Pregnancy – Reproduction

The length of pregnancy in the cat is between fifty-six and seventy-one days, but the average length is sixty-five days. The mean litter size of the domestic cat in the United States is 3.88 kittens (only statisticians have ever seen 0.88 of a kitten!). Larger cats tend to have more kittens in a litter.

It is known that more eggs are ovulated and probably fertilized than kittens are born. The reason for this is that death and resorption of the early foetus is common in the cat. It occurs without producing any noticeable symptoms in the queen.

Kittens born earlier than fifty-eight days tend to be delivered dead or very weak and those born later than seventy-one days are generally bigger than normal and may also be dead. Such late, big kittens can cause birth problems – consult your vet if the seventy-first day of labour beginning. Older queens tend to have smaller litters and towards the end of their lives may only produce a single, often quite big, kitten. Such mature mums may also have difficult births.

The largest litter on record was one of fourteen kittens born to a Persian queen in Wellington, South Africa, in 1974. Two years before that a Calico queen in Seneca, Missouri, USA, also produced fourteen, but of these five were born dead. An ideal litter size, with which the mother can comfortably cope, is three to four. Some queens cannot rear five or six kittens unaided.

Signs of pregnancy
If mating is successful the queen does not usually return into oestrus. If it is not, oestrus will recur in two to three weeks time. Occasionally a pregnant queen will show some signs of oestrus and mating behaviour at about the twenty-first and forty-second days – times which would have corresponded to heat periods in the absence of mating.

Picking up a heavily pregnant queen should be done even more carefully then usual with minimum pressure on the tummy.

Points to watch for
* Reddening nipples – this is known as “pinking-up” and occurs around the third week of pregnancy.
* Gradual weight gain – one to two kilograms (two or four pounds) depending on the litter size.
* A swelling abdomen – don’t prod and poke the abdomen to feel the developing kittens as you could cause serious damage.
* Behavioural changes – the queen tends to become “maternal”.

Predicting the birth date
If you know the date of mating, estimate nine weeks from then. If you don’t know the date of mating, estimate six weeks after the first evidence of “pinking-up”

This pregnant queen shows a very distended abdomen and reddening of the nipples and will probably kitten in the next few days.

What to do before the birth
* Discuss the birth with your vet
* Obtain some safe worming drugs from the vet and give them to the pregnant queen.
* Provide a good, well-balanced diet with some extra vitamins and mineral supplements. Discuss this with your vet.
* In late pregnancy the presence of growing kittens in the womb can cause constipation. If this occurs, mix a few drops of liquid paraffin oil with the queen’s food.
* Prepare a kittening box for the queen in good time. This should be placed in a warm, quiet spot. It should be of wood or cardboard, open at the top and on one side. Line it with newspaper (easily changed when soiled and an efficient insulator). Blankets and sheets quickly become dirty and kittens can get lost in the fabric. Hang an infra-red lamp no lower than one metre (one yard) above the box you provide and picks her own place, put newspapers down there and hang the infra-red lamp above.
* Queens must be kept indoors during at least the last two weeks of pregnancy.