If your cat was recently in heat and had access to an intact (unneutered) male cat, the likelihood that she is pregnant is very strong. A pregnant queen will display both physical and personality changes which will become more evident around three weeks after breeding. The gestation period for cats runs between 60 to 67 days. You may decide that using 63 days as an average gestation period is memorable and easier to equate with human gestation (nine weeks vs nine months).
Physical Changes in a Pregnant Cat
- Heat Cycles Cease: This may be the first sign you notice. If a cat has been going through heat cycles every 10 days to two weeks, and suddenly stops, it is very likely she is pregnant.
- Nipples Swell and Become Rosier in Color: Breeders call this "pinking," and it may be the first visual sign you will see in a pregnant cat.
- Cat's Appetite Increases: A pregnant cat will show an increased interest in food. After all, a pregnant cat is not only eating for herself, but for several fetuses.
- Weight Gain: Most pregnant queens will gain about two to four pounds of body weight over the course of pregnancy.
- Possible Vomiting: Pregnant queens may be subject to a few bouts of "morning sickness," much as human mothers-to-be. This in itself is not necessarily a reason to worry, but if the vomiting continues or is frequent, contact your veterinarian for help.
- Abdominal Enlargement: Sometime around the fifth week of pregnancy, a pregnant cat's abdomen will start to swell noticeably. It will continue to enlarge until time for birthing.
Personality Changes in a Pregnant Cat
- Increased Affection: Your cat may become more affectionate than normal and frequently seek out your attention. By all means, give it to her!
- Sleeping More: Many pregnant queens will sleep for more hours in a day than before.
- Nesting Activities by a Pregnant Cat: Nesting activities are not an early sign of pregnancy, but as the time for parturition and birth approaches, your pregnant cat may seek out quiet, private places for the birth to take place.
Clinical Diagnosis of Pregnancy in Cats
If your queen has had regular veterinary care and the previous signs of pregnancy are evident, it may not be necessary to have an "official" diagnosis by a veterinarian. However, it's a good idea for your vet to examine your cat and make sure she is in good condition. If your intent is to spay her, it is highly recommended that you make an appointment so that your veterinarian knows exactly what to expect.
- Palpation of the Cat's Abdomen: Your veterinarian may be able to feel your pregnant cat's fetuses by palpating and gently pressing on her abdomen. This typically happens around the 17th to 20th day of pregnancy.
- Ultrasound of Your Cat's Abdomen: An ultrasound may detect fetuses as early as the second week of pregnancy, and heartbeats may be detected sometime after the third week.
- Radiographs (X-rays): Your vet can take a radiograph of your cat's abdomen when she is further along in her pregnancy to determine the number of kittens she is carrying. This is a minor amount of radiation that will not be harmful to the kittens or the mother. Kitten spines and skulls begin to be visible on x-rays afte about 42 days into the pregnancy.
If your resident or rescued cat is indeed confirmed pregnant, some serious decision-making time is at hand. If you decide to spay her, it should be done as early as possible. If you wish to let the pregnancy come to term, be prepared to help care for the kittens and find them all good homes.
Signs Your Cat Will Give Birth Soon
- Nesting Activities: As the time for parturition and birth approaches, your pregnant cat may seek out quiet, private places for the birth to take place. This typically begins up to two days prior to labor, but it may only begin a few hours prior.
- Restlessness: About 24 to 48 hours prior to labor, the pregnant queen may seem restless or anxious. She may go in and out of her nesting area, almost as if pacing.
- Vocalization: In addition to the pacing and restless behavior, the pregnant queen may meow and cry out more than usual.
- Lowered Body Temperature: Within about 24 hours of labor, your cat body temperature will drop below 100F (normal temperature is usually between 100.5 and 102.5F).
- Loss of Appetite: Your pregnant queen will likely have had an active appetite during her pregnancy. As she comes close to labor, she will have a drastic decrease in appetite.
- Licking Vulva: As labor fast approaches, your cat will begin licking her vulva to clean a mild discharge. You will likely not see this discharge as she will want to keep the area clean.
Once your cat begins active labor, you should try to leave her undisturbed. Watch from a safe distance to make sure she does not go into distress.
Edited by Jenna Stregowski, RVT