Feline Pregnancy Duration: How Long Are Cats Pregnant Before Giving Birth? When dogs give birth, they call it birth. For horses, the term is drawing lots and it’s for the cows calving. But when a cat becomes pregnant, veterinarians and breeders use the term a queen to refer to the process of cat birth.
Of course they do: a pregnant cat—the queen herself—wouldn’t have it any other way.
But how long does the queen reign? How long are cats pregnant? How can you tell if Yours the cat is pregnant – and for that matter, how can you tell how far along they are? Here’s what you need to know.
Pregnancy period in a cat
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Cats become pregnant when they are in estrus or heat – in other words, when they are fertile and ready to breed. Although cats are not usually sexually mature until they are about six months old, some cats can have their first spurt as early as four months.
Unless they are spayed or become pregnant, they will go through their cycle every two or three weeks, but usually only during months with longer daylight (which has impact on their hormone levels). In the Northern Hemisphere this is usually from February to October. Cats also don’t go through menopause as we know it: Unless they’re spayed, a female cat can shed even in old age.
But once they become pregnant, the typical gestation period lasts approx nine weeksalthough as with some human mothers, the babies can appear sooner or later and still be perfectly healthy.
Read more: How long do cats live?
How to tell if your cat is pregnant
Cats go through many of the same symptoms as humans when they are pregnant. An increased appetite and sudden weight gain over a few weeks is a common clue – although if your cat is already chonk, it can be hard to tell. Cats do get morning sickness due to hormonal changes, so if they’re throwing up (or throwing up more than usual, given that we’re talking about cats here), that’s another classic sign.
You can also check their belly: once pregnant, the cat’s nipples will look swollen and take on a pink or reddish appearance. Many owners also report personality changes. If your normally reserved queen suddenly becomes more attached to you, that, combined with any of these other signs, are pretty good hints that a litter is in your future.
If you think your cat is pregnant, call the vet as soon as possible. They can confirm that your queen is expecting and will be a critical partner in helping your cat (and you) through the process.
How far is my cat?
Judging how long your cat is pregnant can sometimes be difficult, even for experts. Not every cat shows all the symptoms at the same time. But as a rule, you can see a change in the color of the nipple as early as two weeks after conception. Changes in size, especially an enlarged abdomen, may be noticeable in a cat of normal weight after about three weeks. If you track when your lady is in heatthis is another useful way to estimate how long they have been pregnant.
But for most non-pregnant owners, by the time you notice any signs, it’s likely that your cat has been pregnant for about a month, which means they’re already halfway through. This is another good reason to go to the vet. They can do an ultrasound or x-ray and give you a professional opinion on how far along your cat is. From there you can use any of a number of online pets pregnancy calculators to help you count down the days until the big event.
Read more: How long can cats be left alone?
Stages of cat birth
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Cat labor depends on several variables, including how many kittens the mother has to give birth to. The average time can vary from a few hours to even a few days. Cats go through three stages of birth.
In the first stage, your mama cat is starting to nest and contractions will begin as her body prepares to give birth. If your cat is in this stage for more than 24 hours, consult your veterinarian.
The second stage involves the actual delivery of kittens. At this point you will be able to see contractions and your cat will be visibly straining to deliver her litter (especially if it is her first). It can take anywhere from a few minutes to an hour for mom to give birth to each kitten. If your cat has been straining for more than an hour without giving birth to a kitten, call your vet.
After the kitten is born, the mother will go into the third stage of labor, which usually involves shedding the placenta with each new arrival, resting a bit, and then returning to the second stage to give birth to the next kitten. At any point in the cat’s labor, you may need to intervene and help your queen, so be sure to talk to your vet ahead of time to find out what you need to know and what supplies to have on hand.
How many kittens can one cat have?
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Litter size can vary depending on the queen’s age and general health. Four kittens is often given as the average, but eight is not unusual. If this is her first litter, most cats usually only have two or three, and sometimes just one kitten. The largest domestic cat litter on record, according to Guinness World Recordsis 19 (although four were stillborn), set by a British kitten in 1970.
Not that your queen—or anyone else’s—should be trying to set any records. As the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has been telling us for years, the world already has a lot of cats in need of families: more than 3 million cats end up in shelters every year, and roughly half a million of them are euthanized. That’s why on ASPCA and most vets recommend spaying (or neutering for male cats) unless there is a compelling medical reason not to. Your cat will never be a queen after this procedure – but don’t worry: she’ll still expect you to treat her like royalty.
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