So you were a little slow in having her spayed and your cat turned up pregnant, or a pregnant stray adopted you. Perhaps you are working with a rescue group and this is your first fostering experience with a pregnant cat. Where do you go from here? Your first major decision is whether or not to allow the pregnancy to continue. Pregnant cats (called "queens"), can be spayed, but the decision will depend on a number of factors, which you should discuss with other family members, along with your veterinarian.
Questions & Considerations:
- How "far along" is the queen's pregnancy?
Although early and mid-term spay and abortion of pregnant cats is common, late-term abortion is generally not done. If this is your own cat, you can estimate how far along she is by the date of her last estrus cycle (heat). Otherwise, a veterinarian can estimate the term for you.
- How old is the cat?
A very young cat (under one year) or an older cat (eight years and older) may have a hard time with birth, with the possibility of deformed or stillborn kittens, or the death of the queen.
- What is the cat's general physical condition?
If she is in an overall good condition and in late-term pregnancy, you may decide to let the pregnancy continue to parturition (birth), depending on other factors.
- How well-equipped is your household for caring for newborn kittens?
This is a huge commitment, and everyone in your home will be involved at one point or another. If you have a "safe room" where you can confine mother cat and kittens safely from the intrusion of other cats, dogs, small children and the like, you may be okay. Otherwise (in the case of a stray), you should probably turn the job over to experts, such as local rescue organizations.
- How equipped are you to place the kittens and mother cat into good homes?
If you are one of those families who have "plenty of room" for more cats and is financially able to care for the additional cats, bless you. If you're thinking of a "free to a good home" ad, better think again. Here is a list of Do's and Don'ts for rehoming kittens.
- Which is the more humane decision?
In the case of a pregnant feral or stray, would it be more humane to spay her and put her back onto the streets, or to try to rehabilitate her for placement into a new home with or without her kittens?
The Gestation Period
Let's assume you've decided to let your queen have her kittens. You probably have a number of questions, such as, "How many kittens will she have?" or "When will she have them?" The second question is easier to answer than the first; a queen's gestation period typically runs from 57 to 69 days, with the average of 63 to 64 days. I like to use "63," because it is nine weeks, equating to human pregnancy average of nine months, making it easier to remember. Of course, your queen will have her kittens when she is going to have them, so these figures are only for your benefit, to be able to approximate the time.
The number of kittens in a given litter is a different subject. Litters can range from one to eight or more kittens, although either end of the range is fairly rare. Let's say an average of two to five kittens, with maximum numbers occurring with queens between the ages of two and eight. If you are really curious, your veterinarian may be able to give you a "head count" by palpating the abdomen.
This procedure is most successful between 25 and 35 days after mating. Ultrasound is another safe tool for verifying pregnancy, as well as for counting the embryos.