A pregnant cat is known as a "queen". Pregnancy in cats (also known as the gestation period) typically lasts between 60-67 days (or 9 weeks), but can last as long as 70 days. Unlike humans, there are no pregnancy tests available to determine if your cat is pregnant.
First things first, a female cat may be capable of becoming pregnant as young as four months of age, so if you are not planning to become a breeder, she should be spayed around this time, if not earlier. The "mating season" starts as the weather warms up, typically September to April in the Southern Hemisphere and February to September in the Northern Hemisphere.
Signs that a female is coming into heat (and ready to mate) include extreme friendliness, rolling on the floor, yowling, rubbing against objects, positioning herself in the mating position when petted. This behaviour can last between 3 - 20 days. If she is not mated, she will repeat this cycle several times during the breeding season. If you believe your female has come into heat, keep her locked indoors. If she is given the opportunity to mate, she will, even with a sibling or parent (a cat in heat isn't fussy).
So, what are the signs of pregnancy in cats?
- Some cats may experience morning sickness early in the pregnancy, including being less interested in food and occasionally vomiting.
- Increased appetite, especially as the pregnancy progresses. This typically begins around the third week of pregnancy. A pregnant cat's nutritional needs will increase, particularly later in the pregnancy. There is more information on feeding the pregnant cat here.
- You may notice behavioural changes in your cat, she may become more affectionate.
- She may sleep more.
- Around 18-21 days, the nipples will be visibly swollen and rose coloured, this is known as "pinking up".
- By three weeks her belly will have become noticeably larger.
- Around three weeks gestation, your veterinarian will be able to perform an ultrasound on your cat to determine if she is pregnant.
- At this time, he can also carefully palpitate the abdomen and feel the developing fetuses. Please do not attempt this at home.
- In the later stages of pregnancy, the queen will look for a "nest" in which she can deliver and care for her kittens. This is usually a warm, quiet spot such as in a wardrobe or under furniture.
- The mammary glands (breasts) will start producing milk towards the end of the pregnancy.
Pregnant cats need lots of extra care. Make sure that she is kept comfortable. Be diligent in keeping her litter tray clean, if you have a high sided litter tray, it may help to switch to one with lower sides, particularly at the end of the pregnancy when moving around can be a bit more difficult. Make sure her nutritional requirements are met and she should be provided with fresh, clean water at all times. Keep her stress free.
Ideally, the queen should be checked by a veterinarian prior to mating, she should be in excellent health, free of parasites and up to date on her vaccinations. If you think she may be pregnant, she should be seen by a veterinarian to make sure she is healthy and well.