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Feline pregnancy is a common concern for pet parents with intact female cats, especially if that cat goes outdoors unsupervised or spends any time around unneutered male cats. However, cats can’t tell their pet parents that they’re pregnant – at least not verbally.
Unfortunately, there isn’t currently an at-home cat pregnancy test similar to what humans use. There are some other ways a pet parent can determine and confirm if their feline might be pregnant, though.
Unspayed female cats are polyestrous, meaning they can experience multiple heat or estrous cycles during their breeding season. Cat breeding seasons depend on several factors, including where they live and the number of daylight hours. Felines that live in warmer climates with more daylight hours can even cycle year-round.
Most cats have their first estrous cycle at around six months old. Cycles can last several days (up to 21 days), during which pregnancy can occur. While there aren’t any obvious physical signs that a cat is in heat, pet parents may notice some behavioral changes, including increased affection, rolling around more often, and yowling.
If an intact female has been around an intact male during her heat cycle (or a pet parent suspects this), she may be pregnant. Here are some of the most common cat pregnancy symptoms that pet parents should know:
One of the most noticeable signs of cat pregnancy is weight gain. Most felines gain a total of two to four pounds. Pregnant cats will usually begin eating more (or looking for more food) to support their needs and the needs of their growing babies.
About halfway through the gestation period (around 30 days or so), pet parents may also see their feline’s abdomen begin to swell. However, this sign of pregnancy may not be as noticeable if the cat is already a bit overweight or a fluffier breed.
As the kittens grow, the swelling in the mother cat’s abdomen can put pressure on her bladder. As a result, accidents outside of cat litter trays may occur. Bathroom accidents in cats that aren’t pregnant could indicate a health issue that pet parents should address right away.
Hormonal changes during pregnancy can cause a cat’s mammary glands to swell near the final stages of their pregnancy. This will likely be one of the last things a person may notice on the cat, following weight gain or growing belly size, but is helpful to know when attempting to understand the timing of when a cat may deliver. The nipples may change in appearance, too, becoming larger and darker in color (also known as “pinking up”).
Pet parents should note that their cat’s mammary glands may swell for other reasons, too. For instance, they may experience feline mammary hyperplasia, which refers to the drastic enlargement of the mammary glands. While common in younger, intact females (pregnant or not pregnant), it can also occur in spayed females and neutered males. Cats can also develop mammary cancer, which is often malignant and can spread to other parts of the body early on.
Generally, pet parents should consult with a vet for medical reasons regarding any unusual changes in their cat’s mammary glands, especially if they don’t suspect pregnancy.
It’s a bit of an old wive’s tale that most cats will experience morning sickness, but it may still occur for cats on a morning feeding routine. Similar to pregnant humans, pregnant felines may vomit at the beginning of their gestation period if exposed to strong food smells or other odors. If a pet parent notices their cat vomiting more often and there are no other pregnancy symptoms, they should consult with a vet, as the cat may require medical attention or treatment for a different health issue.
Female cats are “induced ovulators,” meaning that breeding triggers the release of eggs from their ovaries. As such, they can become pregnant at any point during their estrous cycle if they’ve been around intact males.
While there might not be any at-home pregnancy tests for cats, there are still a few ways pet parents can identify and confirm whether or not their cats are pregnant:
As discussed above, there are several signs that can point toward pregnancy in cats. As the pregnancy progresses, a pregnant cat may start eating more and gaining weight. Their abdomen and mammary glands will also grow larger during different stages of the pregnancy. These changes typically occur about halfway through the gestation period. In the later stages, most cats start nesting or looking for a quiet, comfortable place to have their kittens. They may also become increasingly restless, especially just before giving birth.
So, how long does a cat pregnancy last? Generally, most pregnancies are between 60 to 65 days. During this period, cats’ needs are different. They’ll need to eat more than their normal diet to account for an increase in nutritional demands. They may also require additional monitoring during pregnancy to ensure they’re calm and comfortable, especially as they approach delivery.
However, many cat pregnancy symptoms mimic symptoms of other conditions. For instance, appetite changes or vomiting can indicate an illness, and swollen mammary glands could point toward a tumor. Additionally, most pregnancy symptoms aren’t always noticeable until halfway through gestation. As such, they aren't always the most reliable marker of pregnancy.
If a pet parent suspects their feline might be pregnant (or has another health issue), they should consult with a vet as soon as possible. The only way to truly confirm cat pregnancy, in the earliest stages, is with a blood test, Xray, or ultrasound.
An ultrasound is typically performed around or after the 20-day mark in a pregnancy to confirm if there are any developing kittens.
If near the final week of pregnancy, the vet may recommend an Xray instead of an ultrasound, as the kittens’ bones will have formed. Xrays will also help vets understand precisely how many kittens to expect and if any pose delivery complication risks.
A vet can also take blood samples and perform tests to detect relaxin levels and confirm the pregnancy, though this is a bit less common due to the time required to get results back from the lab and overall price. Blood draws will test serum levels, blood flow, and more.
Vets, either Fuzzy’s Veterinary Support or a pregnant cat’s primary veterinarian, can also provide tips and advice for caring for cats during pregnancy and after giving birth.
There are several ways a pet parent can monitor their cat and ensure her comfort after confirming her pregnancy:
Make sure the cat is getting enough to eat and drink. If a cat’s pregnancy is confirmed pet parents may also consider switching to a food formulated specifically for pregnant felines. Vets will often recommend switching the pregnant cat to kitten food because of its different nutritional composition compared to adult cat foods.
Create a quiet, comfortable nesting spot for the pregnant cat as she progresses into the final stages of pregnancy.
Watch for signs of potential problems, such as increased agitation, vaginal discharge, distress, urinary troubles, or a sudden loss of appetite. If the pregnancy lasts beyond the 65-day mark consult a veterinarian, as pregnancy complications can turn fatal if left untreated.
If a pet parent has any questions or concerns during their cat’s pregnancy, Fuzzy’s online vets are always available to help. Fuzzy’s 24hr virtual team is also available to help pet parents through the pregnancy and with newborn kitten care. No matter what time of day or night, pet parents can get helpful tips and advice and cat health care plans with no appointments required. Become a Fuzzy member today.