Cat Reproduction: Heat Cycles, Pregnancies, and More
Kittens grow into reproductive maturity — and can get pregnant — sooner than you might think.
Whether you’re planning to breed your cat or not, it’s good to know what to expect when your kitten enters breeding age. That way, you can make informed decisions about your pet’s health, whether that means a healthy pregnancy, avoiding pregnancies, or spaying or neutering.
When Do Kittens Go Into Heat?
A “heat” is part of your kitty’s estrus cycle — a reproductive cycle that shares some similarities to a human’s menstrual cycle. If your female cat hasn’t been spayed, she’ll go into heat by six months of age (although, as young as four months is possible).
Here are some things you should know about your cat’s estrus cycle:
- A cat can go into heat as often as every 2-3 weeks, year round.
- Pregnancy can occur as early as the first heat.
- Cats don’t experience menopause, so they continue to go into heat well into their senior years.
- A cat’s heat may be identified through tests at your veterinarian’s office, but most commonly, it’s identified because of a cat’s behavior.
What Does a Cat In Heat Act Like?
If your cat is in heat, you’ll know it. They experience some big behavioral changes, such as:
- Vocalization. Your cat will make very loud meowing and yowling noises, in the hopes of attracting a mate.
- Affectionate or clingy behavior.
- Rolling on the floor.
- Elevating their backside in the air.
- Increased urination and urine odor, and possibly urine marking outside their litter box.
- Attempts to escape home to find a mate.
Heat symptoms can last from a few days to two weeks.
Vaginal discharge or bleeding can also occur, but it’s unusual to see, especially since kitties are so good at keeping themselves clean.
What About Male Cats?
Male cats don’t have heats.
However, if unneutered, they reach sexual maturity around the same age as their female counterparts — as early as four months, but usually closer to six months of age. When a male kitten reaches reproductive maturity, you may notice behavior changes such as urine marking, pungent-smelling urine, and attempts to get outside to find a mate.
How Often Can a Cat Have Kittens?
Your cat’s pregnancy will last about 9 weeks, with the average length being 63-65 days. And, a cat can get pregnant again very quickly after giving birth! Nursing her kittens won’t prevent pregnancy, and your kitty’s next heat may occur just a few weeks after her kittens are born.
To prevent another pregnancy, ensure your kitty isn’t around any male cats, and talk to your vet about spaying your cat.
How Many Kittens Will My Cat Have?
If you’re wondering how many kittens a cat can have in a litter, the answer is: As few as one or as many as 10+. But on average, a litter size is 3-6 kittens.
In general, first-time moms will have fewer kittens than older, more experienced queens (fun fact: female cats of breeding age are often referred to as “queens”).
Should I Breed My Cat?
Allowing your cat to have kittens can be a special experience. And, it’s understandable you’d want to have more generations of kitties related to your furry best friend. The decision to breed should not be taken lightly, though.
Make sure you’re ready to handle all aspects of keeping your cat and her kittens healthy, including potential pregnancy complications and numerous veterinary visits. Researching the time and monetary commitment may help you decide if it’s right for you.
Another thing to consider: 3 million pets are euthanized in shelters in the US every year.
So, it’s very important to find good homes for all of your cat’s babies. And, even when you do find homes, remember, that’s one less home available for a kitty in a local shelter.
For Pet Parents of Male Cats
If you have a male cat, you may not be facing a litter of kittens in your home, but your kitty can still contribute to pet overpopulation if he manages to impregnate another cat. Even if your cat stays indoors, unneutered cats will try and occasionally succeed at escaping their home to find a mate.
So, even as a male cat owner, you have an important responsibility to consider when it comes to neutering your pet.
I Think My Cat Is Pregnant Right Now — What Should I Do?
If your kitty’s pregnancy took you by surprise, don’t worry—you certainly wouldn’t be the first pet parent that’s happened to!
The best things you can do now are to confirm the pregnancy and talk to your vet about your kitty’s care.
Signs your cat might be pregnant, include:
- Enlarged mammary glands or nipples.
- Weight gain and a larger belly.
- Mild vomiting, loss of appetite, or lethargy.
Some of these symptoms may not be obvious. And, they could be symptoms of a health problem that needs to be treated.
So, it’s best to make an appointment with your vet as soon as possible.
If you’d prefer to terminate the pregnancy, your vet can also talk to you about spaying your cat during pregnancy. For this option, the earlier you talk to your vet, the better.
Does Birth Control for Cats Exist?
There are products out there that interfere with a cat’s hormonal cycle, but because of the associated health risks, most vets don’t recommend them unless absolutely necessary.
A far better option is to spay your kitty.
Spaying alleviates discomfort and stress from frequent estrus, minimizes hormonally-induced behaviors such as urine marking, and helps to prevent some serious health problems like certain cancers and potentially fatal infections of the uterus.
Of course, every pet is an individual. So, when you make an appointment, your veterinarian can answer all of your questions and help you make a kind, informed decision for your furry BFF.