Pregnancy in Cats

The cause of pregnancy is well known. The symptoms are a big belly and, particularly towards the end of gestation, swollen mammary glands. The treatment is a healthy diet, moderate exercise, and a few routine tests for the mother.

Overview

As you might expect, pregnancy is defined as the time between conception and birth during which fetal kittens develop inside the mother’s (or “queen’s”) uterus. Unlike canine fertility, feline fertility is influenced by a queen’s diurnal rhythms (exposure to sunlight). As a result, pregnancy in cats tends to be seasonal, with most births occurring from spring through early fall. Cats can, however, become pregnant any time of year.

Developing kittens usually have claws, eyes, and ears by the fifth week of pregnancy. Full body hair develops by the eighth week. After 56 to 79 days, or at about nine weeks, the litter is born (at 63 days, most commonly). Litter size can range from a single kitten to as many as 10 or more. In outdoor and feral cats, it is common for kittens in the same litter to be sired by different toms (fathers).

Signs and Identification

During the first few weeks of a cat’s pregnancy, there are very few signs. By the third week of pregnancy, however, the queen’s nipples become more prominent and pink, a condition called “pinking up” by purebred cat breeders. By the fourth and fifth weeks, weight gain, especially around the abdomen, becomes evident. Toward the end of pregnancy, the mammary glands enlarge, and a milky discharge from the nipples a day or two before birth is common.

Some veterinarians can identify pregnancy by palpating the abdomen with their hands as early as the third to fourth week of pregnancy. Ultrasonography, if available, may be used to identify fetal heartbeats around the third week of pregnancy. During the sixth week (starting at 45 days), radiographs (X-rays) can detect bones and give the most accurate estimate of litter size.

Affected Breeds

As most readers might well have deduced, there is no breed predisposition for pregnancy.

Treatment

A pregnant cat should be fed a well-balanced commercial diet and should have access to fresh water at all times. As a pregnancy progresses, a veterinarian can counsel the cat’s owner on increasing food intake or other dietary needs. Vaccines should generally be avoided during pregnancy. Consult your veterinarian before giving any medications, nutritional supplements or flea and tick products. As the developing kittens take up more space in the abdomen and press against the stomach, feeding a cat smaller, more frequent meals might be advisable. A cat often requires even more food during nursing. She can consume up to twice as much food as normal during this period.

While exercise helps a mother maintain muscle tone, keeping a pregnant cat indoors is generally a great idea. Certain viruses and parasites can be particularly harmful to developing kittens. For example, if a cat has not been vaccinated for panleukopenia (feline distemper), exposure to an infected cat can harm the mother, resulting in serious developmental brain disorders in the kittens. Keeping a pregnant cat indoors also prevents her from delivering the litter outdoors, where there are numerous dangers to kittens, including temperature extremes and predators.

Prevention

Spaying and neutering cats is 100 percent effective against pregnancy.

This article has been reviewed by a Veterinarian.

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