I'm a big advocate for spay/neuter. It's a crucial part of the equation for reducing the number of cats killed in shelters, and having your cat spayed or neutered improves cat health, reducing the chances of injury and disease. But a lot of us encounter pregnant cats at some point, whether through working at a clinic or shelter, an accidental liaison, or deliberate breeding.
Pregnant cat sitting on a table by Shutterstock
A typical cat's pregnancy lasts about nine weeks. Here are the five stages:
1. FertilizationCats reach sexual maturity as early as six months of age, with Oriental breeds generally reaching this stage the earliest. I've even heard of cats going into heat at five months old, which is a good reason to have your girl kitty spayed early. A litter of kittens can have more than one father, depending on how many toms successfully mate with the queen.
2. The early stageYou might be surprised to know that a cat can get morning sickness during the early stage of her pregnancy. For the first two weeks of her pregnancy, your cat may eat less because of the nausea, but by the third week she'll start eating again and begin gaining weight. By the third week, you may be able to feel the lumps of her developing kittens.
I count four kittens in this mama's belly. How many do you see? X-ray of a pregnant cat by Shutterstock
3. The middle stageNow your cat starts gaining weight in earnest. The kittens are getting bigger, and depending on how many kittens she's carrying, she may start looking like she swallowed a football. If you want to know how many kittens your cat is going to have, your vet may do an X-ray at this time.
4. Pre-laborThis stage starts about a week before your cat gives birth. Her nipples will be very visible at this point, and you may even see milk drops on them. She will start looking for warm and safe places to create a nest for her kittens. You can help her at this time by offering nesting boxes in the places she seems to prefer. Your cat will stop eating about two days before she goes into labor.
5. Labor and deliveryIt will be pretty obvious when your cat goes into labor. She'll start licking her genitals and may even make noises of discomfort. If this is her first litter, she may pace and act anxious. She should give birth to her first kitten about an hour after labor starts. After that, the kittens should come every 15 to 20 minutes until the last one has been born.
Generally, mom cat will clean up the kittens: She'll lick them and eat the placentas to give her the extra nutrition she needs. Let her eat those placentas, even if you think it's gross.
There's no need to panic or rush your cat to the vet when she goes into labor. Just keep an eye on things and make sure the delivery is progressing normally. The kittens need to be with their mothers for a minimum of eight weeks in order to be properly weaned, but 12 weeks with mom is better.
Once the babies are weaned, get your queen spayed as soon as possible. She can go into heat pretty quickly once she no longer has to nurse her kittens.
Have you had a pregnant cat or witnessed a birth? What did you think? Share your stories in the comments!