Cat Pregnancy Timeline: Signs & Stages

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Cats go through multiple heat cycles throughout the breeding season, which occurs year-round for most cats, depending on where they live. They also get pregnant easily and can have kittens when they’re still relatively young themselves. Is your cat pregnant? If so, you might wonder what to expect in the next few months. Pregnancy is quick, with gestation periods for cats only lasting around 60 to 65 days, and can be detected by day 21.1

This quick cat pregnancy timeline means you only have about two months to prepare for the birth and the kittens. Your cat may go through many behavioral changes throughout their pregnancy, so it’s always best to be prepared and know what to expect. If your cat is pregnant, read on. In this article, we’ll discuss everything you need to know about pregnancy in cats, including how to spot a pregnant cat, a cat pregnancy timeline for what to expect, and how to care for your cat throughout their pregnancy and post-labor. 

How Can I Tell If My Cat Is Pregnant?

Signs a cat is pregnant

Since cat pregnancy can occur while your cat is relatively young, it’s important to know the signs that indicate they’re pregnant. Cat pregnancy symptoms include:

  • Increased appetite: Pregnant cats need more nutrients because they’re growing kittens inside their bodies, so your cat may eat more throughout each cat pregnancy stage to ensure proper kitten growth
  • Noticeable weight gain: How much should a cat weigh? It depends on many factors. However, pregnant cats gain weight relatively quickly because they’re growing kittens. Of course, weight gain can be a symptom of another underlying health problem, so if your cat has gained weight quickly, take them to the vet for examination. 
  • Abrupt stop to heat cycles: If your cat’s menstrual period has stopped rather abruptly, it could indicate that they’re pregnant. If you track your cat’s periods, a missed period is often one of the first signs of pregnancy in cats.  
  • Pink and swollen nipples: Cats with swollen nipples can either be in heat or pregnant. In the case of cat pregnancy, swollen nipples may indicate the production of milk. 
  • Enlarged abdomen: As a cat’s pregnancy progresses, their abdomen will become bigger as their litter grows. 
  • Vomiting and sickness: Cats experience morning sickness when they’re pregnant, which can occur any time of day. If your cat is vomiting and experiencing any other signs of pregnancy, take them to the vet as soon as possible. Vomiting and weight gain may also indicate an underlying health issue. 
  • Sleepy and fatigued: Pregnant cats sleep more often than usual because of the surge of hormones and changes in their bodies. 
  • Maternal behavior: Cats may display more material behaviors, including becoming more affectionate and less playful.2

The best way to confirm cat pregnancy is to take them to the vet, who can confirm pregnancy by feeling your cat’s stomach and using ultrasound, depending on the stage of pregnancy they’re in. Ultrasounds are usually performed at least 25 days into the pregnancy.3 Vets can also tell you how many kittens you can expect using x-rays, but they can only do this after 45 days  in the pregnancy.4 

How Did My Cat Get Pregnant?

Female cats can reach sexual maturity at just four months old

Cats get pregnant the same way humans do. However, what makes cats unique is that they reach sexual maturity at just four months old.5 If you don’t plan on breeding your cat, it’s best to have them spayed as soon as possible to prevent unplanned pregnancies. Most cats are spayed before they begin their first cycle. Spaying can also benefit your cat’s health, preventing uterine infections and decreasing the number of breast tumors.6

Cats are seasonally polyestrous, which means they experience multiple heat cycles during the breeding season, which peaks around February through April in cats located within the northern hemisphere.7 The heat cycle can vary but typically occur every 14 to 21 days, with females becoming more vocal to attract males.7 During estrus, your cat might also become more affectionate or restless.

Cat Pregnancy Stages

Learning cat pregnancy stages can help you prepare while taking care of your cat based on their behavior and how they’re feeling. 

Egg Fertilization And Embryo Formation 

Egg fertilization and embryo formation typically occur within one to seven days of conception. Once the male’s sperm reaches the womb, it will reach viable eggs within 24 hours.8 Once the eggs are fertilized, the cells divide and develop into a blastula, an early-stage embryo.9 Each embryo is implanted into the uterine wall, where they will continue to develop throughout the rest of the pregnancy. 

Embryo Development and Placenta Formation 

After fertilization and the beginning development of the embryo, the placenta will begin to form as the embryos continue to grow. This process occurs around 7-14 days, and during this time, the cells in the embryo begin to develop into organs, with the outer cells of the blastula becoming the placenta.9

Embryogenesis 

Embryogenesis occurs around 14 to 28 days in which the critical elements of the body are developed. During this stage, the head and tail can be distinguished, and the circulatory and gastrointestinal systems begin to develop. Embryos also have mouths, eyes, ears, forelegs, and hindlegs. Throughout these days, the embryo continues to grow rapidly, and the cat will be displaying signs of pregnancy, including enlarged nipples and morning sickness. Once the embryos are done developing, they become fetuses with developed chins, mouths, noses, cheeks, and teeth. They’ll also begin to form paw pads with muscles. 

Rapid Fetal Development

The embryos have developed into fetuses and will now be much larger to finish development. The rapid fetal development stage continues from day 28 until birth. Your pregnant cat will be noticeably pregnant around these times, and scans may show kittens kicking. The fetuses do not have any fur, but they have tiny claws on their toes. 

During this time, the fetuses will continue to develop rapidly, and the queen may begin becoming more maternal, creating nesting spaces in preparation for her kittens. She may also have sore breasts that have become engorged with milk with clear or bloody discharge from her vulva 12 to 24 hours before she’s ready to give birth.2 Around day 60, the kittens will be developed enough to prepare the mother for birth. Now is the time to start getting ready to support the mother during birth, including gathering blankets and finding a clean space where she can have her kittens. 

Labor

The three stages of feline labor

Cats go through three stages when giving birth: 

1. Contractions & Restlessness

During the first stage, your cat will have contractions, but you may not be able to see them.10 Your cat will become restless, panting, and vocalizing in anticipation because contractions can be quite painful. Her body temperature will also decrease to prepare for birth. 

2. Labor

Once labor begins, your cat will have strong contractions. During the birthing process, your cat should not be distracted. Instead, keep your distance to avoid giving them unnecessary stress that can stop labor and begin at a later time. Depending on your cat, you can expect a kitten every 30-60 minutes for the next few hours.10 Pregnant cats typically have at least four to six kittens in a litter, but you can confirm the number with your vet to ensure you know when your cat is done giving birth. During this time, it’s best to watch your cat and time them between births to ensure there’s no problem. If your cat is having difficulty giving birth, you may need to take them to the vet as soon as possible.10 There are some complications that can occur, and kittens should not take longer than an hour to be birthed. 

3. Afterbirth

Your cat will expel the afterbirth, or placenta, after each kitten is born, so expect to see a dark-colored mass once each cat has been birthed. If your cat doesn’t expel the placenta, call your vet immediately, as it could lead to fever and infection.10

Once your cat has finished giving birth, they’ll need to rest. Don’t take the kittens away, as this is her time to bond with them and ensure they eat.11 Keep the kittens and the mother in a quiet place to allow them to rest together. You can check your cat every few hours to ensure they’re healthy. 

How To Care For Your Pregnant Cat

Caring for your pregnant cat throughout their pregnancy is key to ensuring their health and wellness and that of their kittens. 

  • Frequent meals: Feeding your cat frequent meals can help prevent morning sickness. 
  • High-calorie and nutritious food: Pregnant cats need more nutrients, which means eating more. Since developing embryos and fetuses get nutrients from the mother, your cat may need a diet that’s higher in calories than their regular food.12 
  • Monitor discharge and vaginal bleeding: Cats experience vaginal discharge and bleeding throughout their pregnancy, but if your cat is bleeding a lot, they’ll need to be examined by a vet to ensure the health of the embryos. 
  • Check for parasites and fleas: Parasites and fleas feed on their hosts, which can affect the health of the mother and kittens. 
  • Provide a safe, quiet area of your home for her to nest: As your cat’s pregnancy develops, they’ll become more maternal and seek out quiet areas where they can nest and prepare for the birth. 
  • Most vaccines are not safe during pregnancy: Cats should not have vaccinations or medications during their pregnancy unless the vet can ensure it’s safe.12

Caring For Your Cat Post-Labor

Once your cat has given birth, they need tons of rest and time to bond with their kittens. You must keep kittens and mom together because kittens will need to eat often. Because kittens must get their nutrients from the mother, your cat should eat a diet that’s high in calories and nutritious.12 After giving birth, your cat will clean her newborns and nuzzle them. She may also become more protective and behave differently towards you at first. 13 

Cats can reject or even kill their offspring as a result of pain or interruptions, so try to give your cat some space so they can stay relaxed.13 If your cat rejects one of the kittens, talk to a vet to find ways to get the mother to accept them.

Additionally, while it may be tempting to touch the kittens as soon as possible, your cat will be protective over them, so it’s always best to give them their space unless you notice something is wrong. You can typically touch kittens after a few weeks if your cat allows it.13

Cat Pregnancy Timeline: FAQs

How do I know when my cat’s about to give birth?

You’ll know when your cat is ready to give birth if they start experiencing nervousness, nesting, or they have a bloody discharge. The discharge is typically a sign your cat will give birth in the next 12 to 24 hours. 

Why won’t my cat let me touch her belly?

Pregnant cats may not allow you to touch their belly because they’re being protective of the fetuses. However, if your cat is not pregnant, not allowing you to touch their belly may indicate pain. 

When can you feel kittens in a pregnant cat? 

You can begin to feel your cat’s fetuses by touching their abdomen gently around days 17-25 of their pregnancy. Of course, your cat may not want you touching their bellies, so read their body language because they can become protective. 

How much weight should my cat gain during pregnancy?

Cats only gain around 2 to 4 pounds during pregnancy. If your cat is gaining more than that, talk to a vet to ensure they’re eating the right diet during pregnancy. 

A cat’s pregnant stomach

Final Notes

Knowing your cat’s pregnancy timeline can ensure a successful pregnancy and birth. While your cat may experience some behavioral changes throughout the process, it’s your responsibility to ensure they’re healthy and comfortable. Having a vet you can talk to any time of day can help you feel more comfortable caring for a pregnant cat. Whether you’re in the process of picking the best names for kittens or you want to learn about vitamins for cats, Dutch is here for you. Our vets are available to help you take care of your pregnant cat to support their journey and help bring new kittens into the world. 

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References

  1. Davidson, Autumn P. “Management of Reproduction of Cats - Cat Owners.” Merck Veterinary Manual, Merck Veterinary Manual, 18 Aug. 2022, https://www.merckvetmanual.com/cat-owners/reproductive-disorders-of-cats/management-of-reproduction-of-cats.

  2. “Understanding the Signs and Stages of Pregnancy and Advice on Caring for Your Pregnant Queen.” Understanding the Signs and Stages of Pregnancy and Advice on Caring for Your Pregnant Queen | MedicAnimal.com, https://www.medicanimal.com/Understanding-the-signs-and-stages-of-pregnancy-and-advice-on-caring-for-your-pregnant-queen/a/ART111488.

  3. https://www.merckvetmanual.com/management-and-nutrition/management-of-reproduction-dogs-and-cats/pregnancy-determination-in-dogs-and-cats

  4. Davidson, Autumn P. “Pregnancy Determination in Dogs and Cats - Management and Nutrition.” Merck Veterinary Manual, 18 Aug. 2022, https://www.merckvetmanual.com/management-and-nutrition/management-of-reproduction-dogs-and-cats/pregnancy-determination-in-dogs-and-cats.

  5. Care, International Cat. International Cat Care, 5 Jan. 2021, https://icatcare.org/advice/cat-pregnancy/#:~:text=So%2C%20in%20order%20to%20become,of%20four%20to%20six%20days.

  6. “Spay/Neuter Your Pet.” ASPCA, https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/general-pet-care/spayneuter-your-pet.

  7. Little, Susan E. “Female Reproduction.” Edited by Susan E. Little, The Cat, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2012, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7158189/.

  8. C;, Knospe. “Periods and Stages of the Prenatal Development of the Domestic Cat.” Anatomia, Histologia, Embryologia, U.S. National Library of Medicine, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11841356/.

  9. Leipoldt, A.L. “Embryology of the Domestic Cat.” Translated by Karin Sandbergen, Embryology of the Domestic Cat, https://www.pawpeds.com/cms/index.php/en/education/articles/reproduction/embryology-of-the-domestic-cat.

  10. “Cat Pregnancy and Kittens: The Complete Guide.” PetMD, https://www.petmd.com/cat/conditions/reproductive/cat-pregnancy-and-kittens-complete-guide.

  11. “Cat Labour – A Guide to Your Cat Giving Birth.” PDSA, https://www.pdsa.org.uk/pet-help-and-advice/pet-health-hub/other-veterinary-advice/cat-labour-a-guide-to-your-cat-giving-birth.

  12. Preis, Melanie Winderlich. “Is My Cat Pregnant? How to Find out and When to Expect Kittens.” WebMD, WebMD, https://pets.webmd.com/cats/cat-pregnancy-gestation.

  13. “After Birth: Advice on Cat Birthing and Kittens: Cats Protection.” Cats Protection, https://www.cats.org.uk/help-and-advice/pregnancy-and-kitten-care/after-birth.

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