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Spotting the signs of pregnancy

Cats become pregnant very easily. Pregnancy can occur whenever the female is in heat, which takes place several times a year from Spring to Autumn. Remember to have your cat neutered if you do not plan to breed from her. As no obvious outward changes take place in the pregnant cat during the first few weeks, you won’t see any real difference to begin with. After around two to three weeks, however, you should be able to spot the telltale signs of pregnancy. All pregnancies, planned or unplanned, should be discussed with your vet.

Signs of pregnancy

  • A pregnant queen will not show signs of heat, although this is not a guarantee of pregnancy, merely a sign that ovulation has occurred; cats can suffer pseudopregnancy (false pregnancy).
  • After approximately 15-18 days, the nipples may become enlarged and red, which is known as ‘pinking-up’.
  • A pregnant queen may also go through a stage of being sick occasionally. Although this may be a form of ‘morning sickness’ it is important to consult your vet if it is frequent, persistent or she is at all unwell in any other way.
  • Your cat will gradually gain between one and two kilograms, depending on the number of kittens. This is a strong indication that she is pregnant. Pregnancy can be accurately diagnosed by ultrasound after as few as 15 days (with a skilled operator), with hearts seen beating from 17 days, and a vet can determine the number of kittens by X-ray after 40 days.
  • The abdomen will start to swell, but avoid touching it so you don't risk damaging the unborn kittens. There are other causes of a swollen abdomen so monitor your cat closely for any signs of illness and consult your vet if you are concerned,
  • Your cat's behaviour may become ‘maternal’ and she may begin to purr a lot. Some cats also tend to have an increased appetite later in their pregnancy.
  • Your vet can do hormonal tests to assess for pregnancy.

Signs of impending labour/active labour

  • When birth (parturition) is imminent, she may refuse food, act unsettled and might start looking for a suitably quiet place in which to give birth. If you are concerned, discuss your cat’s behaviour with your vet.
  • The first sign of labour is a temperature drop in the mother to around 37.8°C which can happen during the 12 hours before labour starts. However, if taking the queen’s temperature causes her stress then do not keep trying.
  • The queen may vocalise and appear agitated, washing herself constantly.
  • You should then see the abdomen contracting and a vaginal discharge before kittens appear! If the discharge is heavy and black or blood-coloured then you should contact your vet.,
  • If you are worried about your cat during labour, always consult your vet.

The average feline pregnancy lasts between 63 and 67 days, but can vary from 61 up to as much as 72 days, and it can be hard to know the exact length of gestation as they may mate several times. If you suspect your cat is pregnant, you should take the mother-to-be to your vet to confirm the pregnancy. Once there, the vet should be able to advise you on nutrition and care of the mother and kittens. If the pregnancy is unplanned, take your cat to the vet as soon as you can as it is possible to neuter her whilst pregnant. Of course if you do not want your cat to get pregnant then have her neutered as soon as possible.

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