Did you know that it's possible for kittens of the same litter to have different fathers? This is why you might see sibling cats with different coat colours and patterns. In this section you can find lots of information regarding cat mating, pregnancy and what signs to look out for during pregnancy that might indicate that something is wrong.
A mother cat cleaning her kitten's coat
Cat mating season is generally from March to September in the northern hemisphere and October to March in the southern hemisphere, however it can be all year round. A female can be in heat for 1-2 weeks and the heat cycle can repeat every 2-3 weeks. A female cat in heat (also known as a queen) will be very vocal, may be more affectionate, will roam to find a mate, or rub up against furniture, other cats, and humans. If you are wanting to breed from your pedigree cat it is very important you keep her inside when she is in heat to prevent her mating with stray tomcats.
When two cats want to mate the female will show her willingness by crouching down low and treading her back paws with her tail pulled to the side. The male cat will mount her and bite her neck. Ejaculation is very quick, typically occurring within 15-30 seconds. The female cat will yowl loudly as the barbs on the males penis will cause her pain. She may even turn to attack the male. After mating the female will seem very agitated and will roll and thrash around. This is normal behaviour. The whole mating process can take between 30 seconds to 4 minutes. A female can mate up to 30 times during one estrous cycle.
How Do I Know If My Cat Is Pregnant?
If you haven’t had your cat neutered it is fairly likely she will become pregnant at some point unless you keep her inside constantly. There are some cat pregnancy signs you can look out for to tell if she might be pregnant.
Your cat will not show signs of heat when you would usually expect her to, although this may not always be the case. If your cat has been in heat and has been outside, pregnancy could be very likely. At 15-18 days into her pregnancy your cat's nipples will become enlarged, and red. You will notice her swollen abdomen. She may have more of an appetite, and you may notice nesting behaviour. She will find a quiet place, usually a cupboard or under a bed, and make a nest. Your cat may also display maternal behaviours such as more purring than usual and she may be more affectionate.
A pregnant cat sitting outside on the snow
How To Look After A Pregnant Cat
If you suspect your cat could be pregnant you should take her to the vets. The vet can determine if she is pregnant by an ultrasound scan or more commonly abdominal palpation or hormone tests. During pregnancy your cat's appetite will increase by 50% so you will need to provide more food for her. This increase in appetite usually occurs in her third trimester (42 days). This is also when you visibly notice she is pregnant. It is at this time you will need to change her food. Pregnant cats will need more protein in their diet so it is advised you feed her food with a higher protein content such as kitten food.
It is important to make sure your cat doesn’t pass on worms to her kittens via her milk. If she has been wormed recently then she will probably still be protected. But if she hasn’t been wormed recently you may want to worm her. You will need to obtain worming treatment from the vet as some treatment may not be suitable for a pregnant cat. You shouldn’t administer anything to your cat without seeking your vets advice, as it may harm her kittens.
How To Look After A Cat In Labour
Surprisingly you might not even be there to witness your cat’s birth. You might wake up to find a whole litter of clean and healthy kittens being nursed by their proud mother. If you can, its better for you cat if you can monitor her during labour in case something goes wrong, but she should be able to manage her labour and kittens by herself and you shouldn’t intervene unless you are certain something has gone wrong.
Labour is broken up into 3 stages. Speak to your vet for advice on what to expect and how to manage a birth prior to your cat going into labour.
The first stage usually lasts 12-36 hours. This stage is the ‘going into labour’ stage. Signs of this stage include restlessness, pacing, vocalisation, excessive grooming, or panting. A lot of the time this stage will pass by without you noticing.
This stage of birth is when your cat gives birth to her kittens. Her contractions will build and become more frequent usually with intervals of 2-3 minutes. The amniotic fluid will come through first and then active straining will begin. It will be around 30 minutes to an hour before the first kitten emerges. The kittens can be born head first or rear paws first. Once the head is out your cat should take an additional 1 or 2 strains before the kitten is out.
After the kitten is born the mother will break the sac, chew the umbilical cord, and begin to clean her kittens. The placenta will pass after each kitten. You should count each kitten and each placenta to ensure there isn’t a placenta left in your cat which could cause an infection. If you believe there is a placenta yet to be passed you should contact your vet. There is usually a 30-45 minute wait until the next kitten is born. The mother will usually eat the placentas as a placenta is full of nutrients and hormones that she needs to replace.
Tips For How You Can Help During Labour
If your cat is having to strain more than 2 or 3 times to give birth to a kitten (once its head has emerged) she may need some assistance. You can gently pull downwards on the kitten.
If your cat doesn’t break the sac, then using a towel you can rub the kitten to break the membrane and dry them. After you have done this place the kitten by the mother's mouth so she can clean it.
If you have to help your cat, make sure that you have thoroughly washed your hands. Putting your scent on your cat’s newborn kitten might make your cat feel threatened, and in extreme cases this can cause her to reject the kitten. Remember, always keep your phone handy so you can quickly call the vet if you need to.
Signs To Look For That Indicate Something Has Gone Wrong
- Your cat has been straining for an hour and no kitten has emerged.
- A kitten becomes stuck and won’t easily slide out with your help.
- Excessive bloody or green discharge.
- The first kitten has appeared but no further kittens have appeared after an hour.
- The first stage has lasted longer than 24 hours without any signs of straining.
If you observe any of the above you should contact your vet immediately for advice.
You should leave your cat to clean up and feed her kittens. It shouldn’t be necessary to handle the kittens at this point, so mother and kittens should be left to rest. Keep an eye on them for any signs that something is wrong such as your cat ignoring her kittens. If this is the case you should contact your vet immediately.
How Many Kittens Will My Cat Have?
The average number of kittens per litter is 4-6. A cat can have an average of 3 litters a year. So your cat could have up to or more than 18 kittens a year.
A littler of black and white kittens outside on some rocks
When Should I Wean Kittens?
The weaning process starts at 4 weeks and kittens are usually fully weaned at 10 weeks. Allow your mother cat to take care of the weaning process on her own. All you need to do is provide solid food for the kittens and maybe some gentle encouragement.
At the start of the weaning process you should introduce solid food by mixing it with replacer kitten milk (which you can buy at pet stores) to make a runny gruel like mixture. At first your kittens will probably not understand and will play with the food making all sorts of mess, but eventually they will understand. Gradually reduce the amount of milk you mix their food with until you no longer have to mix it with milk. You should also provide a bowl of water next to the bowl of food.
When Can My Kittens Go To Their New Homes?
The minimum age that your kittens can go to new homes is 8 weeks. Kittens learn a lot from their mother and littermates such as social skills and how to use the litterbox.
Reputable breeders usually don’t let their kittens go to new home before 12 weeks. This ensures they are fully weaned, litter trained, and socialized.
Do I Need To Vaccinate My Kittens Before Selling Them?
Kittens need their first vaccinations when they reach 8 weeks old. Always make sure that you get them vaccinated before they go to their new homes.
For more information on the vaccinations kittens need read here. If you are unsure which vaccinations your kittens need, contact and have a discussion with your vet who will be able to tell you which vaccinations they need.