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Kittens with food pouches
Kittens with food pouches

Cat Pregnancy

Having a pregnant cat and knowing you're expecting kittens is an exciting time for any family. Knowing what to do and how to support your pregnant cat is key. Here we share some basic information about cat pregnancy and how to take care of newborn kittens.

Signs your cat is pregnant

Cats will start showing signs of pregnancy after about 2 or 3 weeks. Signs to look out for include:

  • Red and enlarged nipples. A stage called ‘pinking up’.

  • Weight gain. Depending on how many kittens she is carrying, weight can increase by up to 2kg.

  • Increased appetite. To support the growth of her unborn kittens your cat will start eating more.

  • Morning sickness. You may find your can has increased spells of vomiting as her body adjusts to the pregnancy.

  • Larger Stomach. Her stomach will begin to increase to make space for her kittens as they start to grow. It is important not to touch her stomach to ensure no damage is made to your cat or her kittens.

  • Extra fussy. Your cat may start craving more attention and fuss as her maternal instincts kick in. Extra purring and contentment is a clear sign she is about to become a mother.

As with any changes in behaviour it is important to get your cat checked over by a vet to ensure these signs are not due to an underlying illness and not a pregnancy. Vets are able to perform an ultrasound to confirm the pregnancy and will be able to give you an estimate of how many kittens to expect at around day 40.

How to take care of a pregnant cat

Keeping your cat happy, healthy and comfortable is the best way to take care of her when she is pregnant. Regular vets checks, a healthy diet and plenty of quiet and soft places to rest will ensure her body will be ready for labour. Keeping her flea treatment up to date is also key to ensure her and her newborns are safe from issues such as flea anaemia. Just check with your vets you are using a pregnancy safe treatment.

Pregnant cats are quite independent and will often choose their own place to give birth. To help with the decision you could set up some nesting areas within your house. A small cardboard box with soft blankets, towels or newspaper, in a quiet corner of a room would do the trick.

What to feed a pregnant cat

Pregnant cats will need a higher calorie diet to ensure a healthy pregnancy. She should be fed little and often due to her stomach having less room due to the growing kittens.

A pregnant and lactating cat has a much higher metabolic demand due to the growing, birthing, and feeding of kittens, so feeding fresh, high calorie cat food can help ensure she will get the sufficient nutrition she needs.

This diet should continue until the kittens are weaned from her milk.

How long are cats pregnant?

On average a cat is pregnant for 63-65 days. Understanding when your cat got pregnant will make knowing when to expect your kittens easier but sometimes this is difficult to tell if it wasn't planned.

How many kittens can a cat have?

On average a cat will give birth to between 4-6 kittens per pregnancy. Cats are capable of giving birth to up to 9 kittens at once but first time pregnancies will often lead to a smaller number of kittens born. Even though vets do check this with ultrasounds they can sometimes miss smaller kittens so it is best to be prepared for the unexpected.

Stages of cat labour

As your cat gets ready to give birth there are clear stages she will go through.

  • Stage 1: Pacing & Contractions - As your cat's body starts to get ready for birth and her cervix starts to relax your cat's behaviour will change. She may become more restless, pacing, become vocal, start panting and may even vomit. As she gets closer her core temperature will drop and the contractions will become more visible.

  • Stage 2: Birth - In the second stage of your cat's labour contractions will become stronger and more frequent. It is important to try and leave your cat alone and as stress free as possible so she feels confident enough to continue and give birth. Kittens are usually born every 30-60 minutes during active labour. If your cat has gone longer than 60 minutes and is actively contracting and pushing she needs to be seen by a vet as soon as possible.

  • Stage 3: Afterbirth - After each kitten is born your cat should expel the afterbirth also known as the placenta. If after she has given birth to all of the kittens, the foetal membranes are still not expelled, it is vital she is seen by a vet as soon as possible. By retaining the afterbirth it can lead to many problems including fever and infection.

Once all of the kittens are born it is normal for your cat to have reddish-black discharge for up to 3 weeks. If this becomes brighter red it is best to get her checked by a vet.

Newborn kittens

After each kitten is born they will be surrounded by a protective foetal membrane which will be covering its body and face. Their mother should remove this after about 1 minute of birth but if she does not, you will need to intervene. You will need to break the sac and wipe the fluid away from the kitten's nose. Open its mouth and remove any fluid or membranes present.This will allow the kitten to take its first breath. You may need to rub the kitten firmly with a towel to encourage this.

Now they are all here it is important not to handle the kittens too much in the first few weeks. Their mother will do everything that they need at this stage of their life including feeding and cleaning. Your goal will be to provide mother and babies with a warm and clean space to relax and grow. To aid with socialisation you may want to start occasionally holding them after 2 weeks allowing mom to smell your hand first to prove you are no threat.

Most newborn kittens will open their eyes within their first 2 weeks of life. Their vision, although poor at first, will continue to improve as each day passes. Between 3-4 weeks they will start taking their first steps. As their confidence and muscles grow a young, and eager kitten will emerge wanting to explore every corner of your house.

Hand rearing kittens

Hand rearing kittens can be very rewarding, but it is also challenging, time-consuming and can be emotionally taxing if the kittens fail to thrive. The first few weeks of a kitten’s life is especially crucial and should be spent with their mother. Unfortunately sometimes intervention is needed if a kitten is rejected or if the mother is not present to care for them.

Things to consider when thinking of hand rearing kittens are:

  • How to keep kittens warm

  • What to feed them & how often

  • How to stimulate their bladder and bowels

  • What health issues to look out for

  • How to socialise the kittens

Hand raising a kitten is a huge commitment and challenge, but it is also a great achievement! Further details can be found in our hand rearing a kitten article.