Winter is almost over and it will soon be mating season in the cat world. When female cats reach puberty, which can occur as early as 4 months right through to 18 months of age, they risk falling pregnant if they are not spayed and happen to encounter a handsome male. The period of gestation (or pregnancy) in cats is relatively short and lasts only 8 to 9 weeks, i.e. roughly 60 days. During this time, the female cat undergoes a series of significant physical and behavioural changes. Here we talk you through the main stages.
Weeks 1 to 4: Subtle changes
As a result, you may not notice your cat is pregnant during this period. However, there are certain tell-tale signs that you can look out for, such as increased appetite or morning sickness. This period is also generally accompanied by significant changes in behaviour. A female cat that is expecting kittens can suddenly become very affectionate and in need of company or, on the contrary, become moody and seek solitude – this emotional rollercoaster is perfectly normal so don’t be alarmed!
After the 3-week mark, you may notice that your cat’s teats have become larger and darker. From this point onwards, your vet will be able to carry out an ultrasound and confirm whether or not your cat is pregnant.
Weeks 4 to 8: Major physical changes
Between weeks 4 and 6 of a cat’s pregnancy, the foetuses of the future kittens will start to grow rapidly. This brings about significant physical changes for the mother to be: her back hollows out, her pelvis becomes wider and her abdomen swells. From week 6 onwards, your vet may do an x-ray to see how many kittens your cat is expecting. He/she will be able to advise you on any necessary treatment (for fleas, worms, etc.) to prevent the mother from transmitting any diseases to her litter. Starting from week 4, it is also important to give your pregnant cat the right food.
Her energy requirements will increase, even though her swollen belly may interfere with her ability to absorb large amounts of food. Feeding her dry cat food for “pregnant or nursing cats” or for “kittens” (which is richer) can help meet her nutritional needs from week 4 until weaning is complete.
Weeks 8 to 9: Giving birth
Gestation in cats usually lasts between 63 and 67 days, but it can be a few days shorter or longer. To get ready for the big day, at the start of week 8, you can prepare a “nest” in a quiet spot where your cat can take refuge when she is ready to deliver her kittens. A large basket or crate, covered with a towel or removable top, and lined with newspaper and a blanket will do just the trick. When your cat is ready to give birth, there are several noticeable signs: she may start leaking milk, have visible contractions and start to purr loudly. Her body temperature will also start to drop slightly (by around 1°C). At this point, it is best to leave her alone, while discreetly watching over her.
Depending on your cat’s condition (age, previous births, etc.) and the size of the litter (usually 2 to 6 kittens), the birth can last between 2 and 6 hours, but may take up to 10 hours in some cases. The cat will normally tear the membrane around the kitten, licking them to enable them to breathe and cut the umbilical cord; otherwise, you will have to perform these acts. Complications are rare in cats, but can occur. Should you have any doubts, as always, it is best to call your vet to avoid any risk.