Even indoor cats slip out from time to time, and it’s not uncommon for even a single encounter to result in pregnancy. So what are pregnant cat syptoms, and how can you tell if your cat is expecting?
First, a cat will go into heat, or estrus, before mating, but you may not be able to tell. “There’s little or no vulvar discharge seen in cats during estrus,” says Janet Tobiassen Crosby, DVM. “The primary signs of feline estrus are behavioral. The rolling around and yowling that cats exhibit are often confused with signs of pain. Because the signs of estrus may be confusing and hard to detect (for people, anyway), cats may become pregnant without anyone being aware that the cat was in heat.”
If your cat isn’t spayed, and it’s possible that she’s had contact with toms, you may wonder whether she may be pregnant. Here’s how to tell.
Pregnancy Symptoms at 0 to 4 Weeks
Cats carry their offspring for approximately 60 to 70 days, or about 8 weeks.
- AT HOME -
For the first two weeks, there will be little indication your cat is pregnant, though you may notice your cat putting on a bit of extra weight.
“At 3 weeks into the pregnancy, the cat's nipples will ‘pink up’ -- become pinker than the surrounding skin and become larger and firmer,” says Tobiassen Crosby. Aside from slight weight gain, this may be the first true sign of pregnancy you’ll notice. She adds, “This is one way to estimate the stage of pregnancy.” Some cats may also experience morning sickness as a result of hormonal changes in their bodies. Look for vomiting, loss of appetite, and lethargy as signs of morning sickness between 3 and 4 weeks.
- AT THE VET -
At about three and a half weeks, your vet can take an ultrasound of your cat to determine if fetal kittens are present. He or she may also perform abdominal palpations around this time to feel for kitten embryos. This procedure can be dangerous for anyone besides a trained specialist to perform.
The heartbeat of the unborn kittens can also be detected around day 24. By this time, your cat’s belly may be enlarged enough to determine pregnancy.
Pregnancy Symptoms at 4 to 8 Weeks
By the second half, around 4 weeks into gestation, your cat will be showing much clearer signs of pregnancy. The belly will continue to swell, and the nipples will enlarge and turn a brighter shade of pink. Your cat may begin to lick the area around the nipples to remove the fur, a task she’ll instinctually undertake to make the nipples easier for her future kittens to find. In addition, you may begin to see the expression of a milky fluid from the nipples.
Your pregnant cat will also undergo many changes in behavior during the last 4 weeks of pregnancy. You may find that your cat becomes more affectionate at 4 or 5 weeks, even to the point of demanding attention from you. At the same time, she may become less tolerant of other pets, even those she previously got along with.
Because of the swelling of her uterus and the pressure this puts on your cat’s bladder, “accidents” outside the litter box may occur. This discomfort may also result in increased restlessness in your cat.
As labor approaches, your cat’s discomfort and restlessness will increase. She may meow a lot or even howl, and she may wander about the house as if looking for something. Your cat will also begin to hunt for a secluded place to birth her kittens, if you do not provide her with one.
What to Expect During Labor
Feline labor can be divided into three stages. During the first stage, your cat will retire to her birthing spot, or “nest.” (You should endeavor to clear a safe and quiet space in your house for her nesting area. Keep children and other pets out as soon as labor begins.) During this first stage, your cat will begin to pant and cry and will refuse food. She may begin to lick her vulva. This stage lasts between 6 and 12 hours.
At stage two you will see your cat begin to strain as she moves the first kitten down the birth canal. This may take the appearance of your cat trying to defecate. Stage two ends with the delivery of one or more kittens.
Stage three encompasses the passing of the afterbirth, or placenta, for the kitten or kittens that were born during stage two. Following this, your cat will begin stage two again, repeating these two stages until all kittens are birthed.
The whole process of labor may take up to 24 hours. If more than 3 hours pass between the birth of kittens, contact your vet. Otherwise, prepare to enjoy a home full of kittens.
More on Cat Care
What to Feed a Kitten
When to Take a Cat to the Vet
Is it Time for My Outdoor Cat to Be an Indoor Cat?
This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian with respect to your pet. It has, however, been verified by a licensed veterinarian for accuracy.