It can happen to the best pet parents. Your indoor cat slips outside and now you’re wondering if she’s expecting kittens. If she isn’t fixed, just one single encounter can result in pregnancy. Even kittens as young as four months old can become pregnant.
“Cats are incredibly efficient breeders, so if you have an unspayed female cat who has access to male cats, the odds are she will get pregnant twice a year,” says Dr. Eloise Bright, a veterinarian for Love That Pet.
But being able to tell whether a feline is pregnant isn’t always as easy, as the signs can be subtle. Here’s how to tell if a cat is pregnant.
What are cat pregnancy symptoms and signs?
In the initial first few weeks of a cat’s pregnancy, there aren’t typically any outward changes. However, once the changes begin, you’ll notice them. “At around three weeks, there should be some noticeable changes in behavior and physical appearance,” says Dr. Rachel Barrack, a veterinarian, veterinary acupuncturist and certified veterinary Chinese herbalist in Manhattan.
Look for these five identifying signs to tell if your cat is pregnant.
1. Darkened nipples
At around three weeks, a pregnant cat’s nipples will become darker in color and enlarged. Veterinarians call this sign “pinking up.” You may also notice some milky discharge from the nipples although cats don’t start producing milk until after birth.
2. Morning sickness
Just like humans, a pregnant cat may also go through a period of being sick occasionally. Not all cats have morning sickness (just like pregnant humans), but if she does, keep an eye on her and contact your veterinarian if the vomiting becomes frequent or if your cat appears unwell.
3. Swollen belly
Around the 30-day mark, pregnant cats start to develop a rounded, swollen abdomen — a sign that isn’t always so easy to spot. “If your cat is overweight to begin with, her belly distension may be less noticeable,” says Barrack, “but she will still gain weight due to pregnancy.” A pregnant cat will gain a total of two to four pounds overall depending on the number of kittens.
With around two weeks to go in her pregnancy, a pregnant cat will often start “nesting.” “She may choose a quiet place and start arranging blankets for a birthing area,” says Barrack. Your cat may also start acting more maternal, being more affectionate toward you and purring more frequently. At the same time, she might become less tolerant of other pets or animals.
5. Positive ultrasound
The best way to tell if your cat is pregnant is to visit your veterinarian and get an X-ray or ultrasound. X-rays don’t show the kittens until 40 to 45 days when the skeletons of the kittens are visible. Ultrasounds can be done as early as 21 days, but it is often difficult to count the number of kittens present with an ultrasound, compared with X-rays.
Don’t worry about using an X-ray on a pregnant cat. “The amount of radiation is pretty small,” says Bright, “so one X-ray is generally considered safe for developing kittens.”
How long are cats pregnant?
A cat’s pregnancy lasts nine weeks or around 63 days. If you suspect your cat is pregnant, bring your cat in to see your veterinarian for confirmation.
“Planned or unplanned,” says Barrack, “all pregnancies should be discussed with your veterinarian to make sure mom and babies are healthy and doing well.”