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How Many Kittens Are There in a Litter? Stages of Pregnancy & Average Litter Size

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By Nicole Cosgrove

mother cat and kittens

Pregnant queens can give safely birth to litters between 1 and 9 kittens, with an average of 4 to 6 kittens per litter. While there have been cases of larger litters, these are commonly associated with congenital disabilities and kitten death. It may be possible, but queens aren’t equipped to care for a massive litter by themselves and may need human intervention to ensure the maximum survival of an enormous litter.

How Early Can a Cat Become Pregnant?

A female cat can experience her first heat as young as four months old. However, at this age, she is still a kitten herself and isn’t prepared for the hardships of being a mother. If your cat is too young to be spayed but is experiencing heat cycles young, you’ll want to make sure you can keep her separate from any tomcats that might wish to…ahem…give her the business.

If your cat is in heat, she will be restless, caterwaul, and present her rear to other creatures to attract a mate. It’s important to remember that female cats are not picky maters and will accept advances from almost any cat, including family members.

Tomcats will be able to smell her scent when she is in heat from several miles away. So, keep her indoors until she can be spayed. Separate any female kittens that start to experience heat cycles until they are fixed to avoid having more kittens than you can handle.

black and white cat walking in the garden
Image Credit: jantichy, Pixabay

Cat Gestation Cycle

Cat pregnancy lasts around 63–65 days, around nine weeks, much shorter than a human’s nine months! Pregnant queens will need some extra care during their pregnancy to ensure that the babies are born healthy.

Early Pregnancy and Diagnosis (Weeks 1–5)

A veterinarian can diagnose pregnancy in a cat early using abdominal palpitations or an ultrasound. This can be done on cats as young as three to four weeks of age. So, if you suspect your cat has gotten pregnant, the first stop should be a veterinarian!

During this time, heat cycles will usually stop. However, some cats can continue to experience heat cycles during pregnancy, resulting in litters of kittens with more than one father! The most notable sign of a cat pregnancy is the enlargement and reddening of the nipples. They will become more visible, even though her fur if she has short fur.

pregnant white cat
Image Credit By: Boy77, Shutterstock

Late Pregnancy (Weeks 6–9)

During the later parts of her pregnancy, your cat will start to search for a suitable place to give birth. She should be introduced to a quiet place away from any other pets and family members during this time, at least two weeks before her expected due date.

You’ll want to outfit her new nest with lots of fluffy towels and blankets that can be washed and replaced easily. Ensure the area is nice and warm so that your cat and her kittens don’t have to worry about being cold.

Your cat will need to eat more than she usually does during this time. She’ll need at least 25% more food during the later parts of her pregnancy. During this time and while she nurses her kittens, she’ll be using upwards of double the energy she usually does and will need food to supply her kittens with milk!

You’ll want to feed your cat kitten food during this time too. Kitten food is calorically dense than adult cat food to support the kittens’ growth, which is also great for nursing queens who need the extra calories to provide for the extra mouths they’re feeding!

British shorthair cat eating
Image Credit: Chendongshan, Shutterstock

Birth

Birth—also called kittening—can last quite a while. Kittening is split into three distinct stages that you can observe. Most cats can give birth without human intervention. However, it’s best to observe your cat quietly from a distance in case something goes awry.

First Stage

The first stage of kittening can last up to 36 hours, usually shorter in queens who have had kittens before. During this stage, your cat will be restless and have intermittent contractions. She will frequently visit her bed, and during the later parts of this stage, she may scratch or knead at the blankets in her bed. She may pant during later portions of this stage, and there may be vaginal discharge, but this is rare.

persian cat lying on sofa
Image Credit: Piqsels

Second Stage

The second stage of kittening lasts between five and 30 minutes per kitten. The first step is the water bag appearing through the vulva and then bursting. Your cat will clean the liquid up, so you don’t need to worry about cleaning up after her.

She’ll begin to strain as she births each kitten actively. The head will usually come first, and just one or two pushes after that will usually expel the kitten. Then she’ll break open the bag, bite off the umbilical cord, and begin to lick the kitten clean. This licking encourages the kitten to breathe and helps them enter the world outside their mother.

Third Stage

Once the kittens are out, it’s time for her to pass all the membranes and the placenta she used to grow the kittens inside her body! This usually happens immediately after the kittens are born, but occasionally they can be born in sets of two kittens followed by two groups of membranes.

Try to count the number of placentae passed by the queen to ensure all membranes are out. She will eat the placentae to hide evidence of her birth and protect herself and her kittens from predators. If she doesn’t pass all the placentae, you need to get her in to the veterinarian to ensure she’s empty.

The time between kitten births is usually between ten and 60 minutes on average. She’ll repeat stages two and three while she births. So, don’t be surprised if you see some membranes between kitten births.

mother cat and kitten
Image Credit: Christiane, Pixabay

The World’s Largest Kitten Litter

The largest litter of kittens ever birthed occurred in 1970 in Oxfordshire in the UK. A Burmese/Siamese cat gave birth to a litter of 19 kittens, four of which were stillborn, sadly. Still, this queen was able to pop out over double the average amount of kittens, and almost all of them survived! Pretty impressive, if you ask us!

Final Thoughts

Whether you think or know that your cat is pregnant, her health is crucial for her and her kittens. She’ll probably have a litter of between four and six kittens, but smaller and larger litters have been recorded.

As always, the most crucial step is to have her seen by a veterinarian. They’ll be able to guide you through her pregnancy and keep her and her kittens in tip-top condition!


Featured Image Credit: Good Shop Background, Shutterstock

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