There are a million and one books about human pregnancy, TV programs showing childbirth and obstetricians and midwives to give advice, but what if your cat is pregnant? There’s no magic pregnancy test you can pick up from the chemist to find out in less than three minutes, so it can be difficult to tell if your cat is pregnant and many owners don’t notice until the pregnancy is at an advanced stage.
Perhaps you put off spaying your pet due to unexpected bills or she was a house cat that suddenly decided to go outside. Maybe you wanted your pet to get pregnant, either way, diagnosing feline pregnancy can be challenging.
Absence of Heat
One of the first things an owner may notice is the absence of their cat’s usual heat cycle (medically known as estrus – the feline equivalent of a menstrual period).
Women sometimes complain that they have to have periods and that they are as frequent as every month, but compared with cats, the human species is lucky. Cats go into heat as often as every two weeks and it can last as long as ten days, so it can seem to an owner as if their unspayed cat is always in heat. A cat in heat will have very distinct behaviors. She may become extra affectionate and want more attention and may roll around on the floor or constantly get under your feet and rub herself on your legs or furniture. She will also raise her bottom in the air frequently and move her tail aside to display her genitals.
Another feature of heat is excessive vocalization which will often be louder or a higher pitch than her usual meow and she may do this any time she isn’t asleep, which can get a little wearing for the owner, particularly if this is in the middle of the night. If there is a tom cat outside, he will call back to her.
There might also be a little blood loss from your cat’s vulva, so if you don’t want kittens, get your cat spayed before she reaches sexual maturity (on average this happens between 6 months and one year of age, depending on the breed – speak to your vet about the most appropriate time to spay your cat) as it is a major undertaking to care for an unspayed female and to rear a litter of kittens.
One of the first things an owner will notice when their cat is pregnant, is the absence of this very regular heat cycle.
Signs of Feline Pregnancy
Another sign of pregnancy is that her nipples turn pink and increase in size. This normally happens in the third week of pregnancy. As cat pregnancy is just over nine weeks, you have about six weeks to prepare once you notice this.
Some owners elect to go to the vet to more accurately date the pregnancy (and it is even possible to perform an ultrasound scan on your cat if your vet has the facility). The vet can also do a physical examination. However, some vets will advise that as long as your cat seems happy and healthy there is no need to bring them in unless they experience pregnancy complications, difficulty with delivery or they go ‘overdue.’
Like human pregnancy, feline pregnancy can vary slightly in length. The average length is between 63 and 65 days although the kittens can be born as early as 60 days and as late as 70.
At week three, as well as the pinking up of the nipples, some cats vomit, go off their food or sleep more than usual. This is because cats also experience morning sickness.
By week four, you may notice your cat start to put on a little weight around the sides. A vet would be able to feel to determine if there are any kittens but you shouldn’t do this because if an untrained person puts any pressure on the developing foetuses this can cause injury or miscarriage.
After week four your cat will continue to gain weight and might want to eat more once the morning sickness has worn off. Vets will recommend you feed your pregnant cat with kitten food because this has more protein and calcium in it. Some breeders and vets also recommend feeding them raw meat. Raw meat is a cats natural diet in the wild (after all, you don’t see any lions opening a can of commercial cat food), but you should probably opt for kitten food as well to ensure your cat has a complete nutritional balance. Some add yoghurt or sour cream to the kitten food for extra fat.
Around two weeks before the birth, your cat will start nesting, that is, she will become restless and start scratching around and trying to get into cupboards and other strange places in order to find a place to give birth. You should prepare a nesting box (you could buy a commercial pen but a cardboard box with some newspaper and a blanket will do well enough) and show it to her several times before she goes into labor. Don’t be surprised if she just ignores it though, cats will give birth where they like so make sure you keep her indoors and if there’s anywhere you don’t want her to give birth, keep the doors closed!
By the end of pregnancy, her belly may be huge and round but this depends on the number of kittens. If there’s only one or two, it may not be that noticeable.
Good luck with the impending birth!
Signs of Pregnancy in Cats, Cat World. Web. 4th May 2012. http://www.cat-world.com.au/signs-of-pregnancy-in-cats
Cats in Heat (estrus): Signs, Duration and Prevention of Cats in Heat, Cat World. Web. 4th May 2012. http://www.cat-world.com.au/estrus-in-cats
How to Take Care of Your Pregnant Cat, Marc de Jong. www.pregnant-cat-care.com
Ambivet Veterinary Group (advice given to author when her cat was pregnant) – http://ambivet.com/