Hepper is reader-supported. When you buy via links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission at no cost to you. Learn more.

6 Reasons Why Your Cat Had Only One Kitten: Feline Labor & Delivery Explained

Nicole Cosgrove Profile Picture

By Nicole Cosgrove

Orange cat nursing a lone kitten

Having kittens can be an exciting time for everyone! You’re excited to see a few small little bundles of joy nursing and playing with each other as they grow and develop. But sometimes, the day comes and the queen doesn’t have more than one kitten. If this is the case, what does it mean, why did it happen, and is it something you should worry about?

We’ve highlighted six of the most common reasons why your cat only had one kitten for you below. We’ll also help you understand each reason and what you should do.

The 6 Possible Reasons Your Cat Only Had One Kitten

1. Sudden Conceiving

If the mother quickly conceived after her last litter, there’s a decent chance this is why she only had one kitten in this litter. A significantly smaller litter size is the mother’s way of protecting herself from repeat litters in such a short time.

It’s in the mother’s best interest to give them adequate time to recover between each litter. You should give them at least 6 months to recover, but many breeders recommend waiting a full year so the queen can fully recover.

Likelihood High
Seriousness Low

2. Their Breed

While most cat breeds don’t have just one kitten per litter, plenty of breeds have smaller litter sizes. For instance, Persian cats typically have between one and three kittens per litter, while Abyssinian cats typically average six kittens per litter. As a general rule, the larger the cat breed, the smaller the average litter size.

Likelihood Moderate
Seriousness Low
Abyssinian kitten
Image Credit: Kseniya Lanzarote, Shutterstock

3. Genetics

Sometimes it’s nothing you did or didn’t do, and it’s all about the cat’s genetics! Whether it’s a chromosome condition or something else entirely, some cats simply don’t have a ton of kittens in each litter.

This is especially true if the queen has had smaller litter sizes in the past. Some cats have lots of kittens in each litter and others don’t.

Likelihood High
Seriousness Low

4. First-Time Mother

The first time a queen breeds it’s perfectly normal for them to have a smaller litter size. Think of it as nature’s way of easing a queen into motherhood. While it doesn’t matter too much for queens in the care of a human, for a wild cat, having fewer kittens to care for would make things easier the first time around.

Likelihood High
Seriousness Low

5. Older Mother

As cats age, their reproductive organs start to slow down a bit. They don’t drop as many eggs for each heat cycle, leading to smaller litter sizes. So, if your cat is on the older side of things when they’re pregnant and having kittens, the litter size will likely be smaller.

Likelihood High
Seriousness Low
cat smelling kitten
Image Credit: Irina Kozorog, Shutterstock

6. Unsuccessful Fetus Development

This isn’t the most likely reason, but if you’re looking to breed the queen again, it’s the most serious. That’s because if there’s an underlying issue behind why the other fetuses didn’t develop, you might struggle to breed the queen again successfully.

If you suspect unsuccessful fetus development as the reason your cat only had one kitten and you want to continue breeding them, we recommend taking them to a vet to see if there’s anything they can do to help.

Likelihood Moderate
Seriousness High

Normal Delivery Interval

If your cat just delivered her kitten, you want to wait a little bit before you determine if she’s only having one. Normal birth intervals between kittens range from 10 minutes to 1 hour, but it’s perfectly possible for them to go 3 hours between births.

From start to finish, the queen should deliver the entire litter in 1–12 hours, but sometimes it can take up to 24 hours. Give it a little time and you might find the queen is having more than one kitten!

Interrupted or Difficult Birth

Two conditions you’ll want to keep an eye out for when the queen is delivering are interrupted and difficult births. Interrupted births are typically a condition the human owner causes. This can make it so the mother stops straining, and because of this, they won’t deliver the remaining kittens right away.

During this time, the queen will nurse, eat, and use the litter box like normal. However, they should resume delivering kittens within 24–36 hours. If they don’t resume delivering during this time, you need to take them to a vet right away.

A difficult birth occurs when the queen struggles to deliver a kitten. This can happen if the kitten is too large or is positioned improperly in the birth canal. Signs to look out for are if the queen is actively straining for more than 20 minutes without producing a kitten, or if you actively see a kitten stuck and only partially delivered.

If the queen is having a difficult birth, you should notice obvious signs of distress and exhaustion. Furthermore, during a difficult birth, you need to take the queen to a vet right away or it can quickly become a life-threatening condition for both the queen and the remaining kittens.


Most of the time, if your queen only had one kitten in a litter, it’s nothing to worry about. Sometimes cats have larger litters and sometimes they have smaller ones. But if you suspect that anything is out of the ordinary, trust your gut and take them to the vet.

Featured Image Credit: Anikin Dmitrii, Shutterstock

Related Articles

Further Reading

Vet Articles

Latest Vet Answers

The latest veterinarians' answers to questions from our database