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Home > Cats > How Many Kittens Are Born in a Litter? Average & Influential Factors

How Many Kittens Are Born in a Litter? Average & Influential Factors

red cat with newborn kittens

Being part of an unspayed cat’s (known as a queen) birth can be a magical experience. It is also one of the most stressful times in the life of a pet parent. Worries about whether your cat, and her upcoming litter, will be safe and healthy can leave you on the edge of your seat during the entire process.

Fortunately, for queens, there’s a lot of information available to help keep kitties happy and healthy during this time. One of the most common questions people ask when their cat is pregnant is how many kittens are born in a litter? A healthy mother cat can have anywhere from 1 to 12 kittens in a litter. Luckily, though, the average litter size is 3 to 7 kittens which may make pet parents breathe a little easier.

Now that you know the average litter size for expecting cats, let’s take a look at the influential factors that determine how many kittens will be prowling your home.

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The Age and Overall Health of the Mother Is Important

grey mother cat nursing kittens
Image Credit: Rashid Valitov, Shutterstock

One of the most important factors determining how many kittens are in a litter is the mother. A healthy, young, momma cat will often have a larger litter than a cat who isn’t well taken care of. Normally, first-time mothers will have fewer kittens than those who have given birth before but this isn’t always the rule. A healthy cat, even if it’s her first time, may provide her awaiting family with several kittens to love and spoil.

Breed Can Also Play a Role in Birth

Genetics come into play when it comes to litter size. Certain breeds are known to have more kittens. Siamese breeds are a prime example of this. Siamese cats are known for their litter sizes and often produce more kittens than other breeds.

Unfortunately, breed type can affect litter size in negative ways as well. Certain breeds aren’t intended to have large litters. Manx breeds are known to lose kittens quite often. When breeding tailless Manx cats, roughly one-fourth of each litter is routinely lost.

Another breed of cat with breeding issues is the Persian breed. This breed is on the opposite end of the spectrum than Siamese breeds. They are well-known for having small litters which makes kittens of this breed so popular.

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How the Seasons Factor In

Siamese cat sitting in the baby's crib
Image Credit: Patricia Perez R, Shutterstock

Like many animals, cats come into estrus, or heat, seasonally. Cats who live outdoors normally experience this in both the spring and the fall of the year. Most outdoor queens stop going into their heat cycle when the weather turns cool and the days become shorter. For cats that live their lives indoors, they have no idea when the time and seasons begin to change. This allows the cats to easily go into heat more throughout the year than other felines.

Cats Are Reflex Ovulators

A tidbit you may not know about cats is that they are reflex ovulators. Simply put, the breeding act itself will make your cat produce more eggs. The more breeding your cat is involved in, the higher the chances become of increased litter size. It is also possible for your cat to birth kittens from multiple males. This explains why kittens from the same litter can look so different.

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Illnesses Can Endanger the Litter

Pregnant cat lying in the grass
Image Credit: abubibolabu, Pixabay

Certain feline infections and diseases can, unfortunately, change litter size for queens. One of the most serious infections that harms a litter is the feline panleukopenia virus. Also known as feline distemper, this illness can reduce how many kittens are born, cause stillbirths, or even abort entire litters when a queen is infected during the early stages of her pregnancy. The after-effects on surviving kittens can also be severe. Brain and mobility development can be altered if the mother cat is infected during the later stages of her pregnancy.

Determining Litter Size Before Birth

A queen’s pregnancy will last anywhere from 60 to 70 days. During this time, a visit to the veterinarian can help you, the pet parent, know how many kittens to expect and how your girl is doing with her pregnancy.

One of the most common ways a veterinarian determines how many kittens a queen is carrying is with an ultrasound. This can give you and the vet a great idea of how many kittens are set to arrive but just like with humans, ultrasounds can be wrong. Often, an ultrasound count can be off by a couple of kittens, so always expect the unexpected.

Veterinarians also look at the uterus during a cat’s pregnancy. This allows them to feel the distinct amniotic sacs each kitten is kept in. By counting these sacs, a good guess can be made on the number of kittens to be birthed. This method can also be flawed like the ultrasound. While your vet will give you the best estimate possible, they can be wrong.

The most accurate way for a vet to determine the number of kittens in a litter is through an X-ray. These X-rays should be conducted later in the pregnancy for the best accuracy. Knowing a rough estimate of how many kittens are on their way helps ensure the mother has the safest and most comfortable pregnancy and delivery possible.

Hauling three kittens
Image Credit: Olgaozik, Pixabay

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Final Thoughts

If your cat is an expectant mother, keeping her healthy is your number one priority. Knowing how many kittens are born in a litter on average is a great starting point. With the average litter size being 3 to 7 kittens, you know what number to prepare for. Once the kittens are part of the family and your queen is back to herself, remember that spaying is the best way to ensure your cat has a happy and healthy future.

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Featured Image Credit: Tiplyashina Evgeniya, Shutterstock

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