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How To Tell If A Stray Cat Is Pregnant? 8 Possible Signs

Sarah Psaradelis

By Sarah Psaradelis

sick stray cat drooling at the street

If you come across a female stray cat, there is a good chance that she may be pregnant. These stray cats roam the streets and are left unsupervised, which leads to pregnancy from other male stray cats or wondering household male cats who are not neutered.

If you do catch a stray cat, it is best to check for symptoms that she may be pregnant, so that the babies and she can be raised in captivity with the help of a veterinarian to help reduce the stray cat population in your area.

Fun Fact: A pregnant cat is known as a “queen,” so in this article, we will be referring to a pregnant stray cat as a “stray queen”.


The 8 Signs a Cat Is Pregnant

Some of these pregnancy symptoms can only be identified if you have had the stray cat in your care for a while, behavioural changes are the most difficult to detect in pregnant stray cats. If you have recently taken her in, you will be able to monitor her behavior changes more closely, such as appetite, nesting behavior, and vomiting.

1. Darkened Nipples

When a cat is pregnant, the nipples will swell and become enlarged, taking on a dark pink color. This makes them look engorged and darker and they will hang out from the fur on her abdomen. Sometimes it is difficult to see the nipples if the cat’s fur is long or dark in appearance.

2. Weight Gain

After the gestation period, you may notice that the stray cat puts on a significant amount of weight in a short period. This is most noticeable if you have been observing the female stray cat for a while. However, if she was underweight and you have begun feeding her, then the weight gain can also be due to her increase in food intake which will also make her put on weight quickly.

pregnant stray cat
Image Credit: Paul McKinnon, Shutterstock

3. Swollen/Bulging Abdomen

Halfway through the cat’s gestation period, she will start to show physical signs of being pregnant. Her abdomen and belly area may swell and hang low, sometimes nearly touching the ground. If she is due soon, you may be able to see the movements or figures of the kittens by looking at her bulging abdomen.

4. Nesting Behavior

Cats prepare for birth by finding a quiet, dark, and secluded place to raise and birth their litter. She may start collecting items such as blankets, and other soft items that she can arrange into a nest. It may be a good idea to leave a blanket outside in a cozy spot, to see if she hangs out in the area often and starts to rearrange the blanket with her paws.

5. Longer Sleep Periods

Pregnant cats sleep more often and for longer periods. You may find that she is less active than other stray cats and prefers to stay nestled in her sleeping place.

6. Affectionate Behavior

Pregnant stray cats may start showing you more affection. This can be seen as soft meowing, rubbing against your leg, and even trying to enter your house for more comfort.

7. Vomiting

Morning sickness is well-known for pregnant humans, but you may be surprised that it happens to queens too. Regular vomiting, especially during the morning can indicate that a stray cat may be pregnant, especially if you have been watching her for a while and this is a new occurrence. However, it may be difficult to notice this symptom in pregnant stray cats unless she is sleeping on your property, and you witness it happening over a few mornings.

Cat vomiting
Image Credit: Nils Jacobi, Shutterstock

8. Appetite Changes

Pregnant queens are not only feeding themselves but their growing kittens too. You may notice that she will eat a larger portion of food than the other stray cats, or that she seems unsatisfied even after she has eaten.

If you notice more than four of these symptoms in a female stray cat, then she is most probably pregnant. The symptoms can vary depending on what stage of gestation they are going through. Identifying pregnancy in stray cats is from a combination of different factors, so if you notice that a stray cat is eating more than usual or vomiting, it is not a good enough factor to determine whether she is pregnant or not.


How to Medically Determine If a Stray Cat Is Pregnant

If possible, it is best to take a suspected pregnant stray cat to the veterinarian. This process will be stressful for her, so it is best to ensure that the capturing and transportation part is as stress-free as possible. The money for these procedures will most likely come out of your pocket, but some organizations are associated with veterinarians and stray cats that can help you cover the costs.

  • Palpation: Experienced veterinarians can gently press on the pregnant stray cat’s abdomen to feel the kittens as early as the 20th day of pregnancy. This is the easiest method for vets to determine if a stray cat is pregnant during the first three weeks.
  • Ultrasound: This method can detect pregnancy in cats as early as 21 days of pregnancy, however, it is difficult for vets to determine the size of the stray cat’s litter with this method.
  • X-Rays: This method will only show kittens at around 40 days of pregnancy, but it is the best way to determine the size of her litter.
a pregnant cat lying on wooden table
Image Credit: Boy67, Shutterstock

At What Age Can a Cat Get Pregnant?

A cat can become pregnant at about 4 months of age, which is a common time most stray cats become pregnant. A female cat will go through heat at this age, which attracts male cats to her. Cats do not experience menopause as humans do, so they can get pregnant up until the last few years of their lifespan. Right after a stray queen gives birth, she can get pregnant again soon after.

If you do find a female stray cat, it is best to take her to the vet to get her spayed. You can contact feline organizations that can help you with this procedure and cover the costs of spaying. The organization may even suggest that they take her in and rear her till she can be adopted.

Stray cats need to be spayed or neutered by an experienced veterinarian to help lower stray cat populations.

How Many Kittens Can a Cat Have in One Litter?

Cats can have anywhere between 1 to 10 kittens in a litter. First-time queens tend to give birth to smaller litters of between 2 to 3 kittens at a time, but it is not uncommon for them to have larger litters even when they are at a young age. Older queens seem to have smaller litters as well, mainly because their bodies are strained during this time and pregnancy can be risky for both the mother and her kittens.

The litter size can also depend on the breed of a stray cat. For example, Siamese cats tend to have larger litters than Persian cats. However, a vet can give an accurate estimate or a definite number of kittens the stray queen may birth by using the palpitations, ultrasound, and X-ray method we mentioned above.


Final Thoughts

Cats usually have a gestation period between 62 to 72 days (2–3.5 months) on average. Cats will not generally display pregnancy symptoms until they are at the two-to-three-week mark.

This time frame gives you a lot of time to plan what will happen with the stray queen, whether you want to take her to a vet and care for her yourself by covering the costs and following her care requirements as administrated by a veterinarian by yourself, or if you a feline organization to take her in and plan and prepare for the pregnancy themselves as most feline organization volunteers and staff are knowledgeable on how to deal with stray queens in this situation.

Featured Image Credit: elwynn, Shutterstock

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