Serious problems are rare during the course of a cat's pregnancy. Cats are very good at being pregnant, giving birth, and caring for their newborns. Your primary role, as caregiver, is to be loving and patient, and to help provide comfort and safety for your soon-to-be mother cat. You may also want to start feeding her kitten food, as the high calorie and fat content can help her feed more than just herself.
Your home is about to be filled with kittens! Whether you’re excited or apprehensive, it’s not too onerous a task to make sure everything goes safely and smoothly. Some basic facts about feline health during pregnancy are all you’ll need to ensure your kitty’s health, and the health of her coming babies.
How Do Cats Get Pregnant?
Female cats can go into heat whenever male cats are around. Female cats may begin estrus (heat) as early as seven months of age, and “typically, the first estrus cycle occurs by the age of twelve months,” says Janet Tobiassen Crosby, DVM. If you're breeding your cat on purpose, it's best to wait until your cat is at least two years old, so she's solidly out of her kitten phase herself.
“Female cats are induced ovulators,” explains Tobiassen Crosby. “Meaning, they only release an egg when they’ve mated.” She adds that if kitty gets around, “There may be more than one father for a litter, if the cat is allowed to meet up with multiple males.”
Is Your Cat Pregnant?
Cats gestate their kittens for approximately 60 to 70 days. Over the first few weeks of gestation, there will be little sign that your cat is pregnant. You may notice a slight increase in weight but little else. If you suspect your cat is pregnant, your vet can perform an ultrasound to determine pregnancy at about 24 days, or alternately, the heartbeat of the unborn kittens can be distinguished by your vet at this time.
After about 24 days, your vet can also detect kitten embryos by palpation of the mother’s abdomen. However, you should never attempt such palpation at home. Improper prodding or squeezing can kill or injure fetal kittens, leading to miscarriage.
Later Signs of Pregnancy
Although there are no early blood tests for cats to determine pregnancy, tests are available from your vet at about 30 days. By 30 days into a cat’s pregnancy, however, the pregnancy will likely be evident, as it’s already about halfway over. By 35-50 days, you may notice a milky discharge from the nipples.
Many cats also experience morning sickness sometime between the 2nd and 4th weeks of gestation. Your cat may vomit and lose her appetite, and she may become lethargic. Such symptoms are normal in pregnant cats, although they may last only a few days and can easily be missed.
Signs of Trouble During Pregnancy
If the symptoms of a healthy pregnancy in cats can be hard to miss, signs of trouble are few and may be even more difficult to spot.
Any discharge from the cat’s vagina can indicate a problem, whether blood or a smelly, greenish fluid. Indications of weakness or distress greater than discomfort from morning sickness or a swollen belly should also be taken seriously.
Before delivery, your cat may exhibit signs of agitation and restlessness, both of which are normal. During delivery, your cat may scream, especially during birth of the first kitten. Again, this is typical. However, delays of more than three hours between kittens or hard labor without birth can be signs of trouble.
Your Vet and Your Pregnant Cat
Any sign of complications during pregnancy or delivery should, naturally, be reported to your veterinarian right away. He or she can advise you best on what is normal and what might require emergency care for your cat.
As soon as you suspect your cat may be pregnant, you should visit the vet for a prenatal checkup. If your cat is pregnant by design, schedule a first trip to the vet at 2 to 3 weeks after mating.
During this first checkup, your vet will set a schedule for follow-up visits. In many cases, another trip will not be required until about a week before delivery.
Is Your Cat Ready to be Pregnant?
As previously stated, cats only uncommonly experience trouble during pregnancy and birth, and these problems are usually minor. After all, cats have been having kittens for ages! Making sure your cat is in good general health and is at least two years old is all you need to do before she becomes pregnant.
Technically speaking, a cat may become pregnant around the time of her first estrus. However, a cat that’s still essentially a kitten may not be fully ready to bear kittens. Some evidence shows that cats under one year can lack some maternal instincts, and may be unable to fully care for their babies. Most vets suggest waiting untll a cat is at least two years old before breeding.
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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.