How to Tell If a Cat Is Pregnant: Signs of Pregnancy in Cats · The Wildest

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How to Tell if a Cat is Pregnant

Are kittens on the way? Here’s how to find out

by Dr. Bartley Harrison, DVM
19 January 2024
Mom cat and her kittens.
Esin Deniz / Shutterstock

Here’s a question: are you about to have a bunch of tiny new family members running around the house in the form of fuzzy kittens? There are some key things to look for if you’re wondering if your cat is pregnant.

A pregnant cat will gain weight steadily throughout her pregnancy. Her nipples will also become rosy-pink and more prominent. She may also become more affectionate or withdrawn or start nesting. The best way to confirm pregnancy is to take your cat to the vet for a physical exam and imaging. With proper care, your pregnant cat should have a healthy and uneventful pregnancy.

Signs of pregnancy in cats

Many cat pregnancies are a surprise to their parents. Pregnancy is possible in any intact female cat who has recently been adopted, goes outside, or has been around an unneutered male cat (even for a short time). It can be difficult to tell if your cat is pregnant at home, but there are some signs of pregnancy in cats that may tip you off.

What are the physical symptoms of pregnancy in cats?

Pregnancy signs in cats are often vague early on. Despite steady weight gain, many cats look the same as usual up to halfway through their pregnancy. Subtle symptoms can include decreased appetite, nausea, or vomiting. This is inconsistent though, because some cats will show an increase in appetite due to rising energy requirements as the foetuses develop.

The amount of weight gained varies from cat to cat, and some cats can put on over 50 percent of their baseline body weight during pregnancy. It can be difficult to tell if all that weight gain is due to the growing foetuses or if your cat is just piling on the pounds (or both). Tracking your cat’s weight and body condition with your veterinarian can help you to notice these changes before unexpected problems develop. Obese cats have an increased risk of stillbirths and difficult labour.

Other physical symptoms of pregnancy in cats include:

  • Prominent nipples: a cat’s normally near-invisible nipples will become more prominent and elongate to give nursing kittens a better hold.

  • Mammary gland enlargement: cats tend to not lactate prior to birthing kittens, but some mammary gland enlargement may be noted very late in the pregnancy.

  • Round belly: in the second half of the pregnancy, progressive enlargement of a cat’s abdomen will become more evident. This may not be as obvious in cats with obesity or long coats.

What are the behavioural symptoms of pregnancy in cats?

A change in cat behaviour during pregnancy is expected. Most cats become more affectionate early in the pregnancy, though some can become standoffish. Decreased friendliness may be more common in cats who are experiencing nausea in the first few weeks of pregnancy. Nesting behaviour is also common in pregnant cats, especially as their due date approaches.

Nesting behaviour can take many forms. Some outdoor cats may begin to prefer staying in or near the house rather than roaming. Indoor cats can be seen poking around the house to find a warm, clean, quiet area where they feel safe. Setting up a nesting box for your pregnant kitty can be helpful, but she may choose to set up shop in an entirely different area. Cats are just like that, try not to be too offended.

Can I confirm my cat is pregnant at home?

If you’ve noticed behaviour changes and an expanding waistline, you may wonder how to tell if your female cat is pregnant at home. Until you actually see kittens coming out, it can be hard to confirm that your cat is pregnant at home with any certainty.

A few weeks into her pregnancy, your cat will develop enlarged segments of her uterus that will expand over time. It is not recommended to feel for this at home for a few reasons:

  • Finding the uterus is difficult in large or obese cats, cats with a full bladder, and cats who resent having their bellies touched.

  • If you’re not trained to palpate a cat’s abdomen, it’s difficult to differentiate a poo-filled colon, bladder or kidneys from an enlarged uterus.

  • Squeezing on the uterus too hard can cause damage to it or the foetuses.

The best solution is to get your cat checked out by a veterinarian if you think she may be pregnant. They’ll want to know some basic information about your cat’s behaviour, normal appearance, possible exposure to male cats, and last heat cycle.

How do vets confirm pregnancy in cats?

Veterinarians can tell if a cat is pregnant using one of three methods. Each method has its pros and cons, so your vet may recommend different tests depending on the time since your cat’s last heat or breeding. A pregnancy check always starts with a physical examination to make sure there are no other obvious health issues.

Radiographs (X-rays) can detect changes in the uterus starting 17 to 21 days after breeding. Despite the potential for early recognition, radiographs are not recommended until 40 days after breeding to limit radiation exposure early in development. Even if pregnancy is confirmed earlier, taking radiographs after 40 days may be recommended to count the number of foetuses present.

Blood tests can show hormone changes associated with foetal and placental development. There are tests available for relaxin, which is a hormone produced by the placenta. This blood test has the most accurate results if it’s done four weeks after your cat mates.

Ultrasonography requires a skilled operator and quality equipment to accurately diagnose pregnancy early in gestation. Changes to the uterus can be seen within a week of breeding, and evidence of foetal blood flow may be apparent in as little as 15 days. Ultrasonography isn’t perfect because evidence of pregnancy can be missed if the uterus is hidden behind or confused with intestines.

How long is a cat’s gestation period?

Cat pregnancy length does not vary much. Over 95 percent of births occur within 61 to 70 days of breeding. The usual time that is quoted is 65 days, plus or minus one day. If the date of breeding is not known, testing may be able to help determine approximately how far along your cat is.

How do I know what stage of pregnancy my cat is in?

The stages of pregnancy are not as well-defined in cats as they are in humans. This doesn’t mean that your veterinarian can’t tell about how long your cat has been pregnant, though. There are a few different landmarks that can give a good idea of how long the foetuses have been developing and when they should make an appearance.

Hormone levels can give an idea of how far along your cat is, but they require repeat testing to determine which hormones are increasing, when they plateau, and when they start to decrease. Ultrasound is the best way to determine the age of a foetus. Some common ultrasound landmarks include:

  • Enlargement of the uterus (day four)

  • Visible gestational chambers in the uterus (day 10)

  • Foetal heart activity (days 16–17)

  • Distinguishable foetus (day 26)

  • Foetal movement (day 28)

  • Defined foetal heart chambers (day 50)

Combining these findings with measurements of the size of the gestational sac (early in pregnancy) or diametre of the foetal skull (late in pregnancy) can give a reasonably good idea of the expected date of birth.

What is the best way to care for a pregnant cat?

Pregnant cats don’t require too much extra care. Your veterinarian will use your cat’s medical history to know if she needs any additional medications. Veterinarians will commonly recommend good flea control and deworming to prevent anaemia in the kittens and mother. Cats who are intentionally bred should be fully up to date on vaccinations prior to breeding, but vaccination is not recommended during pregnancy due to risks to the foetus.

Other ways to support your pregnant cat include:

  • Feed a high-quality diet. A ‘growth’ diet is often recommended due to its higher nutrient density, which is useful during foetal development and lactation after birth.

  • Provide a quiet, comfortable place to nest. Cats will want to pick out a safe place to deliver before the time comes.

  • Avoid outdoor roaming. This could increase the risk of complications, such as parasites and viral diseases. Pregnant cats are also slower and may have trouble avoiding dangers.

  • Check in with your vet regularly. Your veterinarian can monitor foetal development, watch out for health issues, and make sure your cat is maintaining an appropriate weight.

How do I know that my cat is ready to give birth?

Cats usually begin seeking a nesting area about a week before birth. This area will usually be away from people and other pets. You can set up some soft bedding and barriers to see if this helps.

A few hours to a couple of days before birth, your cat will begin to seem restless. This can involve increased vocalisation, grooming, pacing, panting, or even vomiting. This will generally be done in or around the nesting area and is considered the first stage of labour. During this time, milder uterine contractions and cervical dilation are occurring.

Once this process has started, don’t try to move your cat to a different nesting area or start handling her more. Your cat has picked her spot and is going through the expected pre-birth routine. Interrupting this could throw her off and delay delivery.

What can I expect during the birthing process?

Birthing starts with the second stage of labour. During this time, the uterine contractions become stronger and are accompanied by abdominal pushing. Kittens are produced during this stage, usually 30 minutes to an hour apart. Cats can stop their labour for up to a day if they feel stressed or are interrupted. It’s best to leave them to their business and not get involved unless there is a problem. The third stage of labour often happens at the same time as the second. It involves the expulsion of the foetal membranes and placenta, which the mother may eat.

Strong contractions without production of a kitten within 60 minutes or vaginal bleeding are abnormal. If either of these are noted, intervene and take your cat to a veterinarian as soon as possible.

How many kittens can I expect my cat to have?

Most cats have litters between one and five kittens in size. Kitten mortality rates are fairly high, between 14 and 16 percent, so unfortunately it’s not uncommon to have a kitten pass away before the two-month mark. Watchful pet parents and good veterinary care can help, though. Watch to make sure everyone is nursing and gaining weight, and act quickly if you feel a kitten is falling behind.

Frequently asked questions

Is it safe for my pregnant cat to continue her vaccinations and flea treatments?

It’s always best to follow your veterinarian’s advice for your specific cat. Flea treatments are usually continued during pregnancy, but vaccines are generally pushed back until after delivery to prevent complications.

What should I feed my pregnant cat?

Pregnant cats are often fed a ‘growth’ diet intended for rapidly growing kittens. This may not be necessary for the whole pregnancy, but it becomes more important during the final weeks of rapid growth and during lactation.

When can I start noticing signs of pregnancy in my cat?

Signs like increased affection may be apparent in the first couple of weeks of pregnancy. A visibly enlarged abdomen is often not obvious until four to six weeks into the pregnancy.


Dr. Bartley Harrison holding his dog

Dr. Bartley Harrison, DVM

Dr. Bartley Harrison, DVM is a small animal veterinarian based in North Carolina who has practiced emergency medicine since graduating from the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine. His primary interest areas include pain management, cardiology, and the treatment of shock.

He is a member of the Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Society, American Veterinary Medical Association, and American Medical Writers Association. In addition to his clinical work, he writes pet health articles to help provide accurate information for both new and experienced pet parents. When he’s not working, he enjoys cooking, traveling, reading, and going on adventures with his dog.

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