How Long Are Cats Pregnant?

It's no secret that cats are a very fertile species, but just how long will it take to see those cute little kittens?

If you adopted your cat from a shelter, chances are she was spayed and won’t become pregnant. But what if you took in a stray cat or decided you want your cat to have a litter of kittens? It’s important to know at what age a cat can get pregnant, and how long are cats pregnant, to help ensure mama cat and kittens are healthy.

At what age can a cat get pregnant?

It’s hard to imagine, but a cute little kitten can get pregnant as early as four months of age. But just because pregnancy can happen at such an early age doesn’t mean it’s healthy. “Cats are not considered adults at this time and it is highly discouraged to allow breeding then,” says Natalie Marks, DVM, a Chicago-based veterinarian and a spokesperson for Royal Canin. Breeding at an early age is stressful on the cat’s body and can even be life-threatening. “A safe age to neuter and spay cats is typically regarded around six months of age,” Marks says. However, kittens in shelters are spayed earlier. That’s because the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) recommends kittens in shelters are spayed as early as eight weeks to control homeless pets. You’ll purr over these before and after cat adoption photos of cats that found forever homes.

What time of the year is my cat in heat?

Maybe the question should be, “When isn’t my cat in heat?” Because cats have a heat cycle every two weeks, but light plays a significant role. According to Amanda Nascimento, DVM, head of integrative veterinary medicine and research at NHV Natural Pet, heat cycles are dependent on the seasons and light cycles. “When a cat is exposed to approximately ten or more hours of sunlight, their hormonal cycle is activated. This means that in different parts of the world, cats may go into heat at different times of the year,” says Dr. Nascimento. And artificial light can induce the breeding season too, Dr. Nascimento says. Your cats have a lot of instinctual behaviors–this is why it knows how to use a litter box.

What are the signs my cat is in heat?

When a dog goes into heat, there is a clear sign (bleeding), but that isn’t so with cats. They don’t bleed, but they do experience dramatic behavior changes, Dr. Nascimento says. “They wander around with their tail raised and shaking, often yowling or meowing loudly,” she says. Cats in heat eat less, so it’s important to offer a diet with a bit more protein and offer a multivitamin that is approved by your vet. By the way, did you know that if there isn’t a suitable male cat nearby, the meowing, yowling, and tail antics may be used woo a dog or human? Crazy as that sounds, here are 17 other bizarre and interesting things about cats you didn’t know.

How do vets confirm if my cat is pregnant?

One way to find out how long cats are pregnant is to confirm a cat is indeed pregnant. Dr. Nascimento says pregnancy can be confirmed by an ultrasound early on at around two weeks. There are also special hormonal blood tests. At around 40 days, Dr. Marks says a radiograph can be taken not only to confirm pregnancy but also to get an estimate of how many kittens are in the litter. Getting your cat to the vet can be an ordeal itself, but learning how to get your cat in a carrier without getting your eyes scratched out can help.

Early signs your cat is pregnant

There might not be any signs early on in the pregnancy, but two weeks in, visible signs are noticeable. “At approximately 15 to 18 days of pregnancy, a cat’s nipples can become enlarged and red,” says Dr. Marks. Just like humans, pregnant queens (a term for female cats who are pregnant or nursing kittens) can experience nausea or vomiting in the early stages of pregnancy. Cats are notoriously stoic (but there are ways to tell if they’re happy,) even when pregnant, so it’s important to know the signs your “healthy” cat (male or female) may actually be sick.

Later stages of cat pregnancy

In addition to the early signs, a growing belly is another sign your cat is pregnant. “A pregnant queen’s stomach will begin to swell, and she can gain two to five pounds depending on how may kittens are present,” says Dr. Marks. “Her appetite will increase in the later stages of pregnancy, and she may act more maternal—like purring more, and being more clingy to human parents.” Like humans, a queen’s growing belly will likely mean more trips to the litter box to urinate. Or she could have constipation as the growing kittens crowd and narrow the space of her organs. Show extra love to your cat–these are the best gifts for your feline friend. 

Signs your cat is nesting

As with humans, Dr. Nascimento says queens will display “nesting” behaviors. This generally occurs 12 to 48 hours before giving birth. You might notice some physical changes, such as restlessness, panting, and pacing, or behavioral changes, such as being aloof with strangers or your other pets. Give your queenie privacy and a cozy box lined with blankets in a secluded area to give birth. This is the real reason why your cat meows. 

How long are cats pregnant?

So, how long are cats pregnant? Or, what you’re really wondering: How long will you have to wait to see those adorable tiny kittens? “The gestation period is on average 63 to 67 days, but can be as short as 61 and as long as 72 days. The gestation does not specifically vary by age or breed but can be an individual variation,” says Dr. Marks. Dr. Nascimento adds that when gestation is shorter, it could be because the cat is very young when she becomes pregnant, and her body isn’t equipped to handle the stress of pregnancy. Sadly, a premature kitten’s prognosis is usually very poor. You’ll want to get a sneak peek at the cutest cat breeds as kittens.

Lisa Marie Conklin
Lisa Marie Conklin is a Baltimore-based writer who writes regularly about pets and home improvement for Reader's Digest. Her work has also been published in The Healthy, HealthiNation, The Family Handyman, Taste of Home, and Realtor.com., among other outlets. She's also a certified personal trainer and walking coach for a local senior center. Follow her on Instagram @lisamariewrites4food and Twitter @cornish_conklin.