Pregnant Cat Guide
What to Expect When Your Cat is Expecting
Looking after your cat through pregnancy can be fun and exciting, but it's important to know the basics. We've put together a complete guide to nutrition, parasite prevention, vaccinations, possible complications, recommended products, and more.
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1. The Basics
Reproductive Cycle of the Cat
The reproductive cycle of the cat isn't the same as that of a human. Unlike humans, cats don't don't menstruate - and they don't ovulate unless they are mated. Instead, undesexed female cats usually experience a 'heat' in which they become reproductively active several times per year from spring to autumn. Their first heat may occur as early as 4 or 5 months of age if daylight length is favourable.
Cats are designed to give birth only during warmer months, and generally become reproductively active when the days are longest. Indoor cats may be sheltered from light cycles and may not cycle as often as outdoor cats. Cats will often stay on heat until a mating occurs, or the days begin to shorten.
How long are cats pregnant for?
Pregnancy in cats lasts for around 63 days, or 9 weeks. Whelping (giving birth) occurs 59-65 days after a successful mating.
How can I tell if my cat is on heat?
When a queen is 'on heat', she may be restless, vocal, extra smoochy, mark urine in the house, and try to escape your house in search of a mate. She may lift her bottom a lot and enjoy rump scratches a lot more than usual.
2. Signs of Pregnancy in Cats
How to tell if your cat is pregnant
Unfortunately, there isn't an easy at-home urine test to diganose pregnancy in cats like there is for humans. In most cases, your female is likely to be pregnant after mating. To be sure, your vet can ultrasound your cat's abdomen from day 21-25 after mating - however most vets will be able to feel foetuses in the abdomen at around 28 days into the pregnancy.
Signs Your Cat is Pregnant
- Early Signs: In the first couple of weeks, you may not notice any signs, except that your cat may stop eliciting the signs of heat. Nausea and vomiting (morning sickness) can occur in some cats.
- After 2 weeks their nipples become swollen and red. Your cat also may experience 'morning sickness' and vomit occasionally.
- Around 4 weeks into the pregnancy, your cat will start to gain weight noticeably. The abdomen will start to become larger. An experienced vet will be able to palpate the foetuses in the abdomen at this time.
- In the final weeks (6-9 weeks) of the pregnancy, you may see behaviour changes. Your cat may appear uncomfortable with her swollen belly and seek affection from you. She may also sleep more and have an increased appetite.
How to tell how may kittens your pregnant cat is carrying
The only accurate way to assess how many kittens your cat will have is via ultrasound or xray at your vet. Your vet will also be able to perform an abdominal palaption, however this is not always accurate.
3. Nutrition: What to feed a pregnant cat
Proper nutrition is absolutely vital for cats during gestation. When a female cat is halfawy through the pregnancy, her nutritional needs increase as the litter inside her grows at a rapid rate. She requires higher levels of energy, calcium, phosphorus, and vitamins.
But before you go in search of recipes for pregnant cats, or reach for prenatal vitamins for cats, know this: Any premium food formulated for 'growth' is also balanced for pregnant and lactating queens (unless labelled otherwise). A pregnant or lactating female has such similar nutritional requirements to young infant kittens, so you can feed a premium kitten food as it contains all the nutrients your gestating girl needs.
Premium food is vital! it's important to seek a premium kitten food. Don't be tempted to save money and opt for a cheap pregnant cat food. For the sake of a few dollars, it could be the difference between producing a litter of thriving kittens and a litter with stillborns. Your girl is growing new life inside her and really needs quality food now more than ever!
So, what is the best diet for a pregnant cat?
From 4 weeks into the pregnancy and onwards, your cat requires a premium quality kitten food that is AAFCO approved for 'growth' (not 'maintenance'). My top recommendations for pregnant cat food at this stage include:
This premium quality natural kitten food is made in Australia from 100% Australian meat and animal ingredients. Vetalogica Biologically Appropriate cat foods are free from GMOs, gluten and grains and contain no artificial colours, flavours or preservatives.
Feline Natural is a nutritionally balanced, NZ-made super-premium pet food that is famously high in meat content. Feline Natural supports sustainable farming practices, only sources free range meat, and is known for being highly palatable. All diets are formulated for all lifestages; so when feeding a pregnant or lactating cat, simply give the recommended daily amount for a kitten and lactating queen.
Advance's super premium, Australian made kitten food is complete and balanced, and comes vet recommended for growing kittens. Advance is also one of our best value premium diets, with extra large bulk value bags to ensure families on every budget can afford premium quality.
Hills Science Diet creates complete and balanced wet food in tins and sachets, as well as dry kibble. As one of our most trusted and vet-recommended brands, Hills food is tasty, nutritious, and made with high quality ingredients.
Of their kitten range, I highly suggest the Mother and Baby Cat formulation. Royal Canin's growth diets contains optimal levels of energy and minerals to support healthy bone and joint development. Royal Canin Mother and Baby Cat has been formulated for the specific needs of pregnant and lactating queens as well as her kittens.
Meals For Meows is an Australian made, natural and organic pet food which uses premium high quality ingredients, and unique novel protein blends such as duck and goat. Meals for Meows focuses on animal welfare, and so best practice harvesting and farming procedures are always adhered to.
Black Hawk kitten food contains functional ingredients from nature with known beneficial properties like blueberries, dried kelp and rosemary. It is made in Australia from local ingredients.
4. a) Parasite Prevention During Pregnancy
While all forms of parasite prevention are important for cats during pregnancy and lactation, worming is particularly vital due to the risk of infecting the kittens. Flea and tick prevention should remain as per usual throughout your cat's pregnancy - provided your chosen preventative is safe for pregnancy (read more about this below).
When to Worm a Pregnant Cat
- - Before mating, a female cat should receive her intestinal deworming as normal (for more information, read all about how often you should worm your cat.)
- - During pregnancy, worming should be done every 3 weeks unless specified by your vet. It is vital you only use a wormer safe for pregnancy (see the section below for a list!)
- - While nursing, the mother cat should be wormed every 3 weeks with a lactation-safe wormer and the kittens must be wormed at 2 weeks of age.
When to worm newborn kittens:
From 2-12 weeks of age: Kittens need to be wormed at 2 weeks of age, and then every 2 weeks until 12 weeks of age.
From 12 weeks onwards: Kittens and adult cats should be wormed every month. They should also receive their first heartworm treatment at 12 weeks of age.
Can I give a flea treatment to my pregnant cat?
Flea and tick prevention should remain as per usual throughout your cat's pregnancy - provided your chosen preventative is safe for pregnancy (read more about this below).
4. b) Parasite Prevention Products: Which Preventatives Are Safe For Pregnancy?
While most parasite preventatives are generally believed not to cause issues during pregnancy, only some have actually been tested to prove their safety. Therefore, we recommend only using products that have had their safety evaluated during pregnancy and lactation.
A broad wormer which covers all intestinal worms is recommended for a pregnant cat. Worms of concern include hookworm, roundworm, and tapeworm.
For a complete table of all parasite prevention products and which ones are marked as 'evaluated safe for pregnancy' in cats, see below. Please note that those marked with an 'X' are not necessarily "unsafe", rather they do not have a "safe for pregnancy" statement on their label. This may mean they have simply not received testing to establish safety.
*Some medications marked safe are not recommended for use at certain stages of pregnancy, always follow the label directions.
Can a pregnant cat be vaccinated?
Cats should never be vaccinated during pregnancy. Vaccines, particularly those containing live viruses, can put a kitten at significant risk of birth defects.
An up-to-date vaccination schedule is vital for cats prior to mating. If your cat fell pregnant unexpectedly, and her vaccine schedule is out of date, please talk to your vet about your options.
For information about when to vaccinate newborn kittens, see our Complete New Kitten Guide.
6. Birth: What To Expect At Labour
Credit: @balgibidiro from Instagram
Labour in cats occurs in 3 phases:
Stage 1: Primary Labour
Stage 1 usually lasts for 12-36 hours. During this phase, her cervix begins to relax and oxytocin is released in her body which causes the uterus to contract. Due to the contractions, your cat may become restless and vocal. Some cats may also vomit during this stage.
You may notice nesting behaviour; where the female will seek out a safe 'den'-like space to settle into. Try to provide blankets and newspaper if you see this behaviour. Some females prefer to be alone in their nest, others may seek out the company of their owners.
Stage 2: Secondary Labour
Stage 2 is where birth of the kittens occur, and it may last anywhere from 1-5 hours, depending on how many kittens are in the litter. Generally a kitten should be born every 30-60 minutes. Labour consists of active straining and resting. You may wish to use a timer to keep track of the time between kittens to watch for any problems.
As each kitten is born, it will first appear in its amniotic sac at the vulva. The mother will lick and chew until the sack is broken, and she will also eat the umbilical cord and amniotic sac contents. The mother should then lick and roll her newborn kitten, which stimulates breathing. This is completely normal behaviour, and your girl will know how rough to be with her kittens.
If your girl doesn't tend to her kitten within a minute of giving birth, you should ensure all the sack and membranes are removed from the kitten's mouth and wipe their little nose. You should also try to stimulate breathing by rubbing the kitten with a dry towel. Keep the kitten's head pointed downwards so that any fluid can drain out of the nose and mouth. If the umbilical cord has not broken, sever the connection around 3cm from the kitten's body, taking care not to pull the cord as this can cause damage to the kitten's organs.
If you need to separate the kittens from their mother, ensure they are kept warm at around 30-32oC.
Stage 3: Post-Birth
The final stage of labour involves the contraction of the uterus to discharge the placenta, fluid and excess membranes. For the first 48 hours after birth, the discharge is normally a green or black colour. The discharge should not have an excessive odour - if you are concerned always seek veterinary attention.
If you do not see the placenta pass, call your vet. Retained placenta is a condition that can lead to fever, infection, and serious illness.
In the days after giving birth
After the birth stage, your cat will be exhausted and looking to feed her babies. Provide her with clean blankets and a quiet, undisturbed environment free from loud noises. Some cats may become anxious or even aggressive while feeding their kittens, so it's best to respect her space and keep children away.
Vaginal discharge may last for 3 weeks after the kittens are born. This should appear as a reddish-black colour, as it is mostly old blood. If the discharge is overly bloody, looks like pus, or has a foul odour, your cat should be seen by a vet right away.
After giving birth, provide food ad libitum to your cat so that she can eat as much as she wants. Leave dry food out for her throughout the day, but remove any moist or canned food that doesn't get eaten after 30 minutes. Of course, fresh water should be provided at all times and close by.
Your cat may have green or black diarrhoea for a few days if she ate the foetal membranes at birth. This is normal and should resolve after a few days.
7. Possible Complications: When to Seek Veterinary Attention
Possible Complications During Labour
If you notice any of the following signs during labour, it's important to seek veterinary attention:
- A period of active pushing longer than 60 minutes which does not result in the birth of a kitten
- Pale gums
- Vulval discharge with a foul odour
Complications During Lactation
Problems to watch out for in nursing queens include:
1. Mastitis: infection of the mammary gland. Signs of mastitis include a swollen, hot, firm and painful teat. Often the affected teat/s will not produce milk, or may produce a thick discharge with blood clots. One or more teats may be affected, and you should not allow kittens to feed from any infected glands as they may become sick.
2. Pyometra or Metritis: an infected uterus or inflamed uterine lining, often caused by retained foetal membranes. Pyometra is a medical emergency and usually requires a hysterectomy (spay). Signs to watch out for include inappetence, fever, vomiting, or odourous vulval discharge.
3. Hypocalcaemia: also known as 'milk fever'. This can occur during pregnancy or lactation due to calcium lost from milk production. It is more common in cats nursing large litters. Signs of hypocalcaemia may include muscle tremors, hyperexcitation, panting, weakness, vomiting, or seizures. Hypocalcaemia requires calcium substitution via an IV drip. Low calcium can usually be avoided by feeding a high quality kitten food, however you may wish to provide extra kitten milk mixed in with your cat's food.
4. Agalactica: a lack of milk production. If your cat isn't producing any milk, you may notice excessive crying from the kittens and sunken bellies rather than nice plump little abdomens. Kittens will quickly become hypoglycaemic without milk for even just a few hours, so ensure supplementation with a kitten milk formula is provided immediately. A lack of milk production can indicate that the mother is debilitated or malnourished, so seek veterinary attention immediately if this is the case.
5. Poor Mothering: Not all cats will take to motherhood as naturally as others. Some cats may not show diligent mothering to their kittens and may not ensure all kittens are getting fed. Keep a close eye on feeding as you may need to take over and feed them if this is the case. Unfortunately, poor mothers tend not to develop a mothering instinct as they grow, so it is not ideal to breed from them again.