Pregnancy in Cats

Since this web site is not intended to be a support site for breeders (who most likely already have their own support network), this subject will be treated from the perspective of the stray, feral or home companion cat who is "accidentally" pregnant. Any other reason for being pregnant on purpose is not acceptable, such as allowing one's new cat to "have just one litter," or thinking that it "would be nice to have some cute kittens," or worse, thinking it "would be nice to let the kids see the miracle of birth."

Often, those with big hearts take in cats who wander in, looking for a meal, a safe place to lay their heads at night, and a friendly human they can trust. Too often, female felines in this predicament turn out to be "unwed mothers" who are homeless and looking for a place to give birth. They may be frightened, hungry, desperate, and sometimes, ready right now!

The best thing we can do for them is to give them everything they need! Love, support, food, privacy, medical attention if necessary, and above all, safety. At this point, she is not looking for love; she is looking for a safe place to have her babies. Just do it. Then deal with the fallout later.

First, if she'll accept it, help her find a place to make her nest. If you have places in your home that you prefer not to allow her, be sure to block those off. You can try setting up a box with old towels in it, but not all cats are willing to use what you offer. If she is adamant and refuses to use an offered box, you may have to put her in a cage or lock her in a small area where she has no choice but to use the box. Just do the best you can there. If you have children who want to "watch the miracle of birth," good grief, let her be alone! Get the kids a video. Animals prefer privacy during the birth process. If you insist, you can check in on her occasionally to be sure she is doing OK, and if not, be sure to call your vet for advice. The cat is likely to be under stress if she just arrived in this condition, or even if she has been in your home for a while, so don't add to the stress with grabby, gabby, giggly children.

The kittens are born blind, deaf and unable to smell or eat. Let mom do what comes naturally. She will wash them by licking them all over, and will eat the afterbirths. This usually elicits gasps and groans of disgust from people, so keep everyone out of the way.

Mama cat will make herself available to the kittens for nursing, and it comes naturally to them to seek her sustenance, so don't try to be Florence Nightingale by shoving them up to her belly. She knows what to do, and they will, too.

That said, though, there are times when mama cat does NOT know what to do. This new mom is usually just that - a new mom. If she came from outdoors as a stray, she may even still be a kitten herself. Cats can reach puberty by 6, or even 5, months of age and become pregnant right away, before their bodies are really mature enough to handle it. These moms, having grown up alone, have no role model to learn from and may not know what to do with those "things" that just came out of her. Cats learn from other cats, and not every behavior or function is an instinct, believe it or not. We have lost many kittens at the shelter that were born to very young mother cats who had no idea what was happening. They would not clean them or nurse them and would only walk away from them or smother them.

The sad thing is that these pregnancies should never have been allowed to happen. We need to develop more and better programs to get every cat spayed and neutered. After mama cat begins the weaning process, at 5 or 6 weeks, get her spayed! The ONLY cats that should be allowed to breed are those purebreeds used for showing. And even that is a controversial subject.

Pregnancy in a cat lasts 60-63 days, and a litter is usually 6-8 kittens, with about 4-5 surviving under usual circumstances, so a female cat could produce as many as 15-24 kittens a year. Factoring in the very real possibility that her kittens could mature and reproduce before the next 12 months have elapsed, you can imagine the geometric increase in just that one little cat colony. Statistics from national organizations have indicated that only two cats can produce thousands of offspring in less than seven years. This demonstrates the extreme importance of spaying and neutering ALL cats in a neighborhood.

Copyright 2009 - RJ Peters 
Dr. R.J. Peters, a retired physician, established an animal rescue shelter in 2002. She has worked with hundreds of dogs and cats and shares much of what she's learned, at The Problem Cat.