Cats waste little time when it comes to pregnancy. Most female cats can conceive when they're just four months old (it's important to spay and neuter early to avoid unplanned pregnancies), and they can have as many as three litters each year. Once pregnant, cats gestate for only 62 to 67 days. That's roughly nine weeks from conception to birth. The typical nine-month human pregnancy is an eternity by comparison. Like we said, cats are no slouches in terms of reproduction. Below we've outlined the various stages of feline pregnancy so you'll know exactly what to expect when you're expecting kittens.
Early in the Pregnancy
During the first couple weeks after conception, your cat won't show many obvious signs of pregnancy. By the third week, though, it should become more apparent. You might notice her nipples are pinker or rosier. Her appetite could increase – she's eating for more than one now, after all. She may vomit occasionally, just like women in the early stages of pregnancy. You might notice she's more affectionate (good news for you!) and seeking more attention, so don't skimp on petting your mother-to-be. If you want to know with certainty that your cat is with kittens, take her to the vet. After three weeks of pregnancy your vet should be able to examine her stomach and feel the embryos (don't try this at home – you could cause a miscarriage). If there's still some uncertainty, your vet might perform an ultrasound. Throughout the pregnancy make sure your cat is getting plenty of water and food.
Later in the Pregnancy
Your pregnant cat will begin to gain weight – usually a total of two to three pounds by the time the kittens are born. The weight gain should be very noticeable four to five weeks into the pregnancy. By the final week of pregnancy her mammary glands will be enlarged and ready to produce milk. Around this time she may begin nesting – finding a quiet, safe place to give birth to her kittens. Consider providing your cat with a nesting box. To make your own, simply cut a hole (this will be the entryway) in the side of a large cardboard box. Throw in something she will like to sit on, like a towel or blanket, to make the box more comfortable. Be sure to place the box in a quiet area that's not lit too brightly. Give her a week or two to get used to the nesting box. Your goal is to help your expectant cat feel safe, comfortable, and ready for the big day.
When your cat is very close to giving birth, she may become restless, meow frequently, refuse to eat, and spend more time in her nesting area. Once she goes into labor, she may yowl or even vomit. The good news is the birthing process is generally a quick one for cats. If she is unable to push a kitten out after an hour or so of difficult labor, talk to your vet (a C-section may need to be performed but chances are low that you will have to do this). The average litter includes four to six kittens, but it can consist of as many as eight and as few as one. Keep an eye on your cat and the new kittens throughout the birthing process, but don't get too close or involved unless complications arise. In most cases the new mom can handle things all on her own. As always, consult your vet about any concerns or complications. Last but not least, take a moment to adore those cute new kittens.
By Jed M.