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Pregnancy and Queening

     Cats are very efficient at reproducing and are able to have several litters a year with multiple kittens in each. Most cats go through puberty at an early age somewhere between five and nine months. Females can be fertile for about seven years, while males may be able to reproduce for 11 years or more. The large numbers of feral cats (cats who have returned to a wild existence) demonstrate that in an uncontrolled environment, cats will keep reproducing. Today’s methods of sterilization are surgical and thus are not easily applied to the vast numbers of feral cats. Researchers are working on new methods of feline contraception, including oral medications and even vaccines. These methods will help stop kitty overpopulation in the future.

The estrous cycle

     Most females reach puberty around six months of age and cycle every two weeks until they are bred or induced to ovulate. The cycle begins with proestrus, which lasts one to three days. This is the stage when female cats start showing they are ready to mate, but they will not yet allow males to mount them. Restlessness, increased vocalization, facial rubbing and rolling are the not so subtle female signals.
     Estrus is the period of sexual receptivity that follows. The behaviors that began in proestrus become more apparent, plus the female will now permit copulation. If there are no tomcats and therefore no mating, estrus lasts about 10 to 14 days, then the cat gets a break for 2 to 3 weeks, then estrus returns. Repeated estrus can be annoying for owners, because there is nothing that can be done to calm the cat’s behaviors. It is also stressful for the cat, who cannot control her urges to find a mate. Cats have been known to lose their appetite and sleep poorly during estrus. When a female cat is in estrus, she does not bleed like a dog; rather, she has changes in behavior. The changes can include:

• Increased vocalization
• Rolling on the ground and crying
• Lying on her belly with her rear end pushed up in the air
• Acting more affectionate
• Attempting to escape the house and get outside
• Urinating outside the litter box, often on vertical surfaces

     Metestrus occurs the day after estrus ends. During this time females aggressively reject male approaches. Pregnancy follows if fertilization occurred during mating. Anestrus is the quiet part of the estrous cycle. It occurs between periods of estrus and during the late fall, when the seasonally polyestrus cat does not cycle.


If she’s in heat and given the opportunity to be with an intact male, chances are a female cat will get pregnant. The average cat’s gestation period is 63 to 65 days. There are many physical changes a female cat will experience during a pregnancy. The tom takes no role in raising his kittens, and some toms are even aggressive toward kittens. On the other hand, a queen will be very protective of her babies. A mother cat will also protect her kittens from you. If you are caring for a feral queen, be careful of how much you handle her kittens, because she may reject them. She may also become aggressive with you if you try to handle them in her presence.

Signs of Pregnancy

     An inexperienced cat owner may be unaware of the signs of heat. Some cats put on more of a show than others. If you have a cat who has come in and out of heat and suddenly seems to stop cycling, she’s probably pregnant. Cats do not need much special care to maintain a pregnancy. They seem to do fine on their own. Other than allowing a queen to eat what she wants and protecting her from illness and parasites, you can leave the rest to her. Because cats are only pregnant for about nine weeks, things happen fairly quickly. The progression of signs is:

1. Increased appetite and weight gain
2. “Pinking up” of the nipples within two weeks of being bred
3. More rounded appearance of the abdomen
4. Engorgement of the mammary glands

    A veterinarian can palpate a female cat’s abdomen and confirm a pregnancy three to four weeks into gestation. The fetuses develop bones at about 54 days, so an X ray at this time can tell how many kittens will be born. An average litter contains three to five kittens, but in reality, litter size can vary a lot. X rays do not damage the fetuses, and they can be useful if you want to know what to expect. Ultrasound is useful for confirming pregnancy as early as two to three weeks, but it is not reliable for determining the number of fetuses.



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