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Cat Pregnancy  

Newborn kittens nursing

If your female cat hasn’t been spayed, there’s a possibility they could become pregnant. If you don’t want your cat to breed, it’s important to consult your veterinarian and get them spayed.  

You may think this procedure is unnecessary if your cat stays indoors, but it is still recommended as they can become feline magicians during mating season and sneak out unnoticed. An un-spayed female cat will also exhibit behaviors that can be distressing when they are in heat, and depending how their reproductive system functions, those behaviors can go on for weeks. Spaying and neutering your pets can also prevent certain cancers and infections.  

Watching your cat welcome a litter of kittens can be a proud moment. However, it can also be stressful. You want to make sure the experience goes as smoothly as possible for your feline—and there are so many questions. 

Is a cat’s pregnancy similar to a humans? How long does it last? What if there are complications?  

Petco can help you navigate the stages of cat pregnancy and feel secure that your pet is supported and cared for. Our cat pharmacy is also here to help. Here we’ll help answer some important questions you might have about your pregnant cat.  

How do I know if my cat is pregnant?  

Early signs of cat pregnancy can vary between pets. You may notice a difference in their behavior and eating habits—or nothing at all. A pregnant cat may become more aloof and spend time hiding out of sight. Conversely, your cat may grow more affectionate once they become pregnant. You may also notice your cat seems more tired than normal. 

Two major cat pregnancy symptoms have to do with appearance. When pregnant, your cat’s belly will become swollen to accommodate the growing kittens. You will also notice a change in your cat’s nipples before and after pregnancy and birth—they become darker and more pronounced as the milk comes in.  

If you notice any of these changes, it’s best to consult your veterinarian. Even if your cat isn’t pregnant, symptoms such as these may indicate another medical issue that needs to be addressed. Your vet can perform cat pregnancy tests—such as ultrasounds and X-rays—to determine just how far along they are and how many kittens you will be welcoming. Continued care before and after pregnancy is always recommended to help prevent or prepare for complications.   

How long will the pregnancy last for my cat?  

This is where cats and humans differ greatly—the average cat pregnancy length is between 58 to 70 days. Considering it may take around 5 weeks for your cat to start showing, you may not have a long time to prepare. That’s why early detection is important. If your cat is in heat and slips out of the house, watch closely for signs of pregnancy. Approximately 3 weeks after breeding, your veterinarian can use an ultrasound machine to determine if your cat is pregnant.  

How many kittens will my cat have?  

On average, a cat usually has around four kittens. Of course, this can vary wildly. They may only have one or two. The highest recorded number of kittens born in the same litter is 19, but most pregnancies don’t go over 12. 

The best way to determine how many bundles of joy to expect is to go to your vet. After 6 weeks of pregnancy, the veterinarian can perform an X-ray and give insight to whether they see any indicators that might suggest a certain litter size. However, your vet will not be able to give you an exact number to expect for the amount of kittens.  

Are there any changes I need to make to my cat’s food when they’re pregnant?  

Their food intake can be a delicate process—they need more nutrients to help their babies grow, but it’s just as important to not overfeed since extra weight can cause complications when they give birth.  

Talk to your vet about the ideal amount of weight your pet should gain during pregnancy. If your cat is already overweight, your vet can determine just how many calories are recommended.  

It is usually recommended to switch to a kitten formula, since it’s packed with the nutrients needed to help the babies grow. They’ll most likely monitor your cat’s weight throughout the pregnancy and increase or decrease calories as needed.  

You may also notice your pet doesn’t seem to be eating as much during meals as the stages of cat pregnancy progress. This can cause you to worry, but remember—there may be quite a few little kittens growing in there. There may simply be no room. As your cat’s belly gets bigger, try offering smaller meals more frequently throughout the day or leaving food out all the time so they can reach their needed caloric intake without discomfort.  

Having 24/7 access to fresh, clean water is also an essential part of pregnancy for your cat. Make sure their bowls and fountains are always filled so your mama cat can stay hydrated. 

Is there anything I need to do to prepare before my cat has babies?  

Besides providing an adequate amount of food and water, the best thing to do is monitor your cat’s pregnancy behavior to make sure there are no unexpected changes. You can still gently play with your cat and keep them active until close to the actual birth. In fact, healthy activity is recommended. 

When they are nearing their due date, keep your home calm and quiet so stress levels stay low. It can also be helpful to prepare a birthing area for your cat. Choose the part of your home that has the least amount of foot traffic. Find a box that is wide and deep—a cardboard box or laundry basket is ideal—and line it with old towels and linens to make it cozy and soft. 

How do I know when my cat goes into labor?  

At the end stages of your cat’s pregnancy, you may notice your mama cat preparing her nesting bed or favoring a particular hidey-hole in your home. If she chooses the one you made for her—she may not, which is completely natural—you’ll see her kneading the inside and getting it ready. Finding the spot where she feels most comfortable is part of her maternal instincts, and you should let her choose it—it will help keep her calm. 

You may notice your cat sticking to you like glue right before labor. That means you make her feel safe and she likes to know you’re there before the big event. You may also notice her taking long naps, and she may slow down her food intake right before birth as well. 

When the contractions start, she may become vocal and start meowing, panting and chirping. That’s natural—just like humans, labor can be painful for the mother. When she goes into active labor, you want to make sure you stay back and don’t touch her. It may be tempting to soothe your cat by petting her, but she has a big job to do. It’s best to leave her be and not distract her.  Never move your cat once labor begins unless it’s a medical emergency.  

Instead, make sure you secure the room so no other pets can come in, then settle in to quietly observe. As the kittens are born, your pet will lick away the membrane covering their nose and mouth so they can breathe and probably eat the afterbirth. This can alarm you if you’re not expecting it; however, this is normal cat pregnancy behavior.  If your cat’s labor seems to not be progressing, reach out to your veterinarian. Time between birth of kittens should not exceed more than an hour, and she may need an emergency vet visit.

While observing your cat, keep your phone handy just in case you need to call your vet or an emergency clinic.  

What should I do after my cat has kittens?  

The best thing to do is call your vet. They can advise you on any actions you need to take or if any behaviors by your cat or her kittens are abnormal. They’ll most likely request a vet visit so they can check on the health of the babies and make sure the mother isn’t having any complications.  

They’ll also give you advice on how much to feed your cat post-labor, as milk production will require even more calories than pregnancy.  It is recommended to keep your mama cat on kitten food throughout the time she is lactating.

Can I touch my cat’s newborn kittens?  

That really depends on how comfortable your cat is. Touching them won’t cause rejection, but if your cat becomes distressed when you touch or hold them, it’s best to let them be. However, she may welcome your help and even bring them to you.  Continue to keep the kittens in an area away from any other pets in the house so no one becomes injured.

Should I bathe my cat after giving birth?  

No, not until they go in for their checkup and get the okay from your vet. Taking your cat in for aftercare is important because of the risk of post-pregnancy complications.  

Instead, place a clean box with fresh linens in the room for your cat. If she’s comfortable with you touching them, you can move the babies in—or let her do it herself.  

After experiencing your cat’s pregnancy stages and physical changes and watching the kittens grow and develop little personalities, you may find there are one or two you just can’t let go after 8 weeks and decide to keep them for yourself. Petco is here with all your cat solutions. We have a great selection of litter boxes, as well as cat furniture and scratchers to keep them entertained. You also won’t be able to resist our cat apparel for when your kitties grow up.  

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Reviewed by Dr. Whitney Miller, DVM, MBA, DACVPM

As Petco’s Chief Veterinarian, Dr. Miller is the lead veterinary subject matter expert, overseeing the company’s standards of excellence in animal care and welfare, growth in pet services and much more. Dr. Miller leads Petco’s medical team, supporting over 200 full-service hospitals and mobile vaccination clinics operating in over 1,000 Petco Pet Care Centers nationwide