How to tell if a cat is pregnant

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Continuing on with ‘Cat Month’, this week we’ll be taking a look at some things to consider as your cat grows from a kitten to an adult. If you have a female cat and haven’t had her spayed then there’s a chance that she may become pregnant. Let’s take a look at some of the telltale signs of feline pregnancy.

How To Tell if Your Cat Is Pregnant

1. Change in Appetite

Behavioral changes in pregnant cats affect their appetite. For the most part, their appetite will increase. If your cat is still hungry after completing their normal ration of food, she may be pregnant. Morning sickness is pregnant cat behavior that may plague your cat, but only for a couple of weeks. During this time her appetite may reduce significantly.

2. Lethargy and Irritation

The behavior of pregnant cats will vacillate between affection, irritation and lethargy. Your normally active cat will spend a lot more time sleeping, and she will be very calm and quieter than usual. The display of irritability in your cat is one of the less pleasant behavioral changes in pregnant cats. One minute she will be looking for attention and then if you handle her too much, she will get irritated.

3. Swollen Abdomen and Enlarged Nipples

A distended belly and larger nipples do not qualify as pregnant cat behavior, but they are some of the signs that will alert you to the fact that your cat may be pregnant and is not just growing fat and comfortable. About three weeks after conceiving, your cat’s nipples will enlarge and turn pink.

Pregnant Cat4. Desire For Privacy

The desire for privacy is a behavior of pregnant cats that will cause them to withdraw and want to be alone. Your cat knows that soon it will require energy to deliver and take care of kittens and tries as much as possible to preserve its energy.

5. Nesting

Restlessness is expectant cat behavior that signals the nesting phase of pregnancy. This occurs closer to the time of delivery when your cat will start looking around for safe, hidden and comfortable places where she can have her kittens. The key to spotting this pregnant cat behavior is the disappearance of your cat for long periods of time only for them to be discovered in a secluded place.

More signals that your cat may be pregnant

  • Roughly 15-18 days into the pregnancy of a cat, the cat’s nipples are likely to grow bigger and turn red. This effect is called “pinking-up.”
  • As in humans, pregnant cats can experience morning sickness during which they vomit regularly. If this sickness becomes very frequent or prolonged, or if you notice any other types of sickness, take your cat to the vet.
  • The cat’s stomach will start to grow as the kittens inside get bigger. Don’t touch the stomach during the pregnancy to avoid harming your cat or her kittens inside. Of course, stomach swelling is a symptom of many other problems, so if you notice anything unusual or become concerned in any way contact your vet.
  • You can expect your pregnant cat to gain about 1-2kg during the pregnancy, although this figure varies based on the number of kittens she is carrying. This is often the most obvious sign that your cat is pregnant.
  • You will likely notice that your cat’s appetite increases if she is pregnant, particularly later on in the pregnancy. This will further increase her weight, but may also be symptomatic of other problems such as worms, so contact your vet if anything seems unusual.
  • Pregnant cats have been known to become more affectionate and maternal, so your cat may purr more and want more attention from you if pregnant.
  • A cat pregnancy can be detected as early as 15 days in using an ultrasound machine. By 40 days your vet should be able to detect the number of kittens your cat is expecting. Of course, this process is difficult and not perfect, as big kittens can hide other smaller kittens in the womb.
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Your cat should be perfectly able to handle her labor and birth, but you should prepare yourself nevertheless as she gets closer to birth. You should be able and ready to step in if there are any problems or provide any comforting words if your cat becomes distressed.

Potential Cat Pregnancy Problems

As with humans, there can sometimes be problems with a cat’s pregnancy. You should be prepared with the knowledge to identify risks so you know what to do to help and when you should take your cat to an emergency vet.

You should call your vet if something happens differently to those events described above. Other reasons to call the vet are listed below.

Eclampsia is a very dangerous condition for a pregnant cat which can be identified through symptoms such as restlessness, pacing, panting, drooling, loss of balance, spasms in the muscles or seizures. This condition can cause the kittens to naturally abort, or miscarry. Also look for signs such as fever, bleeding, or changes in behavior. If this condition appears early in labor, it can be possible for the mother to absorb the dead fetuses back into its body.

Other problems regarding a pregnant cat include:

  • A pregnancy that lasts for more than sixty-six days.
  • The temperature of the mother cat stays below 100F for over a day or falls under 98F.
  • The mother cat stops eating or becomes sad, weak or drowsy.
  • A kitten that stays in the birth canal for more than 10 minutes and does not come out after you try gently pulling it out.
  • The mother has contractions for over four hours with no signs of any more kittens.
  • Five hours pass with no birth when you are sure there is still another kitten inside the mother.
  • Discharge from the vagina develops a strong odor or seems infected.
  • Fewer placentas are birthed than there are kittens.
  • A kitten refuses to nurse or seems to be weak.
  • One of your cat’s mammary glands (breasts) becomes hot, hard or painful.
  • Kittens make constant mewing noises, cannot sleep, or become upset.
  • Kitten stomachs appear not plump, indicating they are not nursing enough.
  • The mother cat’s temperature rises to over 102.5F two or more days after birth.

As long as you keep all this in mind, you will be the proud and happy “parent” of new kittens and will get to experience the joy of many cute kittens running around. Kittens will be physically weak and lack an immune system at this early stage, so be careful when handling them and don’t allow lots of new people to play with them closely. The mother cat may also become aggressive if she feels her new kittens are under threat.

How was your first cat pregnancy? Share your experience in the comments!

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About The Author

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My name is Isabelle and I'm a proud cat mommy, cat blogger and amateur photographer. As a passionate pet enthusiast and long-time cat owner who has experienced the many aspects of what it means to care for cats I love to share my experiences with you.

What is the difference between a stray cat and a feral cat?

Pet and stray cats are socialized to people.

Feral cats are not socialized to people. While they are socialized to their colony members and bonded to each other, they do not have that same relationship with people.

Stray:

  • A stray cat is a cat who has been socialized to people at some point in her life, but has left or lost her domestic home, as well as most human contact and dependence.
  • Over time, a stray cat can become feral as her contact with humans dwindles.
  • Under the right circumstances, however, a stray cat can also become a pet cat once again. Stray cats that are re-introduced to a home after living outdoors may require a period of time to re-acclimate; they may be frightened and wary after spending time outside away from people. ·
  • Another definition that may help:– “A stray cat is a domestic cat that has been abandoned or has ‘strayed’ from home and become lost. Stray [cats] were once pets and they can usually be successfully rescued and placed in homes.” – Stray Cat Handbook

Feral:

  • A feral cat is a cat who has either never had any contact with humans or her contact with humans has diminished over time. She is fearful of people and survives on her own outdoors. A feral cat is not likely to ever become a lap cat or enjoy living indoors.
  • Kittens born to feral cats can be socialized at an early age and adopted into homes.
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Why does it matter?

  • Stray cats can readjust to living with people and can be adopted as companions.
  • Adult feral cats are not socialized to people, which means they cannot be adopted. As a result, they are likely to be killed if picked up by animal control or brought to shelters, so it is in their best interest to continue living outdoors.
  • Stray and feral cats can be difficult to tell apart, especially when they are trapped or frightened. Scared stray cats often need time to relax and show their level of socialization. Learn more.
  • Trap-Neuter-Return takes into account each cat’s level (or degree) of socialization to determine the best environment for them. Feral cats are returned to their outdoor home after being trapped and neutered. Socialized cats and kittens can be adopted into homes.

How do I know my cat is going into labour?

Below are some indicators that labour is imminent:

Signs of labour and birth in cats

  • Increase in size of mammary glands – The mammary glands increase in size during the last week of gestation.
  • Milk production – Around two days before the queen gives birth, milk can be expressed from the nipple.
  • Nesting – The queen will spend more time in her nesting box as birth approaches.
  • A decrease in temperature – Normal temperature in a cat is 100 – 102.5°F (37.7 – 39.1°C). A day or two before birth, her temperature drops to 99°F (37.2°C).
  • Change in behaviour – During the last week or so, your queen may become either reclusive (possibly seeking out a secluded place), or more affectionate, especially if she is particularly close to one caregiver.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Restlessness and pacing.
  • Licking at the genitalia frequently.
  • Clear discharge from the vagina.

The cat’s uterus (womb) has two horns, which come together with a central uterine cavity. The cervix is at the end of the uterine cavity and is closed during pregnancy. Developing kittens lie within the horns and are attached to the mother via the umbilical cord. The umbilical cord is attached to the placenta, which joins mother and kitten together. The role of the placenta is to transport nourishment from the mother and to take waste away from the fetus (unborn kitten).

 Supplies:

  • Kittening box.
  • Several pairs of sterile surgical gloves.
  • Eyedropper or syringe to aspirate secretions from the mouth and nose.
  • Dental floss or cotton thread to tie the umbilical cord.
  • Antiseptic (such as Betadine, diluted to the colour of weak tea) to apply to the umbilicalcord stumps.
  • Infant nasal cleaner.
  • Scissors.
  • Clean towels.
  • Your own vet’s phone number.
  • An emergency vet’s phone number.
  • Kitten milk replacer.
  • Source of warmth for the kittens such as a hot water bottle wrapped in a blanket.

Stages of labour in cats:

First stage – 12 hours or more
  • Birth begins with the onset of uterine contractions. During this stage, the cervix begins to dilate (open). A clear, odourless discharge from the vagina is usually apparent. This discharge is known as the mucus plug and was in the cervix during pregnancy, sealing the uterus from the vagina. As the first stage progresses, contractions will become closer and closer together.
Second stage – 5 minutes to 1 hour
  • Contractions become stronger and closer together, and the cervix is fully dilated. The queen is ready to give birth. The kitten moves down the birth canal. Pressure on the cervix initiates the mother’s urge to push. You may see her visibly straining to push the kitten out. The kitten’s water bag (or bubble) is normally seen at the vulva; these burst and some fluid will be cleaned up by the queen. It typically takes around three pushes for the kitten to be delivered.
  • The queen will tear and lick the membrane from the face and body, which will stimulate breathing. In the event, the queen doesn’t remove the membrane from the kitten’s mouth and nose, you should do this for her and follow-up by gently rub the kitten with a soft towel to stimulate breathing. Use the infant nasal cleaner to remove debris from the mouth and nose if necessary.
  • The second stage usually takes around 5 minutes to 1 hour. If the kitten hasn’t been born after an hour, call your veterinarian.
Third stage
  • Immediately following the kitten’s birth, the placenta is delivered. Once the queen has cleaned the kitten and breathing has commenced, normally, the queen will chew the umbilical cord in two and, quite often, will eat the placenta.
  • When the kitten has been delivered, it is important that you pay attention to the delivery of the placentas. Have a pen and paper close, so you can make a note of how many placentas have been delivered; you may lose track, due to the excitement of the birth. This is important because a retained placenta will lead to infection, which is life-threatening.

If the mother fails to chew the umbilical cord, you will have to do this. Tie a piece of dental floss around the cord no closer than 1 inch from the kitten’s body and snip it with a pair of sterile scissors. Be careful not to pull on the umbilical cord while doing this as it could result in an umbilical hernia.

Use the infant nasal cleaner to remove debris from the mouth and nose if necessary.

The kitten usually crawls towards a nipple and begins to nurse. This helps to stimulate the uterus to contract, assisting with the delivery of the next kitten. If the kitten hasn’t moved to a nipple and begun to nurse, carefully place the kitten on one of her nipples.

During labour, the queen pantsDuring labour, the queen pants.Once born, the queen breaks open the sac that the kitten was born inOnce born, the queen breaks open the sac that the kitten was born in.Licking the newborn cleanLicking the newborn clean.Contented mum with babies

Contented mum with babies.

When should I call a veterinarian?

There are many possible problems your queen may encounter during birth to cover in this article. A week or so prior to the birth, you should take your cat to the veterinarian for a final check-up and discuss the birth and potential problems with him or her. The vet will be able to advise what is ‘normal’ and what requires veterinary attention. Some problems you should be watchful of include:

  • Gestation lasting longer than 70 days.
  • First stage labour lasting longer than 12 hours.
  • Twenty minutes of intense labour and straining without producing a kitten.
  • Straining for ten minutes while a fetus or a fluid-filled bubble is visible in the birth canal.
  • Acute depression.
  • Fever (above 103°F).
  • Sudden discharge of bright, red blood from the vagina lasting longer than 10 minutes.
  • Thick, black, foul-smelling discharge from the vagina.
  • If the queen has chewed the cord close to the body, microabscesses can develop and spread bacteria into the bloodstream. Prophylactic administration of a long-acting antibiotic will be necessary.
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