Whether you've rescued a stray or adopted a cat from a friend's litter, if you haven't had the cat spayed or neutered yet, finding out that your cat's going to have a new litter of kittens is a definite possibility. Female cats are spayed (neutering refers to male animals) in a procedure in which the uterus, ovaries, and fallopian tubes are removed so that the cat can't get pregnant.
Sometimes cats have to wait to be spayed as they recover from other health conditions or as they wait to gain enough weight, but normally you shouldn't delay having your cat spayed.
At What Age Can Cats Have Kittens?
Cats can start having kittens while they themselves are still kittens! Cats may first become fertile when they are only four months old, and when left unspayed, it's possible for a cat to be in heat every two to three weeks, every year between spring and autumn.
A full pregnancy cycle for a cat takes only two months, meaning a cat can have a few litters per year – and once those kittens reach sexual maturity, they can start having their own litters.
In other words, cats can start breeding when very young. With even a few kittens per litter, you can see how the cat population can quickly spiral out of control, leading to too many strays who face injury, illness, and starvation.
How to Tell if a Cat Is Pregnant
Cat pregnancy tests are available at veterinarians' offices. If your cat has not been spayed, and you know (or at least are pretty sure that) your cat has had contact with a male cat, especially if you know your own cat was in heat at the time, contact your vet's office to arrange for a pregnancy test.
To be safe, you may want to call even if your cat merely got out while unspayed and was out of your sight for more than a minute. If your cat was missing for a couple of days, and you know she's unspayed, it's safer to assume that she had contact with male cats. Better to get a negative test result than suddenly find that extra "fat" she's gained isn't actually extra fat.
As mentioned, cat pregnancy goes by relatively quickly, going from conception to birthed litter in only a couple of months. Don't assume you can wait and see if your cat starts acting weird before getting a test. If it's too soon to test, let the vet's office be the one to say that.
Physical Signs and Symptoms of Cat Pregnancy
Why shouldn't you wait to call the vet? The signs that your cat is pregnant aren't always visible until the pregnancy is fairly far along, with only two to three weeks to go before she gives birth. That doesn't give you much time to prepare at all, even if you are looking forward to kittens. Plus, some of these signs mimic symptoms of illness or general lifestyle issues, meaning you might not even know what's really happening until the cat is closer to giving birth.
Signs a cat is pregnant include:
- Gaining weight, especially around the midsection
- Increased appetite
- Sleeping more
- Being more affectionate
- Nest building
- Swollen nipples
What Happens When a Vet Gives a Cat a Pregnancy Test?
The basic cat pregnancy test is a blood test. The vet will look for the presence of the aptly named relaxin, a hormone that allows the cat's cervix to relax before giving birth, so it's easier for her to deliver the kittens. The test itself is quick, with results usually available in about half an hour. However, relaxin isn't easy to spot until the pregnancy is almost halfway through, about 25 days after the cat was inseminated. It is possible to use an ultrasound to detect whether or not the cat is pregnant, but it can be a slightly more difficult test as you have to make sure your cat will stay perfectly still during the ultrasound.
X-rays can be taken of a cat to see how many kittens might be in the litter. However, x-rays are not done early in the pregnancy; only later on, at about 45 days or six weeks in.
How to Tell if Your Cat Is Having Her Kittens Soon
So, now you know your cat is pregnant, you're preparing for the kittens' delivery, and you're watching your cat's health closely. How do you know when she's about ready to deliver?
If she hasn't already done so, she'll start building nesting areas around your home. She may choose one place or start a few until she settles on one. You can help her by providing a box in a quiet spot, covered with blankets with an opening on the side. By the way, don't be upset if she doesn't use the box; she'll choose a spot that makes her feel comfortable.
She'll become restless and vocalize more, so keep track of how much she's meowing. She may actually lose her appetite completely the day before the big delivery; still provide her with food and water, and have extra water for her around the house. Finally, she may engage in excessive vulva cleaning.
How Can I Tell if My Cat is Pregnant? Frequently Asked Questions
How can I confirm my cat is pregnant?
Only your vet can do this. If you want to know, you need to ask the vet to run a pregnancy test. Keep an eye on the cat and report any symptoms to the vet.
How many months is a cat pregnant for?
The cat will be pregnant for about 58-65 days.
Can I give my cat a human pregnancy test?
No. Human home pregnancy tests rely on human urine, and the hormone that the cat pregnancy test looks for is detectable in the cat's blood, not her urine.
How do you know if a cat is pregnant or just fat?
Assuming the cat's nipples haven't "pinked up" and gotten bigger (that's a definite sign of pregnancy and not just being overweight), look at the cat's shape. If the "fat" part is in the belly only, with the rest of the cat being rather slender, that's a sign the cat could be pregnant. Her back may lower a bit as if she has a "swayback" posture, too. And, if the "fat" appeared about a month after her escapades outside, that too is a sign because the cat's belly gets bigger about halfway through the pregnancy. By that time, though, her nipples should already be showing the signs that she's pregnant.