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What to do with a pregnant cat to ensure a healthy feline pregnancy

There are pretty much only two reactions we see at our vet hospital to the idea of a feline pregnancy – one of joy from a breeder or one of worry from a concerned pet owner or citizen.

Unwanted kittens are problematic in our society. They cause people to freak out and even the best owners can end up in situations they regret.

At Fox Valley Animal Hospital, we support the desexing of family pets. We also run a kitten and cat rehoming program, evidence of which you can see at the vet clinic or on Facebook. We also support numerous animal charities including the Mini Kitty Commune.

Here’s your guide to a healthy pregnant cat and understanding the changes within

A female feline in heat

The first step in dealing with feline pregnancy is confirming it. Prior to pregnancy, your cat will have to go on heat. Any cat from 6 months of age onwards is generally able to physically go on heat. Some may take as long as a year, depending on breed and circumstance. Therefore, if you want to avoid an unwanted cat pregnancy, you should desex prior to 6 months of age where possible.

When on heat, a female feline may seem more agitated and restless than usual. She may also scream and caterwaul, attempting to attract male suitors. She could also be listless and aggressive. She may also fight.

As a vet hospital, we feel it is super important that you understand that getting your cat desexed saves you and her a whole lot of stress and problems. We have spoken about this in a previous blog but to give you an idea, a pregnant cat has increased risk of injury, cancer and general health issues. Please think very seriously about whether you should leave a female cat intact.

Is your cat pregnant?

Signs of feline pregnancy begin to show at about 3 weeks. You may have seen some changes in mood and behaviour. This will often come through in more active mewing, territorial behaviour and signs of nesting.

Your cat will physically change as well. For example, nipples can change shape, colour and size. This is in the early stages.

Left longer, you may see a thickening of your cat’s mid-section. The body can also get bigger in the carrying area as the kittens grow.

Cat pregnancy lasts about 9 weeks, so you will see signs emerge rapidly.

Once a cat is very pregnant, she’s unmistakably large and will feature a distended belly and a strong desire to sleep.

For the health of the kittens and your cat, please bring your pet in as soon as you suspect feline pregnancy. We will need to perform an ultrasound to confirm the pregnancy and check on the health of mother and kittens.

Proper cat nutrition is vital

feline pregnancy

Photo via Unsplash by Q’aila

Another reason to visit with our vet clinic is to obtain the right food. With the average kitten litter ranging from 4 cats to 12, your momma cat will be eating for several hungry mouths.

She’ll need the right balance of nutrition to be able to ensure her health and the health of her kittens. This is not something you can get from a standard supermarket diet.

Her weight will increase by up to 40% and her energy consumption will be up by 70%. And it will begin to show dramatically through pregnancy anabolism, a process where the body readies fat stores to help support the needs of the growing kittens within.

Even after the kittens are born, your cat will have about 30-20% extra weight for feeding her kittens.

During gestation and lactation, your cat will need a focus on nutrients such as protein and lactose, fat, calcium and phosphorus. Fortunately, we stock Royal Canin and this kind of feline pregnancy nutrition is standard as part of their range.

Pregnant cats need stress reduction and safe birthing places

A pregnant cat is a lot like any pregnant being- she needs safe, warm and stress-free environments. It’s important to create warm, soft bedding away from noise, children and other pets.

It’s also best to ensure she has a safe birthing area ready. She may start nesting and steal objects from around the house. She could look for cosy, warm and soft places to hide, away from direct eyelines. It’s important to ensure your cat has a place she feels she can birth in case she chooses an impractical place instead.

For example, cats have been known to birth under houses, behind whitegoods, in laundry baskets and all kinds of places because they are out of the way and warm. However, these places have their own risk factors when it comes time for the kittens to move or simply by design. For example, a cat and her kittens nesting in the base of a whitegoods in a laundry are at danger of injury or electrocution. Or you may want that pile of laundry clothes back! Perhaps you don’t want small kittens taking their first step under the house and risking their safety.

That’s why helping your cat make a good choice for her birthing area is smart. A basket or cardboard box that is easy to get in and out of with fresh linen, old towels and comfy material makes an ideal setting. Using materials that allow her to bite, scratch and move about during the labour process will help her sense of wellbeing.

Monitoring a healthy feline pregnancy

Like all pregnancies, cat pregnancies can come with risks. As soon as you suspect your cat is pregnant, please bring her to Fox Valley Animal Hospital. We’ll want to check on your cat’s health, monitor the kittens and check the due date. We’ll also want to make sure you cat is free from parasites and fleas that may impact the pregnancy. Ensuring your female cat is of solid weight and good health is vital to the health of her kittens.

Beyond looking at your cat’s health and determining when the kittens will be born, you will also need to monitor the pregnancy.

If you see any of the following signs or behaviours, please bring your cat in straight away-

  • A loss of appetite or failure to drink – your cat is eating and drinking for her kittens as well as herself, so she needs to sustain regular eating and drinking patterns to remain strong. Changes to eating habits do happen throughout pregnancy so it’s a good idea to watch and report any changes to our vet nurses
  • If your cat attempts to urinate but doesn’t pass any fluid or the fluid is minimal. Passing urine without issue is a strong indicator of feline health, so changing to urination patterns should always be investigated by a vet
  • If your cat is licking her vulva excessively and/or showing signs of pain, itching or distress in her vaginal area as this may be pointing to infection or some form of discomfort or distress
  • Vaginal discharge during feline pregnancy and/or labour can also be a sign of ill-health or infection. If you notice discolouration or odour, please make an appointment immediately to see a vet

When it’s time for your cat to deliver

When ready to deliver her kittens, your cat will look for a secluded spot where she is free from noise, through traffic and prying eyes. She’ll become less active and more likely to sleep the day away. Her body temperature will drop, and she’ll often lick her genitals and belly in preparation for the kitten’s arrival.

Most cats take approximately 36 hours from the start to complete the first stage of labour. This time may be shorter if she has had kittens before.

In most cases, your vet will tell you whether birthing at home or in our vet clinic is a better option. Some labours may be fine to be performed at home, others may require assistance. This is part of having vet checks throughout the pregnancy, so we can monitor the state of the kittens and the mother to make sound, safe choices.

Regardless of the situation, your pregnant cat will pant, make noise, scratch, move about and even bite during the labour process. As her contractions become closer together, these behaviours will also increase. Your cat is attempting to reduce pain and discomfort with this kind of behaviour, a lot like how women will make sound and pant during contractions. So please, allow them the opportunity to enact this behaviour.

From here, it’s time to birth kittens. The kittens will be cleaned by the mother as each birth and she will take the time to chew the cord from the placenta with each kitten born. It takes about half an hour to deliver a single kitten, so depending on how many kittens she has depends on how long the labour will go.

Make sure you keep an eye on a labour if it is happening at home. While you usually won’t need to aid your cat in any way and it is better that you leave her to the process, issues can arise.

Issues where you should contact our vet clinic include:

  • If your cat is straining for longer than half an hour without a kitten being born
  • If there are significant gaps between kittens being birthed of 40 minutes or more
  • If you notice the mother is not chewing the cords or cleaning the fluid from her kittens
  • if you notice stillborn kittens or excessive blood
  • Issues with birthing where it looks like the mother is tiring or struggling
  • Needing to assist your cat remove the kittens – e.g. seeming like they are stuck half way
  • Greenish or other strange coloured afterbirth
  • If the process is taking longer than 4 to 6 hours

It’s vital as soon as you notice irregularities in a birthing process to contact a vet clinic and make suitable arrangements.

Need more advice and support with a feline pregnancy or advice on how to avoid one? Contact Fox Valley Animal Hospital today!

About the Author
Owner and Vet Alex Brittan, Vet Katie Syms and the team of Fox Valley Animal Hospital pride themselves on quality service. Fox Valley Animal Hospital is the one you choose for your family pet when the care your animal receives really matters.