There’s nothing more special than watching a mother cat nurse her kittens. Kittens get a lot of nourishment from their mother’s milk in the first few months of life, and preparing to produce milk is a major part of pregnancy for cats. You might be wondering what changes occur in nipples over the course of pregnancy in cats. Nipple changes are one of the earliest signs of pregnancy in cats, starting around 2 weeks after conception. (The average cat pregnancy is around 60–70 days.)
If you want to know the difference between a pregnant cat’s nipples and a normal cat’s nipples, it’s important to learn a little bit about how nipples normally work and how they develop.
Click Below to Jump Ahead:
At a Glance
Overview of Normal Cat Nipples
Anatomy of a Cat’s Nipple
Cats usually have six or eight nipples arranged in pairs along their bellies. More rarely, cats might have four nipples, 10 nipples, or an odd number of nipples. This layout makes it easy for cats to nurse multiple kittens at once.
Each nipple is right in front of a mammary gland. Mammary glands are small and dormant in a normal (non-pregnant/nursing) cat. Each mammary gland has several ducts, which connect to the teat canal—the opening in the tip of a nipple. A healthy cat shouldn’t produce any milk or discharge except for when pregnant or nursing.
Before pregnancy, a cat’s nipple is small and hard to find. Each one looks like a tiny pimple or flap of skin. There might be a small amount of bare skin around the nipple, or fur might come right up to the edge of the nipple. Nipples are usually hard to find under a healthy cat’s fur.
Nipples in Male Cats
Both male and female cats have nipples, just like humans. This is because nipples develop very early on, before the hormone changes that give kittens male or female anatomy. For male cats, nipples don’t have any real use, they’re just a leftover from the development process. At a glance, male cats and female cats have similar nipple anatomy. Male cats even have the same mammary system as females! However, male cats have slightly smaller and less developed nipples and mammary glands.
Overview of Pregnant Cat Nipples
During pregnancy, changes take place in a cat’s nipples so that she can nurse her kittens when they are born. What a cat’s nipples look like depends on the stage of pregnancy. We can divide nipple changes into early pregnancy, late pregnancy, and post-pregnancy (nursing) stages.
Nipple changes are one of the first signs of pregnancy in cats. When a cat becomes pregnant, the eggs implant at around day 10–14, and shortly after that, nipples begin to prepare for nursing. At around 2 weeks into pregnancy, the mother’s nipples will enlarge and darken. They will become a fleshy pink color darker than the surrounding skin and double or triple in size. The area around the nipple also changes. In normal cats, the nipples don’t have fur but there is very little hairless skin around the nipple.
In early pregnancy, a patch of hairless skin begins to develop around the nipples, so they are easy to find. At this stage in the pregnancy, nipples usually aren’t discharging any fluid.
Over the course of your cat’s pregnancy, the nipples will continue to become more prominent, although the biggest changes have already happened. As your cat’s belly swells, the patch of skin around the nipples continues to grow. The next major change happens around day 60–65, or about two days before the pregnancy ends. At this point in time, small amounts of clear or milky discharge might begin leaking from your cat’s nipples. This leaking might happen on its own or when the nipples are touched or pressed. This discharge is normal and is a sign that the mammaries are ready to go into full milk production whenever needed.
If you don’t see any discharge, don’t worry—not all mother cats produce it in noticeable amounts.
After the cat gives birth, her nipples are stimulated to produce milk by nursing kittens. At this point, her mammaries are in full milk-production mode. The area around the nipples will be enlarged because the milk ducts are full of milk. The nipples will continue to be darker and bigger than normal for as long as the kittens are nursing.
Kittens will wean gradually if left to their own timeline. The mother cat will encourage them towards food and away from milk over time, and her nipples will slowly return to normal. If nursing suddenly stops, the mother might be at risk of developing mastitis (a painful inflammation of the mammary gland with or without bacterial infection) due to the accumulation of milk. This is another reason why kittens need to be gradually weaned. Within a few days to a few weeks after nursing has stopped completely, the mother’s nipples will return to their normal size and coloration.
|Normal Nipples||Early Pregnancy||Late Pregnancy||Post Pregnancy|
|Nipple Size||Small, barely noticeable||Enlarged||Enlarged||Swollen|
|Nipple Color||Similar to skin||Much deeper pink||Much deeper pink||Much deeper pink|
|Nipple Discharge||None||None||Occasional milky fluid||milk|
|Area Around Nipple||Fur comes almost to nipple||Growing amounts of hairless skin||Growing amounts of skin—nipple easily visible||Enlarged from full ducts beneath|
As you can see, feeding kittens is no simple task. The process of preparing milk for nursing is a wonder of biology. The changes that happen to a mother cat’s nipples during pregnancy are some of the most consistent signs of pregnancy in a cat, a surefire sign that kittens are coming. These transformations from tiny flaps of skin that are barely visible in a normal cat to mammaries full of nutritious milk are incredible!
- See also: 11 Best Cat Foods for Pregnant Cats