Behavior and signs of labor before birth, how long are cat pregnancies

Just like any other mammals, feline pregnancy has distinct stages to the process. What are these stages and how long are cat pregnancies?

Of course, there’s more to cat pregnancy than its duration or length.

As a responsible cat owner, what can you do to care for your pregnant kitty? How can you tell if your feline pet is expecting? Moreover, what do you plan to happen during delivery?

Most cat owners would want to skip all the troubles by getting their pets spayed or neutered. However, if you're going to experience the wonder of feline birth, then read along.

We are going to present to you the different phases of feline pregnancy and how long does it take for a cat to bring a litter to term.

Understanding the earliest signs of feline pregnancy shall give you enough time to prepare for the big day.

Also, having to witness the miracle of kitten-birth shall give you a deeper insight into the real essence of being a pet owner.

So, how long are cat pregnancies? Before we answer this question, let’s try to begin from the earliest phase. We’re not referring to the actual pregnancy stage yet.

What we're referring to is the estrus cycle or the period in which the sexual cycle of female felines is ready to accept male mates.

Cats in Heat: Phases of Estrus Cycle

cat pregnancies

Intact female cats or those that have not been spayed may experience their first estrus cycle as early as 5 or 6 months of age.

So you shouldn't be surprised. Felines ovulate as early as this stage because they develop and mature so quickly.

A female cat in heat exhibits more evident signs than that of a pregnant one. So how can you tell if your female kitty is in heat?

Before ovulation, the uterine lining of a female mammal thickens to prepare an environment suitable for the fertilized ova.

As the thickening of the uterine tissue reaches its peak, receptivity is at its highest.

Female mammals are either monestrus or polyestrus. Monestrus only have one heat during a breeding season while polyestrus can have multiple temperatures during the breeding season.

Since cats are polyestrus, they come into heat repeatedly if not impregnated. This usually occurs during warmer months, every three weeks or so.

The estrus cycle in cats has four distinct stages namely:
  • Anestrous: Anestrous is the seasonal cycle when the female kitty does not come into heat, and her ovaries are in the inactive phase. There would be no sexual activity during this period.
  • Proestrus: In this stage, the ovaries become active by producing follicles. This is the period when the queen is coming into heat but is not ready to be bred yet. It usually lasts from 1 to 4 days.During this phase, the queen's vulva slightly enlarges, but there should be no discharges coming from the hormonal changes.The queen starts to manifest changes in behavior such as increased appetite, restlessness and appears to be clingier than before.
  • Estrus: This is the period of the heat cycle in which the queen can get pregnant, and it usually lasts 7 to 10 days. During this stage, the queen becomes more vocal by yowling and crying as if in pain.Urination also becomes more frequent, and she will exhibit odd behaviors such as rolling on the floor and rubbing itself against random things. She will also assume the breeding position by lowering its forelegs to the ground while the rump area is held up high.When the heat reaches its peak, her yowling and cries become more alarming to call tomcats nearby.Although it’s a rare instance, vaginal discharge may occur during the proestrus or estrus stage,
  • Metestrus: The cat will return to her usual self and will not pay attention to the male at this point.The actual breeding occurs during the estrus stage. Since female cats are "induced ovulators," ovulation only takes place during the act of reproduction.To put it just, a female cat that is not bred will not ovulate and will come into heat every 2 to 3 weeks until breeding occurs.

Length of Cat Pregnancy

Length of Pregnancy

How long are cat pregnancies? There is no precise answer to that question because cats are born differently.

Some kittens mature faster than the others. Moreover, some may come into heat earlier or later than what is normal.

That also goes the same in pregnancy. There are female felines that may take a longer time to deliver her litters.

Hence, how long are cat pregnancies? The only answers that we can provide are just estimates.

From fertilization to delivery, feline pregnancy usually takes two months or 9 weeks. That's approximately 63 to 65 days.

After ovulation, signs of pregnancy can only be noticed halfway through the pregnancy.

Approximately around 30 days after ovulation so getting an estimate of how long are cat pregnancies is possible.

What are the Stages of Cat Pregnancy?

Although the progression of your cat’s pregnancy is difficult to trace, the stages in which pregnant cats have to undergo can be clearly described.

To completely answer the question ‘how long are cat pregnancies?’, let’s try to look through the different stages of cat pregnancy.

1. Fertilization

As early as six months old, a female cat already reaches sexual maturity, and she will start going into heat (estrus).

Though some breeds of cats such as the Oriental breeds can reach this stage earlier than other races.

That is why it is recommended to spay or neuter your kittens before they reach sexual maturity.

It is generally safe to spay or neuter kittens as young as eight weeks old.

Intact female kitties are subject to estrus cycle once they reach sexual maturity.

Cats do not ovulate in advance just as humans and dogs do. Eggs are only released for fertilization unless a female cat mates with a chosen male.

Copulations may occur several times during the estrus period. This means that a single litter may have multiple fathers during that time.

Approximately two weeks after ovulation, the kittens may begin to develop in the queen's womb.

2. The early stage of cat pregnancy

Stage of pregnancy

The initial stage of pregnancy takes place starting from the first week after fertilization up to the 3rd week.

Physical signs are barely noticeable, but you'll notice a slight change in her behaviors that other pet owners may consider reasonable.

Your kitty may experience morning sickness and may lose her appetite due to nausea.

This usually happens in the first two weeks of pregnancy and is a good indication of how long cat pregnancies are when you look at the whole timeline.

However, she will regain her appetite and may start eating more in the 3rd week. You may also notice the lumps of her nascent kittens.  

3. The middle stage of cat pregnancy

For the following weeks, you can see the belly getting more prominent as the kittens develop further. 

The size of the stomach depends on how many kittens she's carrying.

During this stage, it’s advisable to take the pregnant kitty to a vet. A thorough veterinary exam can help you determine the current health condition of your pet.

Furthermore, you can request for laboratory tests to determine how many kittens your pet is going to have.

4. Pre-labor

Cat Pre-Labor

The week before the delivery is called pre-labor phase. It is during this stage that the cat's mammary gland as at its most active state. You may even notice milk dripping from her nipples.

She will then start preparing a nest for her kittens by looking for a warm and safe place where she feels comfortable. Offer a nesting box and put it in a place she seems to choose.

Please make sure that the nesting box provides a warm, dark, quiet and comfortable environment where the queen can give birth and raise her kittens.

Two days before the cat goes into labor, you'll notice that she'll stop eating. Please take this as a sign that labor is fast approaching and you have to prepare for it.

5. Labor and delivery

Cat Labor and delivery

When the queen goes into labor, you’ll hear her making noises of discomfort and will frequently lick her genitals.

If it’s her first time going into labor, she may appear agitated and anxious.

Contractions immediately follow when you see the appearance of the amniotic sac. You may also see a discharge of blood.

After labor starts, the cat should deliver her first kitten after 1 hour. You should be mindful of the birthing intervals after that.

Kittens should be delivered every 15 to 20 minutes one after the other.

Typically, the mom cat will lick the newly-born kittens to clean them up. By eating the placentas, she's not only cleaning her kittens, but she also gets the supplemental nutrition she needs.

A cat's placenta is very rich in nutrients that would help the mom cat recover quicker. Even if you think it's disgusting, let the mom cat eat those placentas.

Let the kittens stay with their mother for 8 to 10 weeks until they need to be properly weaned.

A cat's mammary gland can supply milk to the kittens until they're ten weeks old.

After that, a cat’s milk eventually dries out. That’s why it’s important to wean the kittens before this happens.

You may want to consider spaying your cat mother once the kittens are weaned.

Female kitties can get into heat again essentially right after giving birth. As long as the cat is intact, she can mate and get pregnant again.

Having kittens in the house sure is a beautiful thing. However, it's a different story when you have too many of them.

How to Tell If a Cat Is Pregnant

Pregnant cat

It's easy to tell if your girly kitty is in heat. After copulation, be observant and look for the following physical changes:

1. Darkened Nipples

At approximately three weeks after fertilization, the queen's nipples become more extensive and darker in color. 

When the nipples become more visible than before, you should consider that as one of the earliest signs of pregnancy.

In some instances, you may also see some milk discharges.

2. Morning Sickness

This is one of the most common signs of early pregnancy, even in humans. 

Due to hormonal changes, a pregnant cat usually experiences getting sick occasionally. It may include episodes of nausea and vomiting.

Even if you suspect it as an early sign of pregnancy, don’t hesitate to bring your pet to the vet especially if vomiting becomes frequent. 

3. Swollen Abdomen

Cat swollen abdomen

Halfway through the course of pregnancy, the queen starts to develop a rounded, swollen belly. 

Distension in the belly area may be less noticeable in overweight cats. However, they still gain more weight due to pregnancy.

Depending on the number of kittens, a pregnant kitty generally gains 1 to 4 pounds of weight.

4. Nesting

During the pre-labor stage, the expectant mom cat will start looking for a nest. 

She will meticulously search for a safe and quiet place to raise her kittens.

When she finally settles in a particular spot, you can do your part as a supportive owner by offering a nice nesting box.

It doesn't need to be the expensive, commercial type. Using large cardboard, you can build your very own nesting box where the queen can comfortably raise her litters.

5. Positive Ultrasound

Cats positive ultrasound

The most effective way to determine if your cat is pregnant is to get it to the vet and let her undergo laboratory tests.

Ultrasound can detect the presence of kittens in the womb as early as 16 days after fertilization.

However, it cannot precisely count the number of kittens present. X-rays can accurately show how many kittens are inside the womb.

However, this only works after the kitten reaches 40 to 45 days when the skeletons can be visible.

You don’t have to worry about the health hazards brought about by X-ray radiation.

This is generally safe for nascent kittens because the amount of radiation is pretty small.

While you’re at the vet clinic, take the opportunity to discuss with your vet to ensure that the mom and her kittens are safe and healthy.

Seek for some medical advice and ask your vet about the things you need to do all throughout the course of feline pregnancy.

Pregnant Cat Behavior Before Birth

Aside from physical changes, you will also perceive some changes in behavior that indicate that the big day is fast approaching.

On the 6th week, the pregnant cat will start to move with great care. Due to her swollen belly and added weight, her movements will be restricted.

You won’t see her stretching and twisting as usual. If she usually likes exploring the outdoors, she’ll suddenly choose to stay indoors.

Her appetite will continue to increase for the succeeding weeks to supply nutrients for her developing kittens.

When she reaches the pre-labor stage, a week before the delivery, the queen begins to manifest signs of excitement.

During this critical stage, she will feel movements inside her womb as her fetuses will begin to move.

She begins to become more active again and will pace around to look for the best nesting place available.

If you notice that she’s already looking for a nesting place, make sure to keep her indoors all the time. This is to avoid her from choosing a nest outside the house.

Signs of Cats in Labor

Cats in Labor

Two days before the delivery, you’ll notice a drastic increase in the size of the mammary glands. Milky discharge may also be visible.

Moreover, she’ll become restless and show signs of agitation. You can also hear her meowing and yowling at times.

A day before the delivery, she will refuse to eat, and there will be a drop in her normal body temperature.

She'll frequently lick her genitalia due to some fluid discharges. In some cases, discharge of blood may occur.

What To Do Before Labor Begins?

Monitor your kitty's temperature two weeks before the due date. As long as the queen can tolerate it, insert a lubricated rectal thermometer about half an inch up the rectum.

If she shows signs of distress, do not force the rectal thermometer into her.

Instead, use an ear thermometer to take her temperature. However, ear thermometers may not be as accurate as rectal thermometers.

Her body temperature should be between 100̊ F (37.8̊ C) and 102̊ F (39̊ C). If her temperature drops lower than 100̊ F, expect her to deliver the litters in less than 24 hours.

It’s also important to keep an eye on her weight. Pregnant cats usually gain 2 to 4 pounds during pregnancy, which is about 20% of her healthy weight.

See to it that she doesn’t get too fat because labor becomes more difficult when she becomes overweight.

What To Expect During Delivery?

Cats during delivery

When there’s a sudden drop in her body temperature, you should consider it as a sign that the labor is going to start soon.

Her cervix will be dilating but don’t attempt to touch that area. Your cat will experience rapid breathing and will keep her mouth open while yowling loudly.

The queens uterine will begin to contract, and she will respond by lying on her sides.

She will sometimes squat and press downward to push out the kittens.

While the cat is giving birth, please make sure that she is not interrupted or disturbed.

Watch from a distance, preferably from a door that is slightly opened.

During this critical moment, the queen would require a dark and quiet place to give birth.

If you want your children to witness this miracle, instruct them not to make any noise and not to reveal their presence to the queen.

How Long Should You Wait? 

After the onset of labor, the first kitten should arrive within an hour. Sometimes, the first kitten can come just a few minutes after the labor starts.

Other kittens should be delivered within the intervals of 10 minutes to 1 hour in between.

What To Do During Delivery?

Newly-born kittens are covered in amniotic sac – a jelly-like membrane filled with clear fluid. 

The mom cat will immediately lick the kitten to remove the pouch. It's crucial to remove the pouch from the kitten to allow it to breathe.

The mother will start shredding the sac from the kitten’s mouth to stimulate its respiration and circulation.

Although it’s a rare occurrence, if the mother can’t remove the sac no matter how she forces it, you’ll need to lend a hand and do it for her.

Use a soft towel to rub the amniotic sac off the kitten. However, please make sure to rub it gently because kittens are very delicate.

The mom will also chew off the umbilical cord after each delivery. In case she forgets to do this, you'll need to cut off the wire with a string or dental floss and snip it about an inch long.

Observe from a distance but don't hesitate to come forward when you need to.

It's probable that the mother may be too busy licking the sac from the kitten that she forgets to chew off the umbilical cord.

Alternatively, the queen may go into labor right after giving birth, and she doesn't have time to remove the obstructing membrane from her kitten.

This is when you need to step forward and assist her in taking care of her infants.

Furthermore, the mother will immediately start nursing the kitten before the next one arrives.

In case she didn’t have time to nurse the kitten, gently lift the kitten and place it on one of the mother’s nipples.

Mothering the kitten will also help let down the milk. When the kitten sips the milk from her nipples, it will stimulate her uterus to contract further.

As a result, you may see either a greenish or reddish discharge from the vagina. She may lick the fluid discharge, and that's only normal.

However, if you notice that the mother is doing well and doesn’t need any help, the let her do it by herself.

These actions are a form of bonding between the mother and her kittens. By licking and nursing, the mother accepts and recognizes the kitten as her infant.

Delivery usually takes 2 to 6 hours until the last kitten is delivered. If the process extends to 7 hours, it is highly recommended to call the vet.

Also, take note of the birthing intervals between the kittens. If the mother is still in labor and the kitten isn't expelled for more than 1 hour, it is best to call the veterinarian for medical assistance.

Additionally, watch out for the possibility of a kitten getting stuck in the birth canal.

If a kitten stays in the birth canal for more than 15 minutes, the pressure will obstruct the umbilical cord, and the kitten may be deprived of oxygen.

The kitten can be seen protruding from the vagina, grasp the kitten with a clean towel and gently pull it at a slight downward angle.

Remember to remove the kitten by the hips or shoulders and not by the head or legs. If you’re not so sure of the procedure, contact the vet immediately.

However, in case everything goes smoothly well, slowly approach their nest and let the mother be aware of your presence.

You can now clean up the mess she left behind. This is to ensure that their nest is clean and conducive to raising kittens.

Place their sources of food and water (food bowl and water bowl) near the mother.

This is because the mother will not leave her kittens for the first two days.

What To Do After Delivery?

Cats after delivery

The mother will spend 70% of her time nursing her kittens in their nest. Keep a comfortable temperature in the room – not too hot and not too cold – so the kittens can regulate normal body temperature for their first six days.

For the next ten days after giving birth, the mother may exhibit bloody discharges from time to time.

If bloody discharges persist beyond ten days and it gives off a strong odor, that's when you need to be concerned.

Taking your pet to the vet may be the best option if this happens.

To Spay or Not to Spay?

Now that you already know how long are cat pregnancies, you've probably wanted to experience the wonder of it.

Also, if you've experienced firsthand how to witness and manage feline pregnancy, you've probably had second thoughts whether or not you want to experience it again.

Raising and taking care of kittens is quite challenging. Some pet owners are even left with no choice but to put some of their kittens up for adoption.

This is the wisest decision if you can no longer handle so many kittens in the house.

The best way to stop your girly kitty from getting pregnant is for her to undergo a spay surgery in which her ovaries and uterus are surgically removed.

Through spaying, we can help reduce the number of feral cats that are otherwise abandoned due to feline overpopulation.

Kittens can be safely spayed and neutered as early as eight weeks old. However, even adult cats can be spayed to prevent accidental pregnancies.

Conclusion

How long are cat pregnancies? Understanding the length of feline pregnancy can help you distinguish a healthy pregnancy from a detrimental one.

How long are cat pregnancies varies? Just like humans, pregnancy progresses over distinct stages that can be indicated by apparent signs such as physical and behavioral changes.

However, unlike humans, whose course of pregnancy lasts up to 9 months, feline pregnancy only takes two months starting from fertilization to delivery.

If you’ve confirmed that your kitty is expecting kittens, there are several things that you can do to ease and facilitate her pregnancy.

This includes providing a well-balanced diet to your queen to ensure that she's getting sufficient nutrients for her and her developing kittens.

It’s also important to have your queen undergo medical exams to make sure that there are no underlying health issues that may adversely affect her pregnancy.

Furthermore, the most important thing that a mother needs is a safe and comfortable place to deliver and raise her kittens.

Be vigilant and look for a pregnant cat behavior before birth that indicates that labor and delivery are going to happen soon.

So when the time comes, observe for visible signs of cats in labor. Make sure to watch the queen while giving birth discreetly.

Although our feline companions are self-sufficient and independent by nature, there are certain things that you can do to help her during delivery.

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