If you have a female kitten, they will eventually get big enough to have their own kitties—but how old will they be when that happens? Believe it or not, at the 4 month mark, some cats (technically kittens) are ready to get pregnant. Spaying your cat is an important part of overall care, but sometimes we don’t get to it quickly enough.
So whether you’re just curious or fear your cat might be pregnant, we will review all you need to know about feline reproduction.
When Can Cats Get Pregnant?
Female cats reach sexual maturity at around 6 months of age. But that’s only sometimes the case. Some females can get pregnant as early as 4 months. That’s right! Even when they’re still considered kittens, they can have their own kittens.
This is not advisable, as their bodies are often not big enough to successfully have healthy litters without complications. Even though cats are resilient creatures, you wouldn’t want to create unnecessary trouble if you don’t have to.
When Does a Female Go into Heat?
It’s often hard to miss when a female cat goes into heat. It happens when they reach sexual maturity and usually lasts 7 days but can be as long as 21. They typically have significant personality changes that you can’t ignore.
Like males, female cats might also start spraying to attract a mate. This is an unsavory behavior and can cause quite a bit of trouble in the household. It’s much better to stop this behavior before it starts.
How to Tell If Your Cat Is Pregnant
If your cat is pregnant, often you will notice some or most of the following signs:
Gestation Period for Cats
From conception to birth, your cat is pregnant for roughly 63 days—plus or minus a day or two. Depending on potential complications, this can be a little more or a lot less.
What to Expect If Your Cat Is Pregnant
If your vet verifies that your cat is pregnant, you have options. You can choose to terminate the pregnancy and get your female spayed or you can support the litter until they are old enough to go to new homes.
If you let your cat have the litter, you will need to keep up with routine vetting and make sure all of the kittens have the appropriate care necessary to get a good start in life. Many people are apprehensive about this due to homelessness in the feline world.
Shelters are often overrun with cats, and so are city streets. So, it is your responsibility as a cat owner to make sure each of these kittens finds a suitable home or stays in your care.
Potential Complications of Pregnancy in Cats
As with any pregnancy, complications can occur, especially if risk factors are higher. Some of these problems include:
Like human babies, cats usually deliver their kittens headfirst. Posteriorly presented, or tail-first, kittens occur quite frequently as well, making this almost a normal presentation, often causing no delay in birth. Any other position is considered malpresentation. But delayed or complicated birth, especially of tail-first kittens, can lead to the kitten’s death due to premature detachment of the placenta and aspiration of the fetal fluid (drowning). If it becomes stuck, other kittens might also be at risk, as this can cause labor troubles and endanger the queen.
Uterine Inertia (Inactivity)
Inertia is defined as failure of the uterus to contract properly, with normal strength and of expected duration. This will cause birthing complications. Uterine inertia is reported to be the most common cause of birthing difficulty (dystocia), amounting to 60.6% of cases reported in cats. There are two types of functional uterine inertia: primary and secondary.
Primary uterine inertia is when the feline uterus fails to contract at all or has only weak and infrequent contractions, which results in failure to deliver the kitten or causes a significant delay in the delivery, endangering the health of the kittens and the queen. Primary inertia may be related to stress, old age, obesity, ill health, or the administration of certain drugs.
Secondary inertia is characterized by a cessation of uterine contractions due to uterine muscle fatigue, but it can also be associated with obstructive birthing complications (“stuck” kittens) or excessive pain. Obstructive dystocia may occur for many reasons, but probably the most common causes are queens’ hip malformations following a previous injury and fetal malpresentation. Secondary inertia follows previous difficulty or delay and the cat is often restless and exhausted.
It is important to differentiate inertia from interrupted labor. This is common enough in cats to be considered a normal occurrence. In interrupted labor, when one or more kittens have been born, the queen will stop straining and rest, while the kittens start nursing. She can eat and drink and will behave normally although there are still kittens waiting to be born, seen clearly by her size and the fetal movements. This resting stage may last up to 24 or even 36 hours, after which contractions recommence and the rest of the litter is born quite normally and easily.
Uterine torsion is the twisting of the uterine horn and/or uterine body along its axis. This is life-threatening and requires immediate treatment. The condition can be caused by one of the uterine ligaments (called the broad ligament) stretching due to previous pregnancies, increased physical activity, uterine wall weakness, fetal movement, rough handling, or trauma. This condition is rare in cats and occurs in mid to late pregnancy.
Unfortunately, uterine ruptures are life-threatening labor complications that often lead to feline death. It happens when the uterine wall bursts, causing serious and immediate internal bleeding in most cases, or in case of a small partial rupture, leading to slower developing sepsis. Rupture of the uterus is usually the result of a road traffic accident or other trauma or can occur from violent straining of the feline in the event of a complete obstruction.
Narrow Pelvic Canal
When the pelvic canal is too narrow, also called canal stenosis, the pathway is unusually small, which causes potentially serious labor complications where kittens can easily get stuck in the birth canal. This is life-threatening for both the kittens and the queen. Cats who have a narrow pelvic canal might also require a C-section, which can be expensive, especially if the litter was unexpected.
Complications can be costly to treat, and they can ultimately lead to the death of your cat and the litter. Please consult your vet in advance if your cat is pregnant so you can plan the birth in time and have your vet on standby, in order to avoid any complications and ensure healthy delivery of all the kittens and a healthy queen to nurse them.
How often can cats get pregnant?
For female cats, the time of ‘heat’, also known as coming into season or estrus, isn’t one long period but many short periods (each cycle is about 14 days long). Since their gestation period is around 63-65 days, recurring heat cycles can continue until spaying. Free-roaming cats may be pregnant 1-2 times a year, though the maximum is around 3-4 times a year.
What Age Should You Spay Your Cat
Some veterinarians traditionally recommend spaying females at 6 months of age. However, this is after many cats reach sexual maturity. For social, health, and population control reasons, it is now recommended that spaying should routinely take place at around 4 months of age. Some cats might be fixed earlier or later, depending on the circumstances. For example, if you get a kitten at a shelter, they will likely have been spayed upon arrival unless they are too young.
Your vet will help you make an informed decision. Together, you can choose the most appropriate time for spaying your kitten.
Can you spay a nursing cat?
You cannot spay your cat right away after she has given birth. Spaying her could decrease the milk supply. It would be best if you always waited until kittens are eating on their own, at roughly 5 to 6 weeks. Another reason to give your cat at least a month after giving birth before getting her spayed is to allow the mammary tissue to regress so it does not cause surgical difficulties or later lead to an infection of the wound. In some countries, the nursing female cat is spayed through her flank, rather than the standard approach through her belly, in order to avoid damaging the mammary tissue and reduce the risk of the wound being contaminated with milk, which can lead to a wound infection. Speak to your vet about the best time to spay your nursing cat.
Why is spaying crucial for females?
Spaying is incredibly important for females for a number of reasons. The positives of spaying cats definitely outweigh any negatives. Spaying ensures that your cat is not able to reproduce and prevents future issues related to reproductive health, such as certain types of cancers or infections in the uterus. It contributes to general health as well. Spaying reduces the chance of injuries due to fighting with other cats and bites and scratches inflicted during mating, which can be a way your cat can pick up viruses from other cats. Some of these viruses are herpesvirus, feline leukemia virus, and feline immunodeficiency virus, which all cause lifelong problems for your cat’s health and immune system.
Can you spay a pregnant female?
You can spay both pregnant and in-heat females. Opting for spay surgery while your cat is pregnant is considered a termination of the pregnancy and will end the kittens’ lives. Not all veterinarians perform the surgery on expectant females, so it will ultimately depend on your chosen facility.
Often, vets charge an extra fee for spaying pregnant female cats as the procedure is more lengthy and carries more risk due to the size and blood supply of the pregnant uterus.
So now you know just how early your kitten can become a mother themselves—as early as 4 months! For your kitten’s health, it’s important to schedule a spay surgery with your vet. So, always make sure to keep up with regular appointments and do as your vet suggests.
If you think your cat might be pregnant, getting them to the vet is crucial—especially if they are very young and this is their first heat cycle or if they have any previous or current health concerns. You can opt to spay even while pregnant, but it might cost extra, and not all vets will terminate litters.
Featured Image Credit: Inha Makeyeva, Shutterstock