The early signs that a cat has become pregnant can be quite subtle and it is not uncommon for owners to confuse a swelling abdomen with obesity, especially if your cat is already overweight. Consequently, some owners don’t realise their cat is pregnant until very late in the pregnancy (gestation normally lasts between 63 and 67 days). However, a pregnant cat is known as a “queen” for a reason and she will drop some hints that she is expecting. Here is what to look for:
The closer to full term your queen gets, the more she will want to eat, eventually consuming about 1.5 times her normal daily intake. Vets recommend switching your cat’s food for kitten food, so the diet is more appropriate to the growing litter. However, you should consult your vet before making any changes to diet and revert back to your cat’s typical food if they don’t like the replacement. It is important to keep your cat in good condition prior to, and during, pregnancy as obesity can lead to complications during birth.
Heat cycles & “pinking-up”
Normally, a fertile female cat will undergo a heat cycle every 10 to 14 days where she will become more vocal, inclined to elevating her hindquarters and desperate to go outside to mate. The clearest physical sign of heat is usually a swollen vulva. For the first two weeks of your cat’s pregnancy, there will be virtually no change in their appearance or behaviour. However, from week three, she will undergo a huge hormone shift. Not only does this put a stop to her heat cycles for the duration of the pregnancy, but her nipples will begin to swell and become pinker, known as “pinking-up”. Some cats occasionally skip heat cycles without being pregnant. If you are concerned, make an appointment with your vet to book an ultrasound.
Not every cat experiences bouts of vomiting, but it is still common enough for queens to suffer small periods of morning sickness at around three to four weeks. Try to clean up the mess quickly, especially if it is where she eats or sleeps, so your cat doesn’t start to avoid the space, and take her to the vet if the vomiting becomes more severe.
Between five to six weeks, your pregnant cat will start to “show” as her abdomen swells in size. You will know this is due to a pregnancy when the enlargement continues over the remaining few weeks, while the rest of her body appears to her normal proportions. This is also the period when she and her unborn young are most at risk of viruses or worms. Consult your vet regularly just make sure everything is as it should be.
As the babies grow, the later stages of pregnancy can become quite uncomfortable for your queen. Try to avoid touching her belly as much as you can and give her some extra love and attention when she cries out for it.
You will know when your cat is approaching her due date when she starts to nest. This is when she will spend longer periods in secluded and hard-to-reach places where she feels she could give birth to her litter in safety. Once she has identified a spot and begins to arrange it, you can carefully assist her by making it comfortable (for example giving extra bedding) but be sure to keeping it clear and quiet. Most cat pregnancies go smoothly and your queen will capable of looking after herself. However, by understanding these signs, you will not only save yourself some worry when your cat’s body and behaviour start to change but can keep an eye on things and be ready to take her to the vet if anything unexpected should occur.
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