Taking Care of a Pregnant Cat

The average length of a feline pregnancy (otherwise known as the gestation period) is around 65 days, although a few days either side isn’t unusual, and it’s not always easy to determine exactly when your female cat (known as a ‘queen’) was mated. Even if you have a pedigree cat, and the stud owner has given you the dates of mating between your female and her stud cat, it cannot be guaranteed which mating has ‘taken’, or whether in fact your cat is pregnant at all. However, you’ll have an idea, which is likely to be far more accurate than if you have a non-pedigree cat that has escaped whilst she was on heat. Cats can carry between one and about eight kittens, and quite often those with larger litters have shorter pregnancies, whereas if the female is subjected to any stress during the later stages of pregnancy, she may delay giving birth. You won’t usually see any signs during the three weeks after the mating – except for maybe some missing fur on the neck of the female cat, which will probably indicate that she has been mated. She may appear slightly less active in this early phase if she is pregnant, but the first sign is usually at the three-week point when the nipples will take on a very pink and erect appearance, known as ‘pinking up’, which tends to very obvious when a female cat is expecting her very first litter. After about four to five weeks of pregnancy, the tiny foetuses will be just over 2 cm long, and so if you have any concerns, your Vet should be able to feel for signs of life by gentle palpation of the abdomen area. At roughly the six-week point, if there more than just one or two kittens, the abdomen usually appears larger, and at seven weeks you may well be able to detect some movement. By this latter stage, if the queen is pregnant (and it could still be a false pregnancy) she will usually become quite restless and start looking for somewhere to make a nest to have her kittens. During the last week, the mammary glands will appear considerably enlarged, and the nipples will be considerably more prominent. She may become quite withdrawn and less active, and there may be the beginnings of some white mucous discharge under her tail. Help your pregnant queen to find somewhere suitable that will be convenient for you as well as to her in case you need to provide any assistance during the birthing, and actively prevent her from making a nest in any beds belonging to human members of the family. She will want to be somewhere warm and dark, and even a cardboard box lined with newspapers and old jumpers might serve the purpose very well. You can also buy purpose made kittening boxes, often with a concealed and protected electric element or light bulb that will provide some heat, and you should be able to find these at a more reasonable price online or at a large cat show. If you are using a cardboard box, then a heated pad or covered hot water bottle will be useful for the actual kittening so that the first kittens have somewhere warm to lie whilst the rest of the litter is being born. A very small minority of pregnant cats show signs of ‘calling’ again during the third and sixth weeks of pregnancy if insufficient progesterone (the pregnancy hormone) is produced by the ovary to prevent further eggs being released. If this happens, and the cat was allowed to mate again, it’s possible that the eggs could be fertilised, with the result that foetuses of different ages could be present in the uterus at the same time. In this situation, if kittens from a second mating were born prematurely at the same time as those from the original mating, they probably would not survive, or they could feasibly be born at a later date. However, it is important to keep a potentially pregnant cat indoors and not allow her out until after the kittens are born, although it is always very risky allowing an entire female cat outside at any time as she could pick up a number of diseases if she were to be mated by a local unknown tom cat. During all stages of the potential pregnancy, you should avoid administering any kind of medication, unless directed to by your Vet as even routine flea treatment could cause harm to the unborn kittens. You should tell your Vet if your cat is due for her booster vaccination during pregnancy, and he will advise on the best course of action, as a ‘live’ vaccine should not be given. You should of course continue to feed her with a good high-protein diet, taking into account that she will be needing more food in the latter stages, maybe as much as half as much again as usual. If she appears a little constipated in the last few days of pregnancy, oily fish or a very small dose of liquid paraffin should do the trick, although it would be wise to check with your Vet regarding the latter. And if your cat has difficulty cleaning her nether regions in the last few days, particularly if she is a longhaired variety, you might need to help her by gently sponging the area with warm water, taking care to make sure that she is properly dry afterwards.When your queen starts to give birth, you should ideally be on hand in case you need to offer any assistance, but o not be tempted to interfere unnecessarily. If you have any cause for concern, you should call your Vet, who may come out or talk you through what to do over the phone. Don’t wait until the morning if she obviously has problems in the middle of the night, such as strong contractions for more than a couple of hours without the appearance of a kitten, a kitten that is visibly stuck, contractions getting progressively weaker or the non-appearance of the placenta after each birth. Vets are well used to being phoned out of hours, although the majority of cats produce their kittens very easily without any problems at all.