Female cats or “queens” (unspayed females) are known to be seasonally polyestrous. This means that they undergo several heat cycles (estrous cycles) throughout the year. These heat cycles are periods of time wherein the females are sexually receptive.
Heat cycles typically last at least from a day to 7 days and every 10 to 14 days. During these periods, females have to be mated two to four times within 24 hours before conception occurs.
If you own an unspayed adult cat, you should expect it to be pregnant sooner or later. And as a responsible owner, you should know the early signs of your cat’s pregnancy to be able to attend to it.
Being attentive throughout all its cat pregnancy stages will help you ensure its health and well-being, especially since pregnancy is when it is the most vulnerable. Here are the telltale signs that you may notice when your cat becomes pregnant:
The first changes that will be observable when your cat becomes pregnant are the physical changes. These are the most obvious ones because visual signs are easier to notice even if you are busy with other things in your life.
Some of these changes are more obvious than others but they more or less simultaneously occur. These things serve as early warning signs that your pet may be requiring more attention from you than before.
- Her nipples enlarge and become darker or rosier in color
When a cat becomes pregnant, its nipples will swell and change in color. This change is known as “pinking-up”. Its nipples will be larger and puffier and somewhat darker or rosier in color. They also become much more sensitive than usual.
This is one of its body’s first reactions in preparation to having kittens. This change in the nipples becomes more apparent within around three weeks from conception. You may also observe some drops of milk coming out of its nipples during the later stages of its pregnancy (after 50 to 56 days).
- Her belly will gradually swell
During the course of its pregnancy, you will observe the cat’s belly gradually swelling. It becomes most noticeable after around five to six weeks when the embryos are developing. The cat’s belly reaches its peak size on a day or two before it delivers its kittens.
This change occurs simultaneously with the swelling of its nipples. You may also observe an arching of your cat’s back due to the additional weight of the kittens.
- She will slowly gain weight
Your cat will also slowly gain weight throughout its pregnancy. This is mainly due to the development of the embryos in its uterus. As the embryos develop, the weight of the mother also increases.
An increase in appetite—a common behavioral change experienced by pregnant cats—may also contribute to its weight gain. Queens tend to eat more so they get enough nutrients not only for them but also for their kittens.
- Her temperature will change
Less than a day before the actual labor, your cat’s temperature will drop. The average normal body temperature of a cat is between 100.5 and 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit, but its rectal temperature will drop to as low as 99 degrees Fahrenheit when it is about to undergo labor.
Aside from physically observable changes, there will also be differences to your cat’s behavior. These serve as good indicators to help you take appropriate actions in helping your cat through its pregnancy.
These behavioral changes primarily reflect the condition of your cat and how it is currently feeling. These can also serve as signs to know when you have to bring your cat to a veterinarian already.
- Her appetite will change
Your cat’s appetite will frequently change throughout the course of its pregnancy. Initially, it will significantly increase. This is to compensate for the increase in the energy and nutrient needs of the mother while bearing its kittens and will probably cause an increase in the queen’s weight.
Its appetite will eventually significantly decrease, especially starting around the 8th week (50 to 56 days) of gestation. This will drastically decrease starting at least a day leading up to the labor when the mother will consume significantly less food.
- She will start nesting
Nesting behavior does not show up until the later stages of the cat’s pregnancy. Approximately a week before the labor (pre-labor stage), your cat will start “nesting” as preparation for its birth.
Your cat will want a suitable place as a prospective ‘nest’ for its kittens. It will start searching for a warm, quiet, and private place. That’s why you may see it sometimes going under your bed, behind some furniture, or even inside your closet.
- She will suffer from morning sickness
Because of the sudden changes in its hormones, your cat will suffer from regular morning sickness throughout its pregnancy. This typically happens after the 1st month of conception
This is accompanied by frequent vomiting and the feeling of being bloated. The changes in its appetite also contribute to this morning sickness. If the vomiting becomes too excessive, you should have your cat immediately checked by a veterinarian.
- Her heat cycle will be disrupted
Starting from conception, your cat will have its heat periods disrupted. If your cat doesn’t show any signs of heat such as “commando crawling”, deflection reflex, and constant licking of its genitalia after more than 14 days, then, there is a high chance it is pregnant.
You will notice a lack of prowling and affection than usual when it is off its heat cycle. It may also look particularly nervous at times although this one is harder to recognize.
The disruption of heat cycle is somewhat harder to spot since it is not that evident compared to other behavioral changes but it still may help when you start speculating that your cat’s pregnant.
Stages of Cat Pregnancy
- Cat pregnancy lasts around 64 to 67 days (almost ten weeks). During this time, your cat will have experienced all of the changes we have discussed before, whether physical or behavioral. But the changes do not just happen all at once or at random. There are patterns wherein certain changes are expected to occur at certain points in the pregnancy.
- The gestation period for a cat can be divided into weekly stages which are around 9 to 10 stages. During the first 2 weeks of the pregnancy (7 to 14 days), you will not be able to tell whether the cat is pregnant. This is when the fertilization occurs and no reliable signs can be observed yet.
- In the 3rd week and 4th week (15 to 28 days), hormone surges will start to occur due to the embryos developing organs already. This is when physical changes become apparent. Its nipples will start “pinking-up” and its belly will have a small bulge.
This is also when morning sickness and vomiting will start to occur. At this point, a veterinarian can confirm whether the cat is pregnant; either manually or through ultrasound.
- During the 5th week (29 to 35 days) the belly will have become noticeably larger. You can now also personally feel the kittens on its belly. Depending on how the queen was raised, it may also become a bit more hostile to other animals as its natural motherly instinct.
- The 6th and 7th weeks (36 to 49 days) are when there will be a significant increase in your pet’s appetite. It may also howl loudly at times when it gets hungry since it is now less tolerant of hunger due to the kittens. It probably also has a prominent pregnant belly figure already.
- Your cat will be nesting on the 8th week (50 to 56 days). It will search for a comfortable and safe place in preparation for its labor. This is when its appetite will start to shift from increasing to decreasing.
- On the final 9th or 10th week (57 days onwards), you should be expecting the kittens already. During this time, the mother will most likely stay put in its nest and will most definitely refuse to eat. It will just be waiting for its labor at this point. You may also observe some reddish discharge from its vulva but this is completely normal.
The labor process will start with contractions and vaginal discharge. The contractions will continue and there will be bloody discharges as the kittens pass through the birth canal. Placentas will also be discharged as each kitten is delivered. The whole labor process typically lasts around 2 to 5 hours.
Tips for Owners of Pregnant Cats
Taking care of a cat is one thing but taking care of a pregnant cat is another thing. You have to pay special attention to your queen to ensure a safe pregnancy and eventual labor. This may become taxing for you but it is vital for maintaining your pet’s well-being.
The first thing you should secure is the safe birthing place and accessories for your cat. Its birthing place should be as warm and as comfortable as possible.
You can make one from a cardboard box by cutting it down to the desired size. It is preferable if you put layers of blankets or towels in it and place it in a safe and warm location which is dimly lit. Although keep in mind that it may still search for another place even if you think you’ve made the most comfortable place.
You should also prepare clean towels and feeding bowls in advance as these will come in handy when the time comes.
Another thing to remember is your cat’s nutrition. It is advisable to always have warm water and enough food near your pet in case it needs to feed. It will eat very minimally as it nears labor so make sure that you offer it high-quality cat food, preferably those with high protein and fats to meet the queen’s higher calorie demands.
One of the most important things your cat needs during pregnancy is emotional support. It is best that you keep it warm and relaxed as much as possible. It is already anxious about giving birth; the last thing it needs is unnecessary stress. It will be very helpful if you show it positive emotional affection.
Your cat’s pregnancy does not end in labor. It will still be nursing its kittens and will still need you for support. Aside from its physical needs such as shelter and food, it also needs your love and affection.
When you eventually see the cute little kittens grow to be a part of the family, you will realize that all of the sacrifices were worth it.