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How Long Does It Take For A Cat To Have Kittens?

Nicole Cosgrove

There are many special occasions in one’s life, and being present for the birth of any creature is truly amazing. When an animal gives birth, it is without a doubt one of the most special aspects of being an animal parent (or grandparent).

Cats can get pregnant quite easily as they go into heat every 2-3 weeks on average, and normally, they are very fertile. They also have a very long fertility cycle and can give birth to kittens from only a few months old to well into old age. Being such independent animals, it can be easy to miss the signs, but you can rest your mind with the knowledge that most cat pregnancies are relatively straightforward.

If your feline is about to have kittens, try to set aside some time to prepare yourself and her in order to take care of your new family.

Signs and symptoms: What to Look For

Cats are highly protective of their young and may even try to hide being pregnant from you! Usually, during the first few weeks you may not notice anything, but if you spot any of the following symptoms and want to be prepared, then take her to your vet as soon as you can. This is a list of the main symptoms, although, keep in mind that every cat is different and may display some or any mixture of these signs:

  • The first visible sign, potentially after 15-18 days, is your cats’ nipples becoming redder or pinker. This is known as “pinking-up”, and it is mother nature preparing your kitty to provide milk for her young. The nipples may enlarge also and be far more noticeable than before.
  • If you regularly observe her period or heat cycle, then you may notice that she isn’t going into heat after her last cycle. Like humans, this immediately ceases when she becomes pregnant.
  • A hunger and appetite increase may set in early also and your mom-to-be may enjoy an intake of more food to ensure her little ones will be very healthy.
  • As mammals, cats experience a type of “morning sickness” not unlike humans, which involves vomiting and nausea. Some vomiting may be normal but if it is excessive, it is better to call your vet.
  • The maternal instinct will kick in with your feline and she may show lots more affection, purr more, and even spend more time at home (and less time hunting mice).
  • Coupled with the mom-to-be instinct is the urge to nest or find a safe place. If you suspect she is pregnant, then provide a quiet, comfortable space in a room for her to prepare for her babies.
  • There is nothing fiercer than a mother protecting her young and it will come as no surprise that when your cat knows she is pregnant she may behave more feisty or aggressive toward other cats or animals. Do not scold her for this as this is mother nature’s way of ensuring survival.
  • Last but not least is the visible weight gain that your cat will have. She may gain up to 4 pounds, depending on the breed and age, and provide a steady supply of food when you are sure she is expecting.
  • As the gestation period continues, your cats’ abdomen may begin to swell, and like us humans, she will have a kitten bump!

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The day: How to know that today is the day

So, how long does it take for a cat to give birth? Mammals have varying pregnancy gestation timelines depending on the specific species. A cat’s gestation period lasts between 64 and 67 days. It is interesting to note that female cats are polyestrous, which means they have multiple reproductive, or estrus cycles every year. The summertime is the common time for cats to get impregnated although technically it can happen all year long!

There are a few ways that you can have a more accurate timeline of your cat’s pregnancy, especially if you want to be certain that she is about to have offspring. Medical imaging using either ultrasound or X-Ray will be able to confirm a pregnancy painlessly. For the early stages, ultrasounds can identify kitten fetuses in your cat’s womb, but it may be difficult to count the number. After about 5 weeks, an X-Ray can image the kitten skeletons and therefore provide the exact amount of kittens to expect. Another technique is known as palpation, and this is when your vet can feel the fetuses by gently pressing on your feline’s tummy.

The cat pregnancy timeline is fascinating and each week the fetuses develop in different ways that coincide with changes to their mother’s behavior or anatomy. There are plenty of online cat pregnancy calculators to check out if you are not that into the old-fashioned methods. Here are some key developments to look out for:

Pregnant cat lying in the grass
Image Credit: abubibolabu, Pixabay
  • Week 1: The first stage is when the female cat’s eggs are fertilized by the male sperm. The eggs are then safely placed in the female’s uterus so development can begin. If you notice your cat mating, make a note so that you can be more precise with the due date.
  • Week 2: The embryos develop in the uterus while the placenta forms.
  • Week 3: This is a big week! The little kittens begin to form, and they grow brains, organs including a heart, and tiny legs. This is the time of “pinking-up” and medical imaging can confirm the pregnancy.
  • Week 4: At this stage, the word fetus can be used for the tiny things growing inside your feline’s tummy. Their nervous systems along with bones and skeletons are developing by now. The mother cat may lack an appetite during the fourth week due to morning sickness.
  • Week 5: Get ready to be kicked in the tummy mommy! The muscles and nerves in these little creatures are forming and they may be wriggling.
  • Week 6: The mother’s stomach begins to get visibly larger, and she may be hungrier all the time. Now is a good week to up the intake of good quality food and fish for omega oils.
  • Week 7: This week the kittens’ coats start to grow. An X-Ray at this stage will show with accuracy how many babies there are.
  • Week 8: This is the week where mama comes first! She is ready to burst and may be clingy and needy so keep her clean as she may find grooming tiring and provide plenty of fresh water, food, and comfort. If your cat is disappearing a lot, it may be that she is choosing to give birth alone. This is nothing to worry about and in fact, if she is in a safe place, it may be even calmer for her.
  • Week 9: Get ready, your cat could go into labor at any time! Darkness and quietness should be provided in a space in your home. Tell your family to keep the noise down and be there for your queen mother. If you can check her temperature and it has dropped by about 1 degree, then you know the time has come and labor is imminent.

Related Read: 18 Biggest Cat Myths and Misconceptions

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How to be There for Your Pregnant Cat

During a cat’s pregnancy, they are likely to be emotional, stressed, and worried and this is absolutely normal, just think of us humans and how we are! It is highly important that you spend time soothing your cat, stroking her, and telling her everything will be alright, especially if she is a first-time mom!  Also, make sure that you help her build her nest by providing blankets, soft toys, or teddy bears, and a good dose of love. As the big day approaches, have a warm water bottle, clean towels, and a kitten milk replacement on hand so there is no last-minute rushing. Being a good cat midwife is always about tuning in to your cat’s needs and being as present as you can!


Featured Image Credit: TaniaVdB, Pixabay

Nicole Cosgrove

Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts' knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.