I’m a big advocate for spay/neuter. It’s a crucial part of the equation for reducing the number of cats killed in shelters, and having your cat spayed or neutered improves cat health, reducing the chances of injury and disease. But a lot of us encounter cat pregnancy at some point, whether through working at a clinic or shelter, an accidental liaison or deliberate breeding. So, how long are cats pregnant for and what should you expect week by week? Let’s look at the five stages of cat pregnancy:
When answering the question “How long are cats pregnant?” let’s first discuss at what age cats start going into heat. Cats reach sexual maturity as early as six months of age, with Oriental breeds generally reaching this stage the earliest. I’ve even heard of cats going into heat at five months old, which is a good reason to have your girl kitty spayed early. A litter of kittens can have more than one father, depending on how many toms successfully mate with the queen.
The simple answer to”How long are cats pregnant?” is two months, or nine weeks. But that’s just an estimate. Depending on what source you consult, the answer to “How long are cats pregnant?” ranges from 58 to 72 days.
Another question you might have when thinking “How long are cats pregnant?” is — “Do cats get morning sickness?” You might be surprised to know that a cat can get morning sickness during the early stage of her pregnancy. For the first two weeks of her pregnancy, your cat may eat less because of the nausea, but by the third week she’ll start eating again and begin gaining weight. By the third week, you may be able to feel the lumps of her developing kittens.
Now your cat starts gaining weight in earnest. The kittens are getting bigger, and depending on how many kittens she’s carrying, she may start looking like she swallowed a football. If you want to know how many kittens your cat is going to have, your vet may do an X-ray at this time.
Since the answer to “How long are cats pregnant?” isn’t an exact science, you might wonder how to tell when your cat is getting close to giving birth. The pre-labor stage starts about a week before your cat gives birth. Her nipples will be very visible at this point, and you may even see milk drops on them. She will start looking for warm and safe places to create a nest for her kittens. You can help her at this time by offering nesting boxes in the places she seems to prefer. Your cat will stop eating about two days before she goes into labor.
It will be pretty obvious when your cat goes into labor. She’ll start licking her genitals and may even make noises of discomfort. If this is her first litter, she may pace and act anxious. She should give birth to her first kitten about an hour after labor starts. After that, the kittens should come every 15 to 20 minutes until the last one has been born.
Generally, mom cat will clean up the kittens: She’ll lick them and eat the placentas to give her the extra nutrition she needs. Let her eat those placentas, even if you think it’s gross.
There’s no need to panic or rush your cat to the vet when she goes into labor. Just keep an eye on things and make sure the delivery is progressing normally. The kittens need to be with their mothers for a minimum of eight weeks in order to be properly weaned, but 12 weeks with mom is better.
Once the babies are weaned, get your queen spayed as soon as possible. She can go into heat pretty quickly once she no longer has to nurse her kittens.
Tell us: Did you know the answer to the question “How long are cats pregnant”? Have you had a pregnant cat or witnessed a cat give birth? What did you think?
Top Photograph: Getty Images
This piece was originally published in 2015.