Do you suspect your cat to be pregnant and are you freaking out?
Although we usually recommend that cats be neutered or spayed, we also know that cat pregnancy can be a beautiful thing. You will have the fortune to witness the cycle of life repeating itself. As long as you know how to care for your cat and can rely on your vet’s supervision, you should have nothing to worry about.
To help you, we created this guide, answering the most common questions about cat pregnancy care.
- How to know if your cat is pregnant
- How to care for a pregnant cat
- Water and food for a pregnant cat
- What to do when your cat is in labor?
- What to do after your cat gives birth?
- Should you spay your pregnant cat?
Quick Facts about Cat Pregnancy
- The average cat pregnancy around two months
- By the end of the term, the queen eats about 50% more than normal
- The average size of a cat litter is 3 – 5 kittens
- Cat labor has 3 stages, all of which may last up to 24 hours or more
- Vaccines should be avoided during pregnancy
How To Know If Your Cat Is Pregnant
There are several ways to know if your cat is pregnant.
If your cat is pregnant, you’ll notice some changes, both in her physical appearance and behavior.
- Physical changes: Similar to humans, a pregnant cat may show signs of “morning sickness,” and will start eating more as the pregnancy progresses. In addition, you may notice your cat’s abdomen getting bigger after five weeks, and will continue growing until she gives birth. Also, her nipples will appear swollen and/or take on a darker, red color.
- Behavioral changes: Some cats may change their behavior when becoming pregnant. You might see that your previously lively, cat goes into hiding, or an otherwise apathetic cat may suddenly become a snuggle bug. Both of these changes in behavior are normal for pregnant cats.
If you notice any of the changes above and want to confirm whether your cat is pregnant, you should bring her to your vet. Certified veterinarians will usually perform either one or both of the examinations below.
- Clinical examination: The vet can know if your cat is pregnant by professionally palpating the abdomen. This is not 100% accurate but it can give you clues.
- Diagnostic imaging: Ultrasonography is an imaging technique used to confirm a pregnancy in cats and other animals. In some vet practices, they can diagnose your cat’s pregnancy as early as 15 days into her term. By day 40 of her pregnancy, your vet may also be able to tell you how many kittens your cat is expecting. Bear in mind that in cat pregnancy, a larger kitten may obscure other smaller kittens in the womb, so you could have more kittens than expected! X-rays can also reveal the number of kittens to expect.
How To Care For A Pregnant Cat
So, your vet has confirmed that your queen is pregnant. What should you do?.
You still may have the option of spaying her. This is sometimes encouraged to control cat overpopulation or for the sake of the queen’s health.
This is a delicate issue that should be discussed with your vet. Depending on a variety of factors which we will discuss below, your vet may help you decide whether to consider spaying or not.
Main Aspects When Caring for a Pregnant Cat
If you decide to allow your cat to have the kittens, you need to consider several things:
- keeping her safe, comfortable and away from other pets
- water and food intake for the mother (we discuss it in the next section)
- finding a good home for the kittens
- the type of medications she must not take
Be Careful and Continue Showing Love
As pregnancy hormones take effect, your cat may become more loving and cuddly. Showing love and affection is a major way to care for a pregnant cat. Also remember that as her body changes, you need to be careful in the way you handle her.
Although it’s safe to rub your pregnant cat’s body, make sure to avoid her belly. This area will be very sensitive, and any touching there could cause her discomfort or hurt her unborn kittens. If you must pick her up, make sure to “scoop” her up from her bottom, rather than touching her stomach.
Water and food for a pregnant cat
The right nutrition during pregnancy is key to make sure that your queen has the strength to handle labor, nurse fit kittens.
Kitten Food Is The Way to Go
An adult cat diet is great for her normal nutrient needs, but it won’t be enough to provide the extra boost needed during pregnancy.
Pregnant cats need higher calories and protein. For this reason, vets often recommend high-quality kitten foods as they can provide all the necessary nutrients.
When you switch the mother to kitten food, you will also help nourish her kittens.
Making the Transition and Adjustments for Sensitive Stomachs
As soon as you know of the pregnancy, you can start slowly transitioning the queen to kitten food.
Usually, it is recommended to keep her on kitten food until a few weeks after giving birth.
Gradually add the new formula to her standard food for 7-10 days until you have completely swapped them over. You can start with 90% of the standard food and 10% of the new formula, and go on like that till you have 100% new formula.
If your cat has a sensitive stomach, pick a mild kitten formula based on your vet’s recommendation. If she’s on a particular diet for health reasons, get your vet’s approval before making any changes. And don’t forget to consider your cat’s preferences.
Dry food contains a higher amount of calories per gram than wet food. If your cat is on a wet food only diet, serve her larger meals to ensure she’s getting the extra energy that she needs. Try mixing up both wet and dry food to give her the best.
As expected, your pregnant cat’s food intake will gradually increase from the day she mates right up to the end of her pregnancy.
By the end of her term, she’ll eat about 50% more than what she eats normally (although it’s not out of place for her to need up to twice her regular amount!). Fortunately, pregnant cats are sensible with their feeding as they will eat what they need and stop when they’ve had enough.
Avoid Vaccines, Continue Flea Treatment, and Careful about De-worming
Administering vaccines during pregnancy is not recommended as they might have a damaging effect on the kittens. However, certain types of rabies vaccine may be ok.
As mentioned earlier, you also need to make sure your cat doesn’t take anything that your vet has not approved.
The mother can pass worms to her kittens. Therefore, it’s important to talk to your vet and bring a sample of the queen’s feces if you notice she has worms. They will recommend you a safe de-worming treatment that’s appropriate for her.
You should also keep up her flea treatment, but make sure to confirm with your vet that the product you are using is safe.
What To Do When Your Cat Is In Labor
Normally, a cat in labor will not need any human intervention, but in some rare cases, it does. In general, it is best to let the queen feel safe at all times, this means also that you should try to not freak out.
The queen might want to hide to give birth if she does make sure to give her the space she needs. In general, though, it is best to prepare a birthing area in advance, to make her more comfortable and for you to observe and attend to the birth. A birthing area usually includes a cardboard box (or other comfortable spaces) lined with towels.
Sometimes it is recommended to have a heated pad under several layers of towels to make the queen more comfortable (but make sure to cover it with towels to avoid burning the kittens). You may also want to have handy some more towels, absorbent pads, a bin to discard them, a pair of clean scissors, and some dental floss (in case the queen needs help with the umbilical cord).
When the kittens are first delivered, they tear out of the amniotic membrane or sac. That is the thin transparent bag of fluid that supports them in the womb. Usually, the mother will help them with this task.
The average size of a litter is between 2 to 5 kittens. It is completely normal for your cat to pause for anywhere between 10 minutes to an hour between each birth. If you know she still has kittens inside her and has taken more than three hours to deliver the earlier ones, you should get her to the vet immediately.
Once delivered, a mother cat will lick her kittens to stimulate their breathing. If she’s too exhausted to do this or she is distracted by another birth, it may be up to you. You can very gently rub the kitten’s body with a towel the same way a mother would lick it. You should tip the kitten so it is face down. This will help clear fluid from its airway.
Placenta removal and Umbilical Cord
After every delivery, a placenta should also emerge. If a placenta is retained, it may cause infection in the mother. Count to make sure you have seen a placenta for each kitten. Don’t be surprised if the mother eats some or all of the placentas. This is perfectly normal and safe. If the mother appears to have retained a placenta, again you need to get her to the vet quickly.
The mother cat will also chew off the umbilical cord. If there some rare issue, make sure to call your vet to get specific instructions on how to help with this task. To do so you can tie a piece of dental floss tightly around the cord about an inch from the kittens’ body. Tie another loop an inch further up the cord, then cut between the two loops with a sharp pair of scissors.
Once the kittens have been delivered and cleaned, they should immediately crawl to their mother’s nipples and begin to suckle. At that point, it’s safe to let your cat and her kittens have some alone time.
Congratulations on your new litter of kittens!
What To Do After Your Cat Gives Birth
One thing to do within 72 hours after your cat has delivered her kittens is to take them to the vet for a post-natal checkup. This will be a good time to discuss spaying your cat to prevent any future surprise pregnancy.
Should You Spay Your Pregnant Cat?
There are some things to consider when deciding whether to spay your pregnant cat or not. Abortion is a word that elicits a variety of emotions. Several animal shelters spay all pregnant cats that come into the shelter routinely. However, a few shelters allow the mother cat to give birth, especially when the pregnancy is late-term, to avoid any complications. Some rescue groups prefer not to spay rescued pregnant cats.
Factors To Consider Before Spaying Your Pregnant Cat
Stage of pregnancy – It is generally not recommended to abort a pregnancy at late-term, but early and mid-term spay and abortion are common. You can estimate how far along she is by the date of her last estrus cycle (heat). Otherwise, a veterinarian can help to estimate the term.
Age of your cat – Cats that are very young (under one year) or those older than eight years are more likely to have complications during birth. These can include deformed or stillborn kittens, or the death of the queen.
Your cat’s general physical condition – If she is in overall good health and in late-term pregnancy, you may decide to let the pregnancy continue. If she is in poor physical condition, pregnancy, birth, and nursing may endanger her. Your vet can determine your mother cat’s health status before she gives birth.
Your household’s preparedness for newborn kittens – This is a huge commitment, and everyone in your home will be involved at one point or another. If you have a safe room where you can confine the mother cat and her kittens from the intrusion of other cats, dogs, small children, and the like, you should be fine. Otherwise (in the case of a stray), you should probably turn the job over to experts, such as local rescue organizations. If you’re thinking of finding homes for the kittens, be selective in your screening process.
In conclusion, have your vet’s contact on speed dial for emergencies and take good care of your pregnant cat.
If you have more questions about spaying your cat, check out our full guide on spaying your cat.
- Pregnancy diagnosis with ultrasound in the domestic cat, Autumn P. D. (DVM) et al. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1740-8261.1986.tb00014.x
- Tips for a healthy cat pregnancy. https://www.purina.co.uk/cats/health-and-nutrition/pregnancy/tips-for-a-healthy-pregnancy
- What to expect when your cat is pregnant, https://pets.webmd.com/cats/cat-pregnancy-gestation#1