Wednesday, 22 June 2011

How to know if a cat is pregnant

Before we move on to the next post, I'll give you the answer to yesterday's question as promised.

Tia, a seal tortie point, carries dilute and chocolate. The dad, a cream point, does not carry chocolate. This means that all dominant coloured kittens, red, seal or tortie, will carry dilute. All kittens will also be colourpoint. Any of the kittens could carry chocolate, but only a DNA test will tell us which ones, as none of them will show the colouring.
Girls: red, cream, seal tortie, blue-cream tortie.
Boys: Seal, blue, red, cream.

Now that that's out of the way, on to pregnancy.

The question that I see over and over again on forums, websites and groups is this. "What are the signs that a cat is pregnant?" There are certain signs which, when you know what you are looking for, are unmistakable at confirming a cat's pregnancy. Let's start with the mating.

When a cat is in season, she is said to be calling. Anyone who has lived with a calling cat will know why the name is so apt, for they do indeed call, usually very loudly and incessantly. The call varies in length from cat to cat, but normally lasts between five and seven days. A cat will become unusually vocal, will roll around on the floor and often become much more affectionate. One of the very obvious signs of calling comes when she lies on her stomach on the floor, tucks her back feet under her and lifts her rear into the air. Touch her lower back and her tail will move to one side and her back feet will tread in place. This is her way of presenting herself to the male, and any red blooded tom will not ignore such a blatant invitation. I don't need to explain what happens next, right? Most owners don't know that their cat has mated for sure or when they've done it. If the girl is an outdoor puss, the owner may have no idea that mating has happened until pregnancy is well established. If an indoor cat escapes while in call, they will have more of a rough idea, but timings will still not be specific. That's why other signs are essential to confirm a cat's pregnancy.

One of the earliest signs anyone will notice is what breeders term as pinking up. This normally happens at about three weeks gestation. If the cat's nipples are examined, they will often be slightly enlarged, and a nice, rosy pink colour. It's very noticeable when they do pink up, but a few cats never show this sign, and others don't exhibit it until much later in the pregnancy. First time mothers, or maiden queens, will normally pink spectacularly.

At four weeks of gestation, an experienced vet will be able to feel the babies when they palpate the queen's stomach. They are about the size of walnuts now, and easier to count than later in the pregnancy when they are more squashed together.

The fifth week sees the queen begin to eat more food and gain weight. She should be fed a high quality complete diet, preferably wet and preferably kitten food as this has extra nutrition added to it that her growing babies will need. If the cat will not eat wet, then don't worry too much, but it is the first choice if tolerated. She may also experience morning sickness during the 3-5 week period. This is very normal.

At seven weeks, there can be no doubt. The cat is fat and kitten movement can now be felt. There is an easy way to tell the difference in a fat cat and one who is pregnant, as a pregnant tummy bulges out to the sides rather like saddlebags, whereas an over-weight cat's tummy will simply hang down. The queen will have a huge appetite to cope with the demand of the growing babies, but will probably go off her food in week eight due to the over-crowding of her abdomen. If any cat exhibits these signs, then they are definitely pregnant.

Average cat gestation lasts for 65 days, but birth can happen anywhere from day 63 to day 70. This is quite a large window bearing in mind the relatively short pregnancy time, but it is proposed that the time period is so great due to most owners not being aware of the mating date of the cat. Vets have a hard time setting an accurate date based on the pregnant cat's condition, so this somewhat alters averages and allows for much more variation.

Vets have a number of tools which can be used to diagnose pregnancy. The first, and least stressful for the cat, is that already mentioned; palpation. Using their hands, the vet feels the cat's stomach, searching for an enlarged uterus and the small uterine swellings which indicate kittens. However, unless a vet is very experienced, there's a chance they may mis-diagnose. Some cats have been thought to be pregnant when they are simply constipated. Others show no sign of uterine swelling only to produce a large litter a few weeks later. This test should be used as evidence in the case for or against pregnancy rather than the definitive answer.

Vets can also perform an ultrasound exam. This will definitely confirm pregnancy if the cat carries kittens, but it does not allow accurate fetal aging or counting of a litter size. This is because babies are aged by looking at their crown rump length. They are curled up in the stomach, making this very difficult to measure. Babies also curl around internal organs, hide behind one another and generally try to avoid detection, so although pregnancy is confirmed, ultrasound will most likely predict a much smaller litter size than is present. It requires shaving the cat's abdomen which many do not like.

If the pregnancy is more advanced, a vet may choose to x-ray the mother cat in order to accurately predict litter size, and more closely estimate the age of the babies and the date birthing will take place. However, this is not normally a routinely used diagnosing method. For one thing, calcification of the bones, the stage necessary for babies' bones to show up on the film, doesn't happen until much, much later in the pregnancy, by which point it is clear without an x-ray that the cat is in fact pregnant. For another, x-rays do pose a risk to the unborn babies, one which is normally not worth taking. it is used mostly when a queen has had difficulties in the past, or if a breeder absolutely must know the size of the litter to expect.

X-ray allows more accurate fetal aging as it defines the crown rump bone structure very clearly. As this is on a physical film, it can be measured with a tape measure, and the size will correspond to a certain gestational period. In this way, the birthing time can be more closely predicted. The size of the litter can be seen by counting skull bones on the film.

There is one last test which can be used. This is a hormone test, and requires some of the cat's blood to run. however, very few labs perform the test, mainly because it is not normally demanded. It is used in early pregnancy to confirm that the queen carries kittens.

Most people would never dream of using ultrasound, x-ray or hormone tests, and often, the palpation combined with physical signs that the cat exhibits are enough to accurately predict the presence or absence of a pregnancy. However, if a cat has escaped and mated, and kittens were not planned, it is worthwhile considering having her spayed. Pregnancy carries enormous risks which can claim the life of a mother and some or all of the babies. Treatment for illness or birth problems can be very expensive. Even raising healthy, problem-free kittens is a very costly business. When considering whether to allow the cat to have kittens, one must also come to terms with the harsh reality that you might exchange your girl's life for the new ones.

If the father of the kittens is not known, the queen and/or the kittens may have contracted numerous diseases. FIV and feline leukemia are very real possibilities, and queens should be tested for these as soon as possible. If the father is known and vaccinated, this is less of a risk.

In short, breeding is not for the faint-hearted, and should be something very carefully considered before embarked upon. If the breeding of kittens does not contribute something to the breed in question, then it would be much better to spay the girl and enjoy her as a much loved pet. However, if she can better the breed somehow, then kittens should be enjoyed and cherished as much as possible.

Tomorrow I'll talk about preparing for the arrival of kittens. What sort of area will the cat need to give birth in? What equipment will you need? Will you have to help? What if things go wrong and how will you actually know they're going wrong? Until then.


Katnip Lounge said...

It's amazing to think all of this is going on inside of Tia! Birth truly IS a miracle.

Funny story: When we first got Sweet Pea we waited to see if she had been spayed prior to her showing up...sure enough a few weeks later she started calling. All our Boys are neutered but Rupert had had his nuts long enough to know he should be doing something about this shouting female! So they tried and tried for three days before we could get her in for surgery...grossed Scott out to no end! And to this day, Rupert and Sweet Pea are bathing and cuddlebugs. Who says love doesn't last?

Kwee Cats said...

Our Pungy fell out the window the day before she was to be fixed. Somehow, our Mumsy just knew when she came back home that she was with kitten. And now we has Sneaky Pie, Piewhackits, and Odysseus :-)

Amy and The House of Cats said...

Hi Tia and Carly! Wow we have missed you while we couldn't visit! We are so glad that things are going well - we are so excited for both of you! The info on how to tell if a cat is pregnant is so interesting - we didn't know all that at all (we did have a bit of basic knowledge though). We can't wait to find out what you are doing to get ready for the new babies - it has to be so much fun!

Angel Sweet Praline said...

Very interesting post! Since I'm getting some new kittens, this is very interesting to me!

Mom Paula

Torie said...

Wow Carly this is really so interesting! Guess who's been doing her homework!

Take care, xxx.

Bengal Trio - Luna, Zulu -n- Mercy said...

That is purrty interesting! =^_^=

Jewel said...

I see the birth is immiment - hope all goes well and looking forward to seeing some photos after the event.

M. Ferguson said...

I think my cat is pregnant. I bought a pregnancy test but I can't get her to pee on the stick.

Mary Elizabeth McNair said...

this post was very helpful. I'm gonna try to skip going to the vet to find out if our Mary Jane is with kitten or not (money is tight right now, so if we can avoid a vet visit we will) we're hoping she is though, I'd love to have some lil babies running around the house (besides my own)

Alyshia said...

Thanks for the info! I got a lil female cat last year and had every intention of having her spayed. Then money got tight an we couldn't do it before she turned 6 months... money is till tight, and she about a year old now and we are afraid that when she got out a few weeks ago and was gone for 4 days that she got with kitten. Reading this blog, and a few others, I'm pretty sure she is. Not a planned litter, but welcome all the same. All my friend who have seen my female, Mowser, just love her and they keep saying they want one of her kitties. Hope they still feel that way when, and if, she has hers.

Roni Williams said...

Wow my cat escaped the other day and she has been acting quite moody. Well now I know what to look out for in case. By the by is it normal for biting or scrathing to occur during intercourse of cat?

Lacheri Collins said...

This is my first kitty her name is Onyx and she's my black beauty and she is also a house kitty....well I felt bad for her just staring out the window so I thought it was ok for her to go out in the fenced in garden.....she found a friend I couldn't tell if it was male or not ....and he sure was now I think my beauty has his kitty'z...not really sure she looks a but rounder and eats a lol more and I noticed that she hasn't been calling

Lacheri Collins said...

This is my first kitty her name is Onyx and she's my black beauty and she is also a house kitty....well I felt bad for her just staring out the window so I thought it was ok for her to go out in the fenced in garden.....she found a friend I couldn't tell if it was male or not ....and he sure was now I think my beauty has his kitty'z...not really sure she looks a but rounder and eats a lol more and I noticed that she hasn't been calling

Tash Haywood said...

This is my first cat ever, I've had dogs before and even had one with pups...... But this cat was given to me free off of Facebook when I got her (5-29) she got sick several times over the first week I figured being in a new environment with new people, but my husband says she's eating a lot going to her bowl several times an hr and her belly is getting bigger. She has also started to loose hair almost like hot spots. I was told she was fixed but I'm now afraid she wasn't and I might have kittens and a big fight on my hands my husband isn't so pet friendly and I'll want to keep them all lol I don't have money to take her to a vet and find out so if there is anymore information I could use to determine if she is or not it would be helpfull

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living.loving.Life said...

my persian female cat mated last december 8,2013, its about a month now. so maybe she is pregnant already.but i noticed yesterday that she was like in heat, she keeps on howling,rolling on the floor and shows off her butt into elevator position. is it possible for a cat that mated last month be in heat again the following month..

I was kinda' worried because if i let her mate with a tom cat,
and if she is pregnant something might happen to her.

does anyone experience this kinda situation?

thanks :)

Cara Jones said...

My partner n I rescued a cat but I had a fair idea she was preg when I picked her up as she has hard and inlarged nipples my mum who has been a cat breeder for many years also agrees she is preg but says she won't have many if never personally had a cat that has been preg so I'm unsure on how far she is or when she may have them as her belly isn't big but my mum said she could feel something I don't know what to do as I can't afford to take her to the vet but we have bonded with her so quick in such a short time and she is the only cat I know that will lay down on her back for u to rub her belly until she falls asleep she is such a beautiful natured cat I don't know if I'm just worring too much she eats and drinks a lot

sarah cooke said...

Did you find out if she was pregnant as my Savannah was mated and seemed to cine into heat after 3 weeks but has all pregnancy signs.

sarah cooke said...

Did you find out if she was pregnant as my Savannah was mated and seemed to cine into heat after 3 weeks but has all pregnancy signs.

jess morgan said...

I took in a stray she was roughly 5-6 weeks old her name is Olivia she is now 6 months old and on February 9th we had a stray tom crying at our door during a storm we took him in and planned to go see the vet Monday morning to have him neutered and checked out as we decided to keep him rather than let him freeze so we seperated him from her out of precation nd went to bedthe next morning I woke up and they were both lying together now she has started pinking eating more a little belly bulge but not significant and she went from affectionate to when I touch her belly she. Runs and hides her temp has been between 100-101.4 is she Redford preggo cuz she has lately been showing signs of heat I can feel at least one baby but no movement btw since there night of mishap w had the tom fixed

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Talk soon,