How to Tell If a Cat Is Pregnant: 5 Tell-Tale Signs
Could you have kittens on the horizon? Here are the ways to determine if your cat is pregnant.
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. "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.
Even kittens as young as four months old can become pregnant. How to tell if a cat is pregnant isn't always easy and the earliest signs can be mistaken for other conditions. That's why it's important to know the symptoms.
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A cat's pregnancy lasts nine weeks or around 63 days. In the initial first few weeks, 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.
Here's how to tell if a cat is pregnant:
- Darkened Nipples
At around three weeks, a pregnant cat's nipples will become darker in color and enlarged. Veterinarians call this sign "pinking up," which you can see on the cat in the picture below. You may also notice some milky discharge, although cats don't start producing milk until after birth.
- 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 women!), but if she does, keep an eye on her and contact your veterinarian if the vomiting becomes frequent or if your cat appears unwell.
- 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 but she will still gain weight due to pregnancy," says Dr. Barrack. A pregnant cat will gain a total of two to four pounds overall depending on the number of kittens. Below is a picture of cat with a swollen stomach.
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 Dr. Barrack. Your cat may also start acting more maternal, being more affectionate towards you and purring more frequently. At the same time, she might become less tolerant of other pets or animals.
- 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, so one X-ray is generally considered safe for developing kittens," says Dr. Bright.
If you suspect your cat is pregnant, bring your cat in to see your veterinarian for confirmation. "Planned or unplanned, all pregnancies should be discussed with your veterinarian to make sure mom and babies are healthy and doing well," says Dr. Barrack.
Looking for other tips on preparing to be a pet grandparent and caring for the kittens? Check out The Pet Owner's Guide to Cat Pregnancy.
Rebecca Desfosse is a freelance writer specializing in parenting, family and pet care topics.
* This article is for general informational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be providing medical advice and is not a substitute for such advice. The reader should always consult a health care provider concerning any medical condition or treatment plan. Neither Care.com nor the author assumes any responsibility or liability with respect to use of any information contained herein.