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How Many Kittens Are in a Litter? Vet-Reviewed Health Facts

Written by: Ashley Bates

Last Updated on February 7, 2024 by Catster Editorial Team

cat breastfeed new born kitten

How Many Kittens Are in a Litter? Vet-Reviewed Health Facts


Dr. Lauren Demos (DVM) Photo


Dr. Lauren Demos (DVM)


The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Is there any baby cuter than a kitten? They are soft, adorable, tiny little lion-like creatures with the cutest mannerisms. Have you ever wondered how many kittens a cat could have when they reproduce? Or, maybe you suspect your kitty is pregnant with an unexpected litter, and you want to know how to plan for the immediate future. The usual kitten litter contains four to six kittens.

If you’re thinking of breeding your cat, your cat is already pregnant, or you’re just curious, we’re going to go over all the basics. You will learn just how many kittens to expect, how to prepare for the birth, and what to do afterward.

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How Many Kittens Are in a Litter?

On average, females have four to six  kittens per litter. However, they can have single births and as many as 19–though this is rare. Unless your cat has an ultrasound or X-ray performed during her pregnancy, you won’t know how many kittens your cat will have until she gives birth.

Genetics and breed greatly affect how many kittens a female has. Age plays a huge role in this as well. First-time mothers tend to have smaller litters, usually between one and three kittens. Once the mother is seasoned, she can have an average litter of kittens. Another interesting fact is that a single mother can breed with multiple fathers, resulting in a variety of physical appearances in some cases.

fluffy cat pregnant give birth and new born baby kittens_iarecottonstudio_shutterstock
Image Credit: iarecottonstudio, Shutterstock

Heat Cycles in Female Cats

Your cat can go into a heat cycle virtually anytime throughout the year, although it is more common in spring. When a female reaches sexual maturity at roughly the 6-month mark, they can get pregnant anytime after that once the first heat commences.

It’s pretty recognizable when a cat goes into heat because so many personality changes come with it. You might notice all kinds of interesting behaviors, like an aloof cat suddenly becoming overly affectionate.

Other signs of heat include:

  • Extreme vocalization
  • Demanding attention
  • Rubbing against everything
  • Spraying/urinating
  • Raises behind when petted

Even though it might seem like a strictly male behavior to spray, unaltered females are just as likely to do so while in their heat cycle. This behavior can be difficult to break once it starts.

If your cat becomes pregnant while in heat, their gestation period lasts approximately 65 days, though some can go as little as 60 to as much as 70 days. Typically, with first litters, cats are pregnant for a few days longer than normal.

close up of cat meowing
Image Credit: ClaraMD, Pixabay

If Your Cat Has Fallen Pregnant

If you believe your cat is pregnant but you’ve never been through the process before, you’re probably trying to learn all you can. After all, you want to ensure that she is healthy during the pregnancy and can take care of her kittens after the birth. It would be best if you also accommodated her by preparing a space adequate for welcoming the babies.

Monitor Health

It is crucial to monitor your female’s health during her pregnancy. Check for behavioral issues, unusual physical changes, and any other information you’d like to discuss and routinely see your vet. They can make sure your cat’s pregnancy runs smoothly.

If any mishap is suspected in pregnancy, your vet will determine the best course to ensure your female and kittens stay healthy.

Prepare a Proper Space

Once your cat delivers her litter, she must be undisturbed for the first several hours. She will need to acclimate to motherhood and require only the basics from you. You need to remember that the kittens will need a larger space when they develop more.

Initially, they’ll be tiny and take up very little space. As they age, they will explore the space and outgrow certain setups quickly. You should have a secure spot where they can stretch their legs but not go too far. Most will stay relatively close to their mothers but will get braver as they grow.

The mother will also stop cleaning up as much after them once they reach a certain age, so it will become your job. You can introduce them to the litter box as you start to wean them. This is usually a very intuitive function for cats that doesn’t require a lot of teaching. It is not unusual to see a kitten that is fully litter-trained when they are ready to go to their new home.

cat gave birth to kittens
Image Credit: Azami Adiputera, Shutterstock

Signs of Active Labor

If you are anticipating the arrival of a litter of kittens, it is imperative to look for signs of active labor. You should be marking the anticipated date on your calendar so you can pay close attention when the time comes.

Signs of active labor include:

  • Restlessness
  • Vocalization
  • Excessive grooming
  • Panting
  • Lack of appetite
  • Passing small amounts of mucous
  • Nesting

Once you are sure that your female is in active labor, giving her space during this time is best. Most mother cats have no problem delivering a litter of kittens. However, you should periodically check on her to ensure the process is going smoothly and that she looks well.

Mother cat breastfeeding little kittens
Image Credit: Azami Adiputera, Shutterstock

What Is Nesting?

You might have heard the term “nesting” but are completely unfamiliar with it. If you’ve given it much thought, you’re probably right. Nesting is where your cat will create a small space to birth her litter. This can be the first sign of an oncoming active labor, so paying attention is important.

You can give your cat a safe space, allowing her the choice of materials and ample time to prepare. Ultimately, you will want to allow her the space to have peace while she brings her kittens into the world. However, it should also be a space you can frequently monitor to ensure everything goes smoothly.

Look for Signs of Distress

There can be many complications to birthing a litter of kittens. Keep in mind that some cats may go into preterm labor, so it is imperative to know what to look for in those cases as well.

Signs of distress during labor can include:

  • No successful birth after 1 hour of pushing
  • The constant flow of fresh blood during or after delivery
  • Lethargy
  • Long pauses between kittens
  • Seeing a visibly stuck kitten

If your cat is having trouble delivering, it is time for your vet to intervene. Often, this could be a life-or-death situation for your female and the babies, so it’s critical and time-sensitive to receive proper care.

mother cat gave birth to kitten
Image Credit: Azami Adiputera, Shutterstock

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What to Do When the Kittens Are Born

Socialize Kittens

After the kittens are born, you must start to socialize with them when the time comes. The more you acclimate the kittens to new situations, the more suitable they will be for various lifestyles. You will soon find that each kitten has its own personality. Some will be more playful than others, while some will be relatively calm.

Getting to know each one of the kittens will help you assist new owners looking for a specific kind of personality. If you have other pets or small children, it is a good idea to expose them to these situations as well. The earlier they are introduced to new faces, the more friends they will make.

Secure Satisfactory Homes

Not everyone should own a kitten. In fact, some people keep them for nefarious reasons, such as dog baiting or other means of cruelty. To ensure the safety, protection, and care of each kitten, it is important to screen potential owners. If you’ve never had to do this before, you can research different methods to secure beautiful homes.

Feel free to ask for proof of residence, landlord permission, veterinary references, home visits, and whatever measures you feel you should take to ensure placement success.

How Soon Can You Hold Kittens?

It may be tempting to pick up kittens as soon as they leave the womb. After all, these helpless, tiny cuties will be nearly impossible to resist. However, you must let the mother have her quiet time and allow her to adjust to her new role. You should weigh newborn kittens daily to ensure they are thriving. From 2 weeks on, you can slowly start to socialize the kittens.

burmese kitten standing on a sweater at home
Image Credit: biggunsband, Shutterstock

Breeding Your Cat

Breeding your cat is an important decision you should be well informed about before taking action. It is one thing if your cat has an accidental litter before you can get her fixed. It’s quite different if you are choosing to breed a non-registered feline.

If you have a purebred registered feline, you are familiar with the ins and outs of breeding standards. You must follow the proper breeding practices, such as securing a vet, performing any needed genetic testing, keeping up with checkups, opting for pregnancy ultrasounds, monitoring birth, and vet-checking kittens.

Remember that even if you have a purebred, raising a litter of kittens is a huge financial responsibility and will consume a great deal of your time. Always make sure you are up for it and that you have discussed this thoroughly with your veterinarian before making the call.

Why Spaying Is So Important?

In most cases, it is best to spay your female. Unless you have breeding rights to a specific purebred cat, taking away their ability to breed is for the best. The homelessness of cats in the United States alone is overwhelming. An alarming number of pets are surrendered, euthanized, or abandoned every year.

Statistically, 3.4 million cats enter shelters annually. Of those cats, approximately 1.4 million of them will be euthanized. Even though having an adorable litter of kittens to raise sounds like a wonderful experience, you just can’t be certain that you will send them out into the world to a bright future.

Often, people find animals disposable and will surrender them for both understandable and unjust reasons. Even if you planned to keep the entire litter, you can soon find yourself overwhelmed by the number of cats. By spaying your female, not only do you eliminate the risk of homelessness for the kittens in the future, but you also reduce the risk of many reproductive issues later in life, such as pyometra (infection of the uterus) and often breast cancer. Ultimately, the benefits help your individual cat and the cat population at large.

If your cat has fallen pregnant and it is already too late, you can do your best to ensure that these kittens go to proper homes. Make certain that your female is getting the appropriate care necessary during her pregnancy, and consider spaying as soon as your vet recommends once the kittens are born.

cat after spaying
Image By: Sannikova Maria, Shutterstock

Can You Spay a Pregnant Female?

Technically, some veterinarians perform the spay surgery on a pregnant female. This is a preference for the vet because spaying a pregnant female will terminate the pregnancy. So, it’s important to remember that while some do, other vets do not. You will have to ask your particular veterinarian if they feel comfortable performing a procedure like this or ask for recommendations for a vet who will.

Often, if your vet chooses to spay your pregnant female, additional costs are often incurred. If you are still determining if this is something you’d like to go through with, speak with your veterinarian to discuss potential options and outcomes to help you decide.

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Now you understand how many kittens a female can produce in a single litter, and hopefully, you see how much it can vary. Accidental litters can happen, so it’s your responsibility as the owner to ensure that you give your female the proper care during her pregnancy and place the kittens in loving homes after birth.

In most cases, it is in the cat’s best interest to have her spayed before she reproduces. The homeless population of both cats and dogs in the United States alone is devastating. Instead of being part of the problem, we can all be part of the solution by fixing our pets promptly.

Featured Image Credit: Karen Hogan, Shutterstock            

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