lengths to find or coax them to her.
- Has she been checked for other potential issues, such as worms? Parasitic worms aren’t just bad news for the health of your cat, they can also cause belly bloat that looks suspiciously like pregnancy. Hookworms, tapeworms, and other unwanted “passengers” are typically contracted by exposure to fleas, which carry the worm eggs and infect cats when they are eaten during routine self-grooming.
Note: This is another red flag for indoor/outdoor or entirely-outdoor cats – they are continually exposed to parasites like fleas and ticks in the environment, as well as from fellow outdoor cats. If your cat is regularly treated with a preventative like a topical fluid or pill, the chances of parasites obviously decline considerably.
- Are her nipples darker or larger than usual? You won’t need a magnifying glass for this one: the difference in appearance is usually apparent at a glance if you spend a lot of time with your feline companion. This color and size change will typically show three weeks after conception, so keep an eye on your female cat in the weeks after a temporarily escape or after she’s spent any time around an unneutered tom cat. This symptom is easier to spot in first-time feline mothers, but it’s still visible in subsequent pregnancies.
- Does she appear bigger, particularly along her stomach and sides? Pregnancy naturally comes with weight gain regardless of species, but the way in which your cat carries her extra weight is an instant giveaway. Pregnancy weight will appear prominently along her sides and lower belly, making her body silhouette look disproportionate when you are face-to-face with her.
- Do you feel movement in her stomach? If you feel significant, ongoing movement in her stomach when you place a hand on it, this is a good sign that not only is she pregnant, but very close to giving birth as well. The more active and consistent the movement, the closer to labor she likely is: fetal kittens don’t get large enough to make much of a ruckus until they’re ready to explore the world outside! The common consensus is that by the time you can easily feel kitten movement, your cat is within two weeks of producing her litter.
Of course, the easiest and most foolproof way to determine if your cat is pregnant with kittens is the same one used by humans: verifying with a doctor, or in her case, a veterinarian. A vet can, as a potential cat pregnancy progresses, use ultrasound or expert examination to give you a firm yes or no. As routine checkups for your cat are a good habit anyway, timing a visit this way is a smart and healthy choice for your kitty.
What Do I Do If My Cat Is Pregnant? A Helpful Checklist For Your Cat
You’ve just gotten the good news: you have a litter of kittens on the way! Well, rather, your cat does. Carrying what will likely be multiple bundles of joy, your cat is now called a queen (yes, really!) and will be pregnant for approximately nine weeks. During your cat’s nine-week pregnancy, her rapidly-gestating offspring – which are collectively called an “intrigue” of kittens in honor of cats’ curious nature, by the way – will need your help to be as strong and healthy as possible.
She will need:
- Food: Just as humans joke that a pregnant mother is “eating for two,” a pregnant cat is eating for many more: a litter of kittens generally consists of 3 to 5 kittens. That means she’ll need a lot more calories and well-balanced nutrition to support her little ones, particularly as the time for birthing nears. Your veterinarian can recommend a nutritious dry or wet food to feed her, which will support her vitamin, mineral, and energy needs through pregnancy and lactation afterwards. If you can’t get your cat an appointment, select a food brand made specifically for pregnant or nursing cats at the pet store instead.
- Water: Your cat should always have access to fresh, clean water regardless of pregnancy, but it’s particularly important for her to stay hydrated when she’s carrying kittens. Remember, a great deal of her energy is being devoted to growing the little lives inside of her, and that means she’s likely to need more water than usual. Make sure to wash and clean the water bowl daily, and dump and refill the water if dirt, stray cat food, or other contaminants can be seen.
- Peace and Quiet: It’s no accident that pregnant cats are called queens – they can be very finicky and demanding, even as cats go. That’s why it’s important to keep her stress level as low as possible during pregnancy for the safety of her kittens. Be sure she is either isolated from or has a safe space to retreat to in the face of other household pets, children, noise, or a great deal of foot traffic: under a bed, a blanket-lined box, and so on.
- Reassurance: While some cats become or remain aloof and independent even as they are giving birth, others crave the nearness and support of their human companion, and may even delay giving birth to kittens if their human needs to leave at an inopportune stage of the labor. Showing your pregnant cat that you will be there for her with frequent petting, attention, and consideration in the weeks leading up to labor will help her relax and focus on her own well-being.
- A Healthy Environment: Consult with your veterinarian on which flea and tick medications are appropriate for your pregnant cat and keep her inside full time if you don’t already. This will minimize the risks of injuries, predators, and parasites hurting her unborn kittens. Keep potentially poisonous substances like onions and garlic away from her reach to prevent accidental ingestion. Feline nutritional supplements are also an excellent way to support her health at a time when the needs of her growing kittens are putting a large demand on her body’s resources.