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How Many Kittens Can a Cat Have? Vet-Approved Facts, Factors & FAQ

Jessica Kim

By Jessica Kim

mother cat and kittens

Vet approved

Dr. Maja Platisa Photo

Reviewed & Fact-Checked By

Dr. Maja Platisa

In-House Veterinarian, DVM MRCVS

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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The number of kittens a cat can have depends on several different factors, such as the cat’s breed type, age, and health condition. On average, you can expect a cat’s litter to have four kittens, but it’s normal to see litter sizes range between three to five kittens. In rarer cases, a cat can give birth to just 1 kitten or 12 kittens. The record for most kittens in a litter is 19.

There are several common questions that many curious cat lovers have about cat litters and pregnancies. We’ll review some of these frequently asked questions so that you’ll know what to expect with cat pregnancies and births.

What Factors Affect a Cat’s Litter Size?

A cat’s breed can be a good predictor of her litter size. For example, you can expect Persian Cats to have smaller litters, while Burmese and Siamese tend to have more kittens in their litters.1 

A cat’s age can also influence the size of a litter. First-time mother cats may have smaller litters. While cats usually have four to six cats in a litter, first-time mothers may often give birth to two to three kittens in their first litter. 

Cats can continue to go through heat cycles until they are even 8 to 10 years old, as their fertility gradually decreases. Therefore, senior cats can get pregnant, but their litter sizes may get smaller as they get older. However, there is very limited research on this, and the findings were not significant and were based on a small population of older cats. 

Also, just because a cat can get pregnant doesn’t mean she should. Older cats are at risk of experiencing more complications and stillbirths, so it’s best to prevent senior cat pregnancies.

Maine Coon kittens lying on a cat sofa
Image Credit: mariyaermolaeva, Shutterstock

At What Age Can Kittens Get Pregnant?

Cats can reach sexual maturity as young as 4 months old and can get pregnant with their first heat cycle. However, it’s best to avoid having cats become pregnant at such a young age. Kittens usually don’t reach adulthood until at least 12 months old. While their bodies usually finish growing between 9 and 12 months of age, they’re still developing for the next several months. It can take 2 years before they are socially and behaviorally mature.

So, a kitten pregnant at 4 months old means that you’re having a kitten give birth to more kittens. On top of pregnancies affecting their own development, young moms may not have developed maternal instincts yet, so they won’t know how to care for their kittens.

How Can You Tell if a Cat is Pregnant?

There are some signs that can indicate that a cat is pregnant. First, there’ll be changes in their heat cycle, and you’ll notice that they no longer engage in the usual behaviors, such as excessive yowling and restlessness.

Pregnant cats will also have increased appetites and will undergo weight gain. They’ll have prominent nipples that have swelled in size along with distended abdomens. Toward the end of the pregnancy, she will start nesting and looking for an ideal place to have her kittens.

The most accurate way to know if your cat is pregnant is by getting them checked by your vet. They may be able to gently feel the fetuses or confirm their presence and vitality with an ultrasound. Ultrasound scans cannot with certainty establish how many kittens your cat will be having; an x-ray is required for that. Speak to your vet if you want to breed your cat or think she may be pregnant, as there are preventative measures, vaccinations, and worming treatments, alongside adequate nutrition, that the queen will require.

a pregnant tabby cat lying on the stair
Image Credit: Jim Polakis, Shutterstock

How Can You Determine the Size of a Litter?

The surest way to determine if a cat is pregnant is for veterinarians to use an ultrasound or x-ray. Ultrasounds can find kittens earlier in a cat’s gestation period, but they may not provide an accurate reading of the cat’s litter size. X-rays offer clearer images of the kittens’ skeletons, but you have to wait until about 40 days into a cat’s pregnancy to use an X-ray.

Veterinarians can also feel for a litter by gently pressing along a cat’s abdomen to feel for fetuses.

How Many Litters Can a Cat Birth in 1 Year?

A cat can have up to four litters per year. The gestation period lasts about 2 months, and cats can go into heat while they’re nursing, and they can go through a heat cycle within a couple of weeks after giving birth. Cats shouldn’t have more than two litters per year. It’s important for their health to have plenty of time to rest and recover between litters, but it is an ongoing ethical debate as well whether to breed your cat or not. 

There are around 3 million cats entering U.S. shelters each year, while the number of stray and feral cat populations is estimated at between 30 and 80 million. Instead of breeding cats, adopting one from the shelter may bring equal joy, while making a huge difference to the cat’s life. 

cat nursing its kittens
Image Credit: Rashid Valitov, Shutterstock

How Many Times Can a Cat Give Birth in a Lifetime?

If a cat continuously gets pregnant throughout her lifetime, she can have over 50 litters and give birth to more than 250 kittens. However, many of these kittens will not survive or will become unwanted strays or spend their lives in a shelter.

Cats usually become middle-aged adults at about 7 years old. So, they will tend to have a higher risk of experiencing difficulties during pregnancy.

How Can Kittens in a Single Litter Have Different Fathers?

Although it’s rare, a cat can have a single litter with different male cats. This phenomenon is known as superfecundation. It’s possible because eggs can get fertilized with semen from multiple males if the female mates with more than one male. 

When superfecundation occurs, a cat will give birth to a litter with different kinds of kittens. Kittens of the same litter may vary in size, color, personality, and coat length.

Conclusion

Cats can become pregnant through most of their lifespan, and successful spaying is the only sure way of preventing a cat from getting pregnant. Since they can get pregnant at such a young age, it’s important to consider spaying your pet cats if you want to avoid unwanted pregnancies.


Featured Image Credit: Good Shop Background, Shutterstock

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