What Are the Signs to Look for Right Before a Cat Is Ready to Give Birth to Her Kittens?

Is there anything more irresistible than a kitten? If you have a pregnant cat, soon she'll be a momma cat, and you'll have a ringside seat to her kittens' adorable and hilarious antics. But for now, you need to watch for the signs that she is ready to give birth so you'll be well-prepared for the kittens' arrival.

Pregnant grey cat laying on the fabric
There are several signs that your cat is ready to give birth.
credit: SharafMaksumov/iStock/GettyImages

Cat in season or heat

Female cats have a peak time each month when they are most likely to become pregnant. This is called being in heat or being "in season," as Purina says. If a cat that has not been spayed is around other non-neutered males during this time, such as if an indoor cat gets outside, there is a high likelihood that the female cat may end up pregnant. Cats instinctively seek out and find other cats during this peak mating time.

Cats enter their "heat" once a month, or on a cycle of about once every three weeks. A female cat will enter her first heat, or estrus cycle, according to VCA Hospitals, at about six months of age. To avoid accidental pregnancy it is recommended to get your cat spayed (the medical term for the routine procedure that removes a cat's sexual organs so they can not become pregnant) before they reach this age.

Cat behavior during heat

In addition to eliminating the possibility of unwanted litters of kittens (let's be honest, kittens are so cute, but sometimes you might not want a bunch of kittens to rehome) getting a cat fixed also helps avoid the sometimes unpleasant cat behaviors during heat. Female cats can become persistently affectionate, constantly rubbing against you and wanting attention. One frustrating part about having a female cat in heat is that they become very vocal. They may howl and meow almost constantly, to the point that it can be extremely distracting.

Female cats may spray their urine on things you don't want them to, such as furniture, beds, carpets, etc. The urine contains a chemical scent which lets male cats know the females are sexually receptive. Male cats who are not neutered can behave in a similar way. They frequently spray their urine and may aggressively try to enter your home if they sense there is a sexually receptive female in the house.

Cat gestation period

If your cat comes into contact with an unneutered male during their heat, they are likely to get pregnant. VCA Hospitals says that a female cat that is unspayed, known as a queen, will gestate for 60 to 67 days. On the average, a cat gestation period is 63 to 65 days. This means you have barely two months to prepare for your cat's pregnancy.

Cat pregnancy timeline

Purina says your cat will likely not show signs of being pregnant until she is at least two or three weeks into her pregnancy. When you start to wonder if your cat is pregnant, look for the following signs:

  • After about two weeks, your cat's nipples may grow and become more pink.
  • Early on in pregnancy, you may notice that your female cat is vomiting. This may be a reaction similar to morning sickness in humans.
  • Eventually, your cat's abdomen will enlarge as the kittens inside of her start to grow. Be careful when touching her there so the kittens aren't damaged. If you see abdominal swelling and you don't think your cat is pregnant, get her checked out by a vet.
  • She will slowly increase her weight as the pregnancy progresses, and will have an increase in appetite.
  • As time goes on, she may want more affection from you.

Pregnant cat behavior

When your cat is nearing the day when her kittens will be born, her behavior will change. Pregnant cat behavior is noticeably different than normal cat behavior. She may appear to be "pacing," or, in other words, acting restless. While she may have had a hearty appetite up to now, Purina says to look for signs such as her refusing food.

She may start exploring the house or yard looking for a safe place to start nesting in preparation for the labor and delivery. As labor becomes more imminent, she may meow and cry more as her discomfort increases. She may also groom herself much more than normal.

Eventually, she'll choose to settle down and you'll likely notice strong abdominal contractions along with some discharge from her vagina. Her kittens are on the way!

Pregnant cat labor signs

AnimalWise MD says that a cat may lose her mucous plug between three and seven days before the kittens are born. If you notice that your cat has lost her mucous plug but she has not yet given birth within seven days, have her checked out by a vet. Likewise, it is recommended to get a vet involved if you see a greenish discharge and still no kittens.

According to VCA Hospitals, there are three stages of cat labor. Pregnant cat labor signs will not generally start until your cat is close to being ready to give birth.

First stage labor
During the first stage, the cervix and vagina will start to relax in preparation for the kittens passing through. The uterus may begin contracting occasionally during this time, although they will not be visibly dramatic and difficult contractions just yet. If your cat is still comfortable walking around, she may go back and forth between visiting you and her nest. During a young cat's first litter, this first stage may last up to 35 hours.

Second stage labor
It is during the second stage of labor that the contractions become stronger and more frequent. During this time your cat's water will break. This signals that the head of the first kitten to be delivered is moving into place and is starting to put some pressure on the pelvis. It is at this time that your cat may begin to appear to be straining.

Third stage labor When the third stage begins, the kittens will be coming soon. This is when the kittens will begin to be born. It may take a while for each kitten to be born. It could happen quickly, as often as 10 minutes per kitten, or take as long as an hour in between.