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 symptoms, 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 that your cat is pregnant, though you may notice your cat putting on some 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 to feel for kitten embryos around this time. 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. Your cat’s belly may be enlarged enough to determine pregnancy by this time.
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 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 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, cry, and 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.
Frequently Asked Questions
How soon can you tell if a cat is pregnant?
It is often difficult to tell if a cat is pregnant in the early stages, as there may not be any obvious physical changes. However, there are some signs to look out for that may indicate that a cat is pregnant. A pregnant cat may experience changes in appetite, either eating more or less than usual. The nipples of a pregnant cat may become pinker and more prominent. As the pregnancy progresses, the cat's belly may become more rounded and swollen. A pregnant cat may sleep more than usual. Some cats become more affectionate during pregnancy, while others become more irritable. If you suspect that your cat may be pregnant, it is important to take her to the veterinarian for a proper examination and confirmation of the pregnancy.
How can you tell how far along a cat is?
It can be difficult to determine the exact stage of pregnancy in a cat without the help of a veterinarian. Experienced veterinarians can palpate the cat's abdomen and feel the size of the fetus. This can give a rough estimate of the stage of pregnancy. An ultrasound can provide a more accurate assessment of the stage of pregnancy. The veterinarian can see the size and development of the fetuses and determine how far along the cat is. X-rays can also provide information on the stage of pregnancy. The bones of the fetus become visible on an x-ray after about 40-45 days of pregnancy, which can help determine how far along the cat is. As the pregnancy progresses, the cat's behavior may change. In the later stages of pregnancy, the cat may become more restless and start looking for a suitable nesting place for the birth of her kittens.
How long does a cat stay pregnant?
Cats typically stay pregnant for around 63-65 days, although the gestation period can range from 58 to 72 days depending on various factors, such as the individual cat's breed, age, health, and the number of fetuses she is carrying. If a cat is pregnant for more than 72 days, there may be complications that require veterinary attention. It's important to provide your pregnant cat with proper care and nutrition during her pregnancy, including a high-quality diet, regular veterinary check-ups, and a clean and comfortable living space. This will help ensure the health and well-being of both the mother and her kittens.
What can be mistaken for pregnancy in cats?
There are a few conditions that can be mistaken for pregnancy in cats. False pregnancy is a condition in which a cat's body reacts as if she is pregnant, even if she is not. The cat may exhibit nesting behaviors, lactate, and even have an enlarged abdomen. If a cat gains weight, it can be mistaken for pregnancy. Obesity is a common problem in cats, and it can be difficult to distinguish between weight gain and pregnancy. Tumors or other abdominal masses can cause the abdomen to enlarge and be mistaken for pregnancy. Abdominal masses can be benign or malignant and should be evaluated by a veterinarian. Some types of parasitic infections can cause an enlarged abdomen in cats, which may be mistaken for pregnancy. Examples include roundworms and tapeworms. Certain hormonal imbalances, such as an overactive thyroid gland or an ovarian tumor, can cause an enlarged abdomen and other symptoms that may be mistaken for pregnancy. If you suspect that your cat may be pregnant or have any concerns about her health, it is always best to consult with a veterinarian. Your vet can perform a thorough examination and help determine if your cat is pregnant or if there are other underlying health issues that need to be addressed.
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.