The average feline pregnancy lasts between 63 and 67 days, but can vary from 61 up to as much as 72 days, and it can be hard to know the exact length of gestation as they may mate several times during their season. If you suspect your cat is pregnant, you should take the queen to your vet to confirm the pregnancy. If the pregnancy is unplanned, take your cat to the vet as soon as you can as it is possible to neuter her whilst in the early stages of pregnancy, as neutering late in pregnancy can cause a fatal bleed. This is preferable than having a litter of unplanned kittens. Of course if you do not want your cat to get pregnant then have her neutered as soon as possible, at five to six months old is best, before she is in season. If both the male & female haven’t been tested, there is a possibility of contracting FIV & FeLV.
Signs of pregnancy
- A pregnant queen will not show signs of being on heat, however cats can suffer a false pregnancy.
- After approximately 15-18 days, the nipples may become enlarged and red, which is known as ‘pinking-up’.
- A pregnant queen may also go through a stage of being sick occasionally. Although this may be a form of ‘morning sickness’ it is important to consult your vet if it is frequent, persistent or she is at all unwell in any other way.
- Your cat will gradually gain between one and two kilograms, depending on the number of kittens. This is a strong indication that she is pregnant. Pregnancy can be accurately diagnosed by ultrasound after as few as 15 days (with a skilled operator), with hearts seen beating from 17 days, and a vet can determine the number of kittens by X-ray after 40 days.
- The abdomen will start to swell by week 4, but avoid touching it so you don’t risk damaging the unborn kittens. There are other causes of a swollen abdomen so monitor your cat closely for any signs of illness and consult your vet if you are concerned,
- Your cat’s behaviour may become ‘maternal’ and she may begin to purr a lot. Some cats also tend to have an increased appetite later in their pregnancy.
- The mammary glands will increase in size during the last week of pregnancy.
- Around two days before the queen gives birth she will start producing milk.
- She may start nesting.
Signs of impending Labour
- it is important to keep your cat in during the last 2 weeks of her pregnancy, to ensure she doesn’t give birth to the kittens elsewhere.
- When birth is imminent, she may refuse food, act unsettled and might start looking for a suitably quiet place in which to give birth. If you are concerned, discuss your cat’s behaviour with your vet.
- The first sign of labour is a temperature drop in the mother to around 37.8°C which can happen during the 12 hours before labour starts. However, if taking the queen’s temperature causes her stress then do not keep trying.
- The queen may vocalise and appear agitated, washing herself constantly.
- You should then see the abdomen contracting and a vaginal discharge before kittens appear. If the discharge is heavy and black or blood-coloured then you should contact your vet.
- If you are worried about your cat during labour, always consult your vet.
Nutrition during Pregnancy
A good quality, nutritious diet is important. I would recommend a good kitten food eg Burns for your queen as this contains higher protein & calcium. Avoid supplementing the diet unless your veterinarian has given the go ahead to do so. Over feeding & excessive weight gain should be avoided as this can complicate labour.
What equipment will I need for the kitten’s birth?
- Kittening box. This can either be a sturdy cardboard or plastic box or a commercially available kittening box.
- Sterile surgical gloves.
- Eyedropper or syringe to aspirate the mouth & nose secretions.
- Dental floss or cotton thread for to tie off the cord.
- Clean towels.
- Your vet’s phone number in an easy to reach place.
- An emergency vet’s phone number.
- Kitten milk replacer in case the kittens have to be hand fed.
Do not handle the newborn kittens a lot in the first two days, let the mother bond with her babies. Cats have been known to kill and eat their babies if threatened by other animals or too much human interference.
Reminder – Female cats can again become pregnant within as little as 2 weeks after giving birth but more usually between 8 weeks and 10 weeks so great care that the queen is kept safely confined during this time.
If you intend to get her neutered, around 7 weeks after the birth of the kittens is a good time or as soon as her milk has gone.