When I told the ladies at the coffeehouse where I do most of my writing that I was researching pregnant cats, they asked me a perfectly natural question: “How long is cat pregnancy?” When I told them, “Oh, somewhere around 60 days,” one of them responded, “I wish I were a cat!” and we all had a good laugh. Indeed, two months is a lot shorter than the human gestation period of nine months. Of course, as you can imagine, there’s more to cat gestation than simple length or duration.
As with any mammal who finds herself in a family way, there are distinct phases to the process. What are the stages of cat pregnancy? What can you, as a cat owner, do to care for a cat as she brings a litter to term? Here at Catster, we strongly recommend skipping the circus and getting all your domestic cats spayed or neutered. If you really must experience the wonder of kitten birth, we suggest watching YouTube videos.
If your female cat is intact — meaning she has not been spayed — it is easier to recognize when she is in heat than it is to discern the earliest signs or symptoms of pregnancy. So, how can you recognize the phases of your cat’s estrus cycle? Cats are polyestrus; they can go into heat every three weeks or so, especially during the warmer months. Because cats develop and mature so quickly, a female kitten may experience her first estrus cycle between five and six months of age.
To avoid unwanted cat pregnancies, it’s critical to get cats spayed or neutered as soon as possible after adoption or birth. In order to attract potential mates, a cat in heat might spray urine on vertical surfaces. Vocally, you’ll hear all new sounds, starting with low-pitched meowing, followed by louder and longer calls as the urge to mate intensifies. Otherwise, the signs of a cat in heat express through changes in behavior, such as a noticeable increase in the amount of physical affection she shows.
How long is cat pregnancy? Simple answer is two months, or nine weeks. These are just estimates; depending on what source you consult, the duration ranges from 58 to 72 days. WebMD, for example, puts the length of cat gestation between those extremes, at 63-65 days. How can you tell if a cat is pregnant? Unless you’ve noticed the signs of estrus, you might not start seeing obvious outward changes in a queen’s physical appearance or behavior until halfway through her pregnancy, or around the 30-day mark.
Before her abdomen swells noticeably, one sign that your cat is expecting is that her nipples will grow larger and pinker. That can be easy to miss if you don’t spend a lot of time observing the condition of your cat’s nipples. A visit to the veterinarian and an ultrasound can provide a definitive confirmation if you are worried or curious. The next clear changes don’t occur until the final two weeks of the pregnancy calendar, during which period the cat will display an increased appetite and begin displaying nesting behaviors in preparation for delivery. About two days before she is due, the cat will stop eating.
It might be difficult to trace the progression of your cat’s pregnancy, but the stages can be clearly described. Unlike humans or dogs, cats don’t ovulate in advance. Sexual congress with a chosen male is what triggers the release of her eggs for fertilization. This happens over the course of the first week. Depending on how many partners she has during that time, a single litter may have multiple fathers. Between weeks 2 and 3, the nascent kittens begin to develop in the cat’s womb.
In the second half of the cat gestation period, the mother’s body starts to expand. Her nipples grow, her mammary glands begin producing milk, and her belly swells. By this point, the rapidly growing kittens are only a week or so away. Once she’s found a suitable nesting spot, the real work commences. Cat labor progresses quickly. Within an hour or so of going into labor, she’s already delivered the first of her new brood, with the rest following at 15-to-20-minute intervals.
If you know that your cat is expecting kittens, is there anything you can do to ease or facilitate the process? The simple truth is, not much. I’ve had one cat get pregnant, back in 1998, and she gave birth in the middle of a tire in the garage when no one was paying attention. Pregnant cats are surprisingly strong, resilient, and self-sufficient. It’s really quite amazing. There are certain things you can do that might help, and certainly won’t bother, the expectant queen.
When her appetite increases, and she begins to contain multitudes, she will naturally require additional sustenance. It should be easy enough to make sure that your cat has ready access to fresh food and water during the middle weeks of her pregnancy. Because an abrupt shift in the kind or quality of any cat’s food can cause digestive upset, there is no need to make radical changes to her diet. Because she will determine her final nesting spot, probably from among her favored locations around the house, you can provide her with a number of safe options, be they cat beds or spacious boxes lined with towels, discarded bed sheets, or newsprint.
Evidenced by the outrageous number of feral cats wandering the planet, as well as strays and otherwise abandoned cats being housed in shelters and rescue groups, cat pregnancy doesn’t require much assistance from us. The best thing we can do for the world’s cat population is to limit its expansion by spaying and neutering our own cats. When is the optimal time to spay or neuter a cat?
As the High Aldwyn once said in the movie Willow, “Forget all that you know or think you know.” Kittens can safely and easily be spayed or neutered as early as eight weeks of age. Making sure your cats and kittens are fixed not only prevents accidental pregnancies, it has also been proven to minimize the risk of urinary tract infections and a variety of reproductive cancers.
About the author: Melvin Peña trained as a scholar and teacher of 18th-century British literature before turning his research and writing skills to puppies and kittens. He enjoys making art, hiking, and concert-going, as well as dazzling crowds with operatic karaoke performances. He has a 17-year-old cat named Quacko, and his online life is conveniently encapsulated here.