Answers to Frequently Asked Questions About Pregnant Cats and Cat Fertility

kittens on chair

At what age can cats start having kittens?

While their bodies continue to mature for some time afterward, cats of both genders can begin breeding as young as 4 or 5 months of age. The majority of female cats experience their first heat at around 6 months of age, though anywhere from 5-12 months is normal for most breeds. Many male cats can sire a litter by 5 months of age. There are a few breeds that mature more slowly, and malnourished cats may take longer to reach sexual maturity.

How many kittens can a cat have?

Unspayed female cats average 2-3 litters per year, but more are possible. The average feline litter is 4 or 5 kittens, though a couple more or less is common.

The record for most kittens in a litter is held by a Burmese cat in the UK, which gave birth to 19 (15 live and 4 stillborn).

Although fertility declines somewhat and the litters of older queens tend to be smaller, cats of both genders remain fertile throughout their lifetimes. The oldest cat to give birth to live kittens was 30 years of age, and the record for most kittens produced over a lifetime by a single female is 420.

How long does a cat’s pregnancy last?

Feline gestation (the time between conception and birth) typically lasts just over 2 months, with 65 days being the average. Normal pregnancy may range from 63-69 days for most cats (pregnancy in Siamese cats can last a little longer, up to 71 days).

What are the signs of pregnancy in cats?

Cats typically show no signs of pregnancy for the first few weeks. Early in the second month, indications of pregnancy include:

      • Weight gain
      • Increased hunger
      • Nipples becoming larger and pinker

Cats can suffer from morning sickness and/or low energy (usually late in the first month), though this is not very common. Some cats also become more affectionate when pregnant.

When a cat is close to giving birth, she’ll become restless. She may begin looking into closets, cupboards, drawers, and other potential nesting sites if you haven’t provided a good kittening box (see How to Care for a Pregnant Cat for information on kittening boxes and other aspects of care and feeding).

Can a litter of kittens have more than one father?litter of kittensThe ability to produce a litter of kittens fathered by more than one tom cat is called superfecundation. A female cat in heat attracts many different males. If she has a particular preference, she will only mate with one tom, waiting for him to recover after prior matings rather than seeking the attentions of other males while he is incapacitated. But many female cats will accommodate a broader circle of admirers, so their ova may be fertilized by the sperm of various males. The result is a diverse litter of kittens that look very different from one another. Superfecundation is particularly likely to occur in urban and suburban areas where cats have higher population densities, which increases the number of male respondents to the call of a female cat in heat.

In addition to the potential for superfecundation, some female cats will actually go into heat and be impregnated while already pregnant, a phenomenon known as superfetation. In this case, a mother cat may simultaneously carry two litters at different stages of development. The less developed litter may be born prematurely along with the more advanced litter, which usually results in death for the premature kittens, but if they’re lucky, they manage to hang on for the full term and are born 2-6 weeks later. This places a significant burden on the nursing mother, because she suddenly has a lot of kittens to cope with all at once, though many cats manage to deal effectively with these large, staggered litters.

How can you tell if a cat is in heat?

Just before going into heat, many female cats become more affectionate than usual. While in heat, they are inclined to yowl, lick their genitals frequently, roll around on the floor, and assume a mating position (head down, hindquarters raised, tail held out of the way). Usually only male cats spray to mark territory, but unspayed females may also spray when in heat.

Female cats in heat are extremely anxious and frustrated when confined indoors. Even those that are usually content as indoor cats are likely to make desperate escape attempts while in heat.

How often do unspayed female cats go into heat?

Unspayed female cats go into heat every 14-21 days (until they become pregnant) and this phase can last anywhere from 3-16 days.

Can a pregnant cat go into heat?

Some cats go into heat and mate when already pregnant. This phenomenon is known as superfetation when it results in a queen carrying two litters, one more advanced than the other. The younger kittens may be born alongside their more developed siblings, in which case they usually die. However, they may also hang on and be born on their due date, which can place a strain on the nursing mother, who suddenly has to cope with even more kittens.

How can you tell if kittens are premature?

Premature kittens are more fragile and vulnerable to chilling and infection. Kittens born more than 2 weeks early don’t usually survive. Those born closer to term have a fighting chance, though they may require veterinary care and tube feeding. Signs of premature birth may include:

    • Low birth weight
    • Tiny, thin bodies
    • Lack of fur or very fine fur
    • Wrinkled skin
    • Difficulty moving or holding up their heads

Premature kittens are slower to gain weight and reach various developmental milestones, though with luck and good care, they should catch up eventually. If you are caring for premature kittens, consult a veterinarian and keep the kitten room temperature warm.

References:

    • Carlson, D., DVM, & Giffin, J.M., MD. (2008). “Pregnancy and Gestation in Cats.” WebMD.com.
    • Kitten Rescue. (2004). “Premature Kittens.” Kitten-Rescue.com.
    • Animal Rescue League. (2003). “Spay/Neuter.” Arlep.org.
    • Choron, S.; Choron, H.; & Moore, A. (2007). Planet Cat: A CAT-alog. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company.
    • Hartwell, S. (2007). “Longevity.” MessyBeast.com.
    • Morris, D. (1987). Catlore. London, UK: Jonathan Cape Ltd.
    • Nash, H. (2009). “Spaying (Ovariohysterectomy): The Benefits in Cats.” PetEducation.com.
    • Seidensticker, J., & Lumpkin, S. (2006). Cats: Smithsonian Q&A: The Ultimate Question and Answer Book. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Books.

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