Cats

How to Tell If a Stray Cat is Pregnant

Especially if you love cats, it can be both stressful and exciting to see a stray cat looking pregnant. Several questions can pop into your mind all at once. Should I take it to the vet? Should I adopt it? Should I leave it to take care of itself? But before everything else, you must first know how to tell if a stray cat is pregnant.

A pregnant stray cat has enlarged breasts. Its belly is distended and has movements, too. A pregnant stray cat has increased appetite and affection but decreased physical activity. Having no signs it’s in heat and looking for a nest, especially in the later stages of pregnancy, are also indicators.

Just because a stray cat seems pregnant doesn’t mean right away that it’s in the family way. There is what’s called false pregnancy in felines, which can make a cat exhibit the many signs and symptoms of pregnancy without actually being pregnant. We will discuss this very interesting and misleading matter later, so don’t stop reading now!

Anyway, let’s proceed with the crux of this article: How to tell if a stray cat is pregnant.

They say that cats have nine lives. Similarly, there are nine telltale signs that a stray cat is pregnant. If you can observe one or more of the following in a feline, tiny whiskered creatures might be on the way.

Nine Signs That Stray Cat Is Pregnant

pregnant cat

No in Heat Signs

Female cats can start being in heat as early as four months of age. And once it begins, they go into heat every two to three weeks, for around a week at a time. A stray cat in heat tends to roll around and rub against things, and these are some hilarious signs. But then there are bothersome signs, too, such as howling or wailing a lot, especially at night.

If the annoying sounds a stray cat makes every couple of weeks or so suddenly stops, it may be because it’s pregnant — a cat is unlikely to go into heat if it’s carrying some babies.

About eight weeks after giving birth to a litter of babies, a stray cat will go into heat once again. This usually coincides with the time that its kittens are weaned. Before that happens, it’s a good idea to have the stray cat spayed. Besides reducing the population of homeless kittens, spaying also allows the stray cat to enjoy health perks.

Morning Sickness

During the first trimester of pregnancy, around 70% of pregnant women experience morning sickness. Many pregnant cats also experience morning sickness during the early stages of pregnancy.

The reason for nausea and vomiting in pregnant cats, especially in the morning, is the same reason why women in the family way go through it: hormonal imbalance. Female cats experience sudden and dramatic increases in both estrogen and progesterone. Many other hormones of theirs change in amount and function, too.

Besides hormonal changes, another cause of morning sickness in cats is low blood sugar — much of the sugar in their blood is used up by the rapidly growing and developing babies in their bellies.

It’s exactly because of morning sickness why a pregnant stray cat may exhibit decreased appetite.

Increased Appetite

After having no urge to eat, a stray cat that’s pregnant will experience increased appetite. It doesn’t come as a surprise since it is eating for two or three or four or more — a cat’s litter can have up to 12 kittens!

Expectant women are hungry all the time because the growing babies in their wombs demand lots and lots of calories. Well, the same is true for the growing kittens in the wombs of cats. An increase in appetite is usually paired with the frequent urge of pregnant cats to sleep so that the majority of their caloric intake can be devoted to their babies.

Due to its increased appetite, it’s not unlikely for a pregnant stray cat to gain a lot of weight. This is why, in many instances, it can be difficult to determine if the feline is pregnant or just overweight. But fret not because there is a simple way to tell if a stray cat is pregnant or just fat. We will talk about it in a few, so keep on reading.

Enlarged Nipples

Although the kittens are still in the womb of their mom, other parts of the body of a pregnant stray cat are already gearing up for the big day. Case in point: the nipples of a stray cat with some buns in the oven change.

If a stray cat is pregnant, its nipples are bigger. They are also redder or darker in color.

Earlier, we mentioned that hormonal changes can cause cats to experience morning sickness. The hormones are also responsible for the change in size and color of the nipples — they stimulate a cat’s mammary glands to produce breast milk. Kittens rely on the milk of their mother for sustenance until they are eight to ten weeks of age.

Changes in the appearance of the nipples are easier to observe in a light-colored pregnant stray cat than a dark-colored one. However, you may still get hints of a feline’s pregnancy by checking out its nipples, even if its coat is dark. That’s because the fur on the breasts is shed, making the nipples easier to observe than usual.

Distended Belly

pregnant cat

Based on the appearance alone, you may not suspect that a stray cat is pregnant during the first few weeks of its gestation period. It’s only around the fifth week of pregnancy when its belly may appear larger than normal.

If you have keen eyes and the feline is lying still, you may also notice some movements in the belly of the stray cat. Needless to say, those are the growing and developing kittens in its womb. The closer the mommy cat to giving birth to a litter of babies is, the more active the little ones in its belly become.

Unfortunately, an enlarged belly is also exhibited by a stray cat that’s overweight, which can be easily mistaken as a sign of pregnancy. And this brings us to a very important matter…

Movements in the Belly

Besides being big, the belly of an expectant stray cat also has movements. Those are not little aliens (such as in sci-fi movies) or little demonic babies (such as in horror movies) trying to escape from the abdomen of their host. Instead, those are tiny kittens getting more and more active as their mom’s due date comes closer and closer.

As a matter of fact, if the stray cat trusts you enough, it may even let you feel the restless babies in its belly.

Just make sure that you place your hand on its abdominal area gently and slowly. A pregnant cat’s tummy is extremely sensitive. You may hurt the stray cat if you’re not careful, and it may respond in the form of a growl, hiss, scratch or bite. More importantly, it may lose its full trust in you.

Increased Affection

Feral cats tend to become more aloof and aggressive if they are in the family way. Stray cats may also behave kind of feral if they’re pregnant, although the majority of them may become more loving and adorable instead.

Like expectant women, cats, whether stray or otherwise, also go through mood changes. However, for them, it’s less about being cranky and weepy and more about being affectionate. If there are pawed babies in its belly, a stray cat may ask for extra love and attention from you, such as purring and rubbing against your legs more often than usual.

Well, a pregnant stray cat does appreciate the extra time you spent with it. But there is one more reason why it is acting clingier and cuter while in the family way: it wants more food.

It all has something to do with the fact that pregnant cats have increased appetite.

Decreased Activity

One of the various ways on how to tell if a stray cat is pregnant is by observing the feline’s appetite — if it seems increased, it may be carrying some babies in its womb.

Craving more food is commonly paired with wanting to rest more often.

No matter if stray, feral, or house, cats spend an average of 15 hours per day taking a trip to dreamland. Some of them, including pregnant ones, can sleep up to 20 hours per day! Because cats tend to be more active at night because their phenomenal eyesight makes it so easy, they prefer to catch lots of Z’s during the day.

A stray cat that’s pregnant spends more time sleeping than before pregnancy. This is why you may not see it a lot on your property, except when it’s feeling affectionate or begging for food.

Looking for a Nest

As early as two weeks before a stray cat gives birth, it may start looking for a place perfect as a birthing spot. It’s called nesting, and it entails searching for an area that’s safe and quiet and where there’s not a lot of activity going on.

Especially if you have formed some sort of relationship with the pregnant stray cat, you may be interested in making sure that the soon-to-be mother will be fine and its little ones will be out of harm’s way. No worries — you may simply provide it with a box in one corner of your property.

To encourage it to use the box as its birthing spot, regularly place food and water near it.

But if the stray cat disappears all of a sudden during its ninth week of pregnancy, then it could have chosen to give birth elsewhere. Refrain from assuming that you have seen the last of the feline. If the stray cat trusts and loves you, it will come back from time to time to ask for food and water.

How to tell if a stray cat is pregnant or just fat

The best way to tell if a stray cat is pregnant or just fat is by observing it from above. The stray cat’s belly should be enlarged slightly more than halfway from the neck to the tail if it’s pregnant. If a stray cat is just fat, its tummy is not the only one that’s big but also its neck and legs.

Here’s a quick and simple way to tell whether a stray cat is pregnant or simply fat: If it looks like a pear with an elongated bottle shape when observed from above, then it’s pregnant.

Cat Pregnancy Timeline

pregnant cat

Not all of the signs and symptoms of pregnancy in cats can be observed or come into being all at the same time. Like in humans, pregnancy in cats are divided into stages, each one has its own distinguishing characteristics.

Pregnancy in cats lasts anywhere from 58 to 67 days — around nine weeks.

Below, we will talk about what you can expect to see in a pregnant stray cat for every week of its pregnancy. Especially if the cat pays you a visit or you come across it every day or most days of the week, you will be able to notice an assortment of changes in the cat’s body and behavior, too.

Here’s a breakdown of a cat’s pregnancy per week…

  • First week. During the first week of its pregnancy, you won’t notice any changes in its body or behavior. But do take note that a female cat as young as four months old can get pregnant. Also, a cat in heat can be impregnated by several male cats, resulting in a single pregnancy.
  • Second week. Still, the stray cat won’t exhibit anything that could make you suspect that it’s pregnant. However, it is a different story if a vet springs into action. If a stray cat is in its second week of pregnancy, a vet will be able to detect the presence of embryos and their heartbeats using ultrasound.
  • Third week. Pinking-up — this is the major change in the body of a cat during its third week of pregnancy. It is characterized by the nipples becoming red and enlarged. The cat also loses fur around the nipples, which is necessary for it will make it easier for the kittens to breastfeed.
  • Fourth week. It’s during the fourth week of having some buns in the oven when a pregnant cat occasionally vomits in the morning. Also, it may have decreased appetite as a result of morning sickness. It’s a good idea to offer the cat small meals and clean water to keep it from being malnourished and dehydrated, too.
  • Fifth week. The belly of a pregnant cat is noticeably larger when it’s in the fifth week of its gestation period. It doesn’t come as a surprise since the babies in its womb are developing their muscles. Since they already have muscles, you may see them moving when carefully observing the cat’s distended belly.
  • Sixth week. Earlier, we mentioned that decreased appetite is a sign of pregnancy in cats. Well, a pregnant cat’s appetite increases during the sixth week of pregnancy. It’s not unlikely for it to ask for more food. Vets say that its nutritional needs are one and a half times more than before being pregnant.
  • Seventh week. A cat in its seventh week of pregnancy is noticeably thirsty — make sure that it has easy access to clean water at all times. It’s also during this time when a vet can do an x-ray of a cat to determine how many kittens the pregnant feline will have in a couple of weeks.
  • Eight week. The belly and breasts of a pregnant cat are considerably larger in the eight week of being in the family way. It may also groom itself more, although with some challenges due to its massive tummy. During the eight week of pregnancy, some cats may start looking for a place where they may give birth.
  • Ninth week. Because the kittens in the pregnant cat’s womb are fully developed, they can come out at any given time in the ninth week. When labor strikes, the cat may have decreased appetite but increased thirst. It may also vocalize a lot, show signs of restlessness, and stay in its chosen birthing spot.

False Pregnancy in Cats

pregnant cat

Above, we talked about nine things that can help you have an idea of whether or not a stray cat is pregnant. But just because a stray cat looks like it’s expecting doesn’t mean that it will give birth to a litter of kittens in 58 to 67 days.

There is also what veterinarians refer to as false pregnancy in cats.

Also known as phantom pregnancy, false pregnancy occurs when a mature female cat has all the signs and symptoms of pregnancy. However, the cat is not pregnant. So, in other words, there are no babies in its womb, and there are no babies that will come out of it after some time. But the good news is that a cat with false pregnancy can still get pregnant.

Practically every indicator that you could use on how to tell if a stray cat is pregnant can be observed in a feline with false pregnancy — from an enlarged belly, engorged breasts to vomiting.

False pregnancy usually happens anywhere from six to 12 weeks after the feline has been in heat. The signs and symptoms go away on their own after two to three weeks. However, in some instances, false pregnancy may last for several months. It’s also possible for a female cat to have multiple false pregnancies throughout its life.

To date, no one really knows the exact cause of false pregnancy in cats. However, vets agree that hormonal imbalances are major role players. Treatment for false pregnancy varies, including hormonal supplementation and surgery.

Photo credit: ©canva.com

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