Guide to Cat Mating and Reproduction


  • Mating and Conception
  • Is Your Cat in Heat?
  • Pregnancy
  • Stages
  • Care
  • Potential Problems
  • The Birth Process
  • Postnatal Care
  • Finding Homes for Kittens

Cat mating may seem simple to the casual observer: they mate loudly, frequently, and indiscriminately; the female cat becomes pregnant, then gives birth to a bunch of kittens. The truth is not quite as clear-cut as that, however. For instance, did you know that cats do not ovulate until they mate? Or that a female cat may give birth to five kittens, each from a different father? That male cats have barbed penises to stimulate the female cat to ovulate?

Learn here the truth of these matters and much more about cat mating.

Mating and Conception in Cats

You may have adopted or been given a female kitten, and now that she is a few months older, her behavior has suddenly become suspiciously “amorous.” You are wondering could she possibly be in heat already? Yes, you’ve read about spaying, but haven’t yet gotten around to it. Perhaps you’re secretly thinking how nice it might be to have a litter of kittens–just one.

You love her, though, and you’re also wondering if she could become pregnant at her age. What exactly would happen, should she someday slip out the door and encounter a frisky male cat with only one thing on his mind?

Is Your Cat in Heat?

Female cats that are not spayed will eventually come into heat (technically called estrus), and the signs are unambiguous, once you know what to look for. A kitten can have her first heat as early as 4 months, so don’t fall for that old “wait until six months to spay” advice. And remember, that once a female cat has her first heat, it will happen again and again, until she either mates or is spayed. Here are some behavioral symptoms to watch for if you suspect your cat is in heat. For a vivid video description of a young cat in heat, also watch this YouTube video.

Signs Your Cat Is Pregnant

Cats in heat will go to any length to find male cats to mate with, and male cats have sometimes been known to tear down screens to get to a female in heat. If your cat was in heat and had access to a tom (un-neutered male) cat, the likelihood that she is pregnant is very high.

A pregnant queen will show both physical and personality changes which will first become more evident around three weeks after mating. Learn to recognize the signs your cat may be pregnant.

Sarah Zucker / EyeEm / Getty Images

So Your Cat Is Pregnant

So you were a little slow in having her spayed and your cat turned up pregnant, or perhaps a pregnant stray adopted you. Maybe you are working with a rescue group and this is your first fostering experience with a pregnant cat. Where do you go from here? Your first major decision is whether or not to allow the condition to continue.

Yes, pregnant cats can be spayed, but the earlier in the pregnancy, the better. However, this is a decision you’ll want to discuss with your family and your veterinarian.

What to Expect

The entire development of the embryo is a fascinating study with scientific names for each stage, but for brevity and better understanding, we’ll concentrate here on the basics. Note: the process of development is more important to understand, rather than the names given along the way.

Heat (Estrus) Cycles in Cats

Care of Your Cat During Pregnancy

Whether you’ve adopted a pregnant stray, or your own cat has become pregnant, you’ll want to provide all the things your pregnant cat needs, both for her health and for the health of the unborn kittens. Many of the things you’ll provide for her are the same things you’d give any cat in your care: shelter, a comfortable place to sleep, a litter box, scratching post and toys. (Exercise is important to pregnant cats too.) Make sure to give her a quiet, private place to rest and minimize her stress. Setting up the nesting box early is a good idea as this can serve as a bed for her during pregnancy as well as a place for her to give birth and tend to her newborn kittens. In addition. you’ll want to provide adequate nutrition for a pregnant cat and her growing babies; this means increasing the quantity of the food as well as the quality. She should either be fed kitten food, or a diet labeled to meet the needs of gestation and lactation (pregnancy and nursing). Consult your veterinarian regarding other safe steps to take to keep a pregnant cat healthy as some preventative health measures, such as vaccines, are not safe to administer during pregnancy.

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Potential Problems in Cats’ Pregnancy

In general, any unusual symptoms during gestation should be followed through with a call or visit to your veterinarian. This is an important part of the care of a pregnant cat. Just like other species, pregnant cats may have some fetuses that do not survive or others that develop birth defects, which can range from mild to severe. Often, you will not know this is the case until she gives birth as most cats do not have ultrasounds performed routinely during pregnancy. Additionally, pregnant cats can have complications including premature labor, metabolic changes including gestational diabetes, fatty liver, or eclampsia (low calcium).

Although the majority of pregnant cats go through gestation trouble-free, there are potential problems that can occur, so it is important to monitor them closely and notify your veterinarian of anything that seems concerning. Being forewarned is being forearmed.

Helping Your Cat Through the Birth Process

Chances are that you will not need to do anything to help with the birth process except to be with your cat to encourage her as sort of a “cat doula.” Make sure to keep your distance as stress can slow down the birthing process and most cats prefer privacy during delivery. You may even wake one morning to discover that your pregnant cat has given birth during the night, and is comfortably nursing her kittens. However, you should know how to spot potential problems and what action to take, should she need assistance with the birth process.

Getty Images/John P Kelly

Postnatal Care of Mother Cat and Newborns

The first two to three weeks are the most crucial for your mother cat and her newborn kittens. The kittens should be developing rapidly, and the queen will be most at risk for postpartum problems during this time.

Keep the queen and her babies in a quiet part of the house; a separate room is ideal, and make sure the room is warm. Getting cold is a big danger to newborn kittens. In the first few weeks, the mother cat will barely leave the kittens as they nurse around the clock. For this reason, it is important to set up a nesting box that is large enough for the mom and kittens to rest together. The mother cat should have access to food, water, and a litter box without having to leave the kittens. Let the mother cat set the pace for your attention. If she is a longtime companion and resident, she may welcome your visits but you should refrain from handling her and her kittens in those first few weeks unless she initiates it. It can be very stressful for mother cats to have their kittens out of sight and to see them handled. It is also a good idea to have kitten formula on hand and familiarize yourself with how to care for newborn kittens in the event one or more of the kittens is not nursing.

Finding Homes for the Kittens

Sending kittens away to a new “forever home” can be either a joyous or worrisome occasion, depending on how you handle the preparations. You have invested almost two months or more of work, worry, and probably expense, in caring for the mother cat and then the kittens. Their futures will depend on your investing a bit more time to ensure that the new homes they are going to are truly good homes. Depending on the age of the kittens, you may want to have their first vaccines and other preventative health treatments done prior to adoption so consult your veterinarian on the timing.

The only thing left to do now is to have the mother cat spayed​ if this has not already been done. You’ve been responsible for her care during her pregnancy, and I’m sure you will agree that this is now the only responsible thing to do.

If you suspect your pet is sick, call your vet immediately. For health-related questions, always consult your veterinarian, as they have examined your pet, know the pet’s health history, and can make the best recommendations for your pet.The Spruce Pets uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

  1. Little, Susan E. Female Reproduction. The Cat (2012): 1195–1227. doi:10.1016/B978-1-4377-0660-4.00040-5
  2. Management of Reproduction of Cats. Merck Veterinary Manual
  3. Overview of Management of the Neonate in Small Animals. Merck Veterinary Manual
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