Before you start contemplating what to do, the first big question is…
Is she actually pregnant?
Watch for changes in her behaviour. Many females’ behaviour changes obviously over her heat cycle, usually about three weeks long. If that behaviour pattern suddenly changes, it could mean she is pregnant.
Check her nipples. They will become swollen and prominent at around three weeks into pregnancy and remain that way. A reliable early sign.
Watch her eating and weight. Pregnant cats start eating more. They will be eating 25-50% more by the end of the pregnancy. She will gain weight, at the rate of about 10% per week of pregnancy. This should be obvious by about week five. The extra weight will be carried low in her tummy, unlike the general plumpness of an obese cat.
Watch how much she sleeps. She will be sleeping more than usual if she is pregnant.
You can tell by touch, if you know what you are doing. Experienced breeders and vets can often tell by gently feeling her tummy after the first few weeks.
Have an ultrasound. As early as a few weeks into the pregnancy, signs will be come visible in a scan. Done later in the pregnancy it can often predict the number of kittens and if they are likely to be born alive.
By blood test. A vet can perform a blood test three to four weeks after mating to confirm signs you have already noticed.
Millions of unwanted kittens worldwide become feral or have to be destroyed. If a litter cannot be cared for or found a responsible home, it is not too late for a termination and desexing, even fairly late in pregnancy.
Once you have decided to go ahead with the pregnancy, there are a few things you’ll need to know.
How can I prepare?
The good news is that cats are mostly pretty good at managing their pregnancy and birth – but there are some things you can do to help.
Know the timeline. Cat pregnancies last about nine weeks. Almost all kittens are delivered between 61 and 72 days after conception.
Be disease-free. Pregnant cats and newborn kittens are especially prone to common feline infections. Diseases are spread by close contact so cats are best housed in groups of three or four where infection can be controlled. Any new additions to the group should be quarantined for two to three weeks to avoid introducing diseases. Keep up regular health treatments but check because some vaccinations are not suitable during pregnancy.
Feed her well with good quality nutritious food.
Watch out for signs of obesity. If she is becoming fat all over, rather than just in her belly it is likely to be obesity. Obesity in pregnant cats is a serous health concern.
Worm her. Do it about a week before birth to avoid infecting kittens with roundworm.
Watch out for signs of nesting behaviour. If she starts seeking out secluded and comfortable spaces this can show that the birth may be coming soon.
Prepare a warm, secure, private space where she can be discretely observed by you. Make it cosy but with sufficient room to have access to her if you need to intervene. If she does not choose to use the space you’ve prepared, best to respect her choice.
Have a scan. Not strictly necessary but it can predict problems and will tell you how many kittens to expect come the day of birth.
Know emergency vet numbers and locations. In the unlikely event that something does go wrong it will save time to have the number of your regular vet and a 24hr vet close at hand.
Watch for her pre-labour fast. Cats will often stop eating about 24 hours before going into labour, a good warning prepare yourself.
This article is for general information only. If you have any doubts or difficulties, your vet is your best source of information and support for your cat during her pregnancy.
NEXT WEEK, in part two, The birth and after care.
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