Feline Pregnancy Signs and Symptoms (Cat Pregnancy Signs).
Unless a mature female cat is spayed early (prior to attaining puberty) or kept in a strict indoors environment well away from male cats, it is very likely that she will becomepregnant at some stage in her life. Owners of female cats who suddenly and inexplicablygain weight often query whether or not this gain in weight could be a sign that their cat is pregnant. They watch the weight grow and look out for other feline pregnancy signs that will further confirmtheir tentative diagnosis.
This page contains information on feline pregnancy signs (the symptoms and signs of cat pregnancy) that you can look out for if you are concerned that your cat might be pregnant.I have included a link to my feline pregnancy diagnosis page, which providesdetailed information on the ways in which cat pregnancy can be confirmed by your veterinarian,even in the very early stages of gestation.
Feline Pregnancy Signs and Symptoms - Contents:
1) The Feline Pregnancy Signs:
1a) Signs of heat, tom cat attraction and mating immediately preceded the appearance of the feline pregnancy signs.
1b) Abdominal distension seen during feline pregnancy (a "fat" tummy or swollen belly).
1c) Weight gain or weight distribution changes seen during cat pregnancy.
1d) An abdominal mass or fetal movement may be felt by the cat's owner.
1e) Mammary gland enlargement and mammary gland blood vessel dilation seen during feline pregnancy.
1f) Milk and colostrum production just prior to birth.
1g) Behavioural changes seen in the cat during feline pregnancy.
2) Conditions that mimic and look like cat pregnancy signs.
3) Feline pregnancy diagnosis - a link to our cat pregnancy testing page.
1a) Signs of heat, tom cat attraction and mating immediately preceded the appearance of the feline pregnancy signs.
The female cat generally displays some sign of being "in heat" (feline estrus signs)just before the onset of her pregnancy. The estrus period (the "in-heat" period) is defined asthe period of the female reproductive cycle when the female cat is most sexually receptive and fertile and will 'stand' to be mated by a male cat. Being the time of mating, the estrus period is, naturally, the time that a feline pregnancy is most likely to begin. Mating is required in order for pregnancy to occur - pretty simple.
If you noticed your cat showing signs of being "in heat" or "in-season" just before (1-2 months before) she became fat and "pregnant looking," then there is every chance that your cat could truly be pregnant. To see pictures and photos of a cat in heat (a cat exhibiting feline estrus signs), please visit ourfemale cat in heat page.
As is mentioned in our feline heat page (above link), not all female cats will show obvious signs of being"in season" (in heat) in the presence of their owners. Likewise, not all pet owners are skilled in detecting the symptoms of cat heat behavior, even if the female cat in question is very obvious about her receptiveintentions. Pet owners may, therefore, miss their female cat's heat signs altogether. Such pet owners may, however,get a clue as to their female cat's sexual receptivity and "in-heat status" by observing the behavior of male cats in the local vicinity. Male cats are expert at detecting the scent of a female cat in heat even if we ourselves, as pet owners, can not yet detect the signs. A female cat in heat will attract male cats to her, in the hopeof copulation. If you noticed a number of male cats lurking around your house or gardenjust before (1-2 months before) your female cat became fat and "pregnant looking" then there isevery chance that your female cat could truly be pregnant.
Sometimes cat owners will chance upon seeing their female cat copulating with a male catin the house or yard. The cat owner may arrive just in time to spot the mating itself (the brief seconds of male cat mounting and thrusting, whilst the female cat poses on her chest and belly beneath him),but, generally, most cat owners will only see and/or hear the after effect of the mating - when the female catscreams and attacks the male cat as he withdraws from copulation. This scream and attack will oftenbe very short-lived, after which the female cat will roll on her back affectionately (termeda post-coital or post-copulatory roll). If your female cat is observed to yowl and attack a male cat (generally a larger bodied cat), particularly if this attack seems to only be half-hearted in intention and/or it is followed up with a roll onto the back, then there isevery likelihood that the female cat in question has just been mated. If this episode issoon (within 1-2 months) followed by signs of weight gain, mammary development and the like,then there is every likelihood that the changes you are witnessing are true feline pregnancy signs.
Because of the violence inherent in feline mating and breeding, it is not uncommonfor a female cat to suffer from mild bites and scratches as a direct consequence of hercopulation activities. An entire female cat who comes back from an outdoors adventure withsigns of having been in a cat fight (bites, wounds and scratches) could well have been mated. Some cats may even go on to develop nasty cat fight abscesses on their bodies, which will needtreatment by a vet. If such a cat-fight or abscess episode is soon (within 1-2 months) followed by signs of weight gain, mammary development and the like,then there is every likelihood that the body changes you are witnessing are true signs of a pregnant cat. 1b) Abdominal distension seen during feline pregnancy (a "fat" tummy or swollen belly).
Most cat owners start querying whether or not their feline friend could be pregnant after observingvarious external signs that "fit with" their perception of what a pregnancy should looklike (this pre-conception of what a pregnancy should look like is generally based onpeople's experiences with human
pregnancy). Of all of the feline pregnancy signs, the developmentof an enlarged, swollen, distended abdomen (a "fat belly" or "pot belly") is generally themost obvious and recognizable sign of cat pregnancy that most cat owners will notice.
As the kittens enlarge and grow in utero, their combined weight and size causes the pregnantcat's abdomen to swell and expand and then, later, drop downwards with the weight and theeffects of gravity. Pregnant cats will suddenly appear to be "fat" and "overweight"to their owners, although obesity and actual body-fat has nothing to do with the perceivedweight-gain. The dropping down of the expanded abdomen causes the belly to appear pendulous and "pear-shaped" when viewed from in-front or behind. This shape alteration is particularly obvious in those cats who lose weight elsewhere in their bodies, particularly along the "topline" (the dorsal spine, ribcage and pelvis). In these cats, the toplinewill appear thin and narrow, but the belly will be enormous and round (like a pear).Author's note:
Unlike pregnant cats, obese cats (truly fat or overweight cats) tend tohave lots of fat located just underneath their skin (subcutaneous fat). This fat tendsto be particularly obvious in the regions beneath the groin and chest, where the skin willappear to hang down in saggy, floppy curtains with the weight of the adipose tissue.
Abdominal distension is generally most obvious only in the final 1-2 weeks of cat gestation.
It tends to be most recognisable in cats who:
Cat pregnancy signs pictures 1 and 2:
- have short hair coats (fluffy fur can mask an enlarging belly);
- are thin (already overweight cats may not appear all that much larger when pregnant);
- have already had a litter before (the abdominal muscles have been pre-stretched by previous litter/s and will tend to drop down and expand more obviously with subsequent litters);
- are carrying a big litter (many kittens create a large belly, whereas a single kitten pregnancy may not result in obvious abdominal enlargement).
These are pictures of a heavily pregnant catin the later stages of cat pregnancy (she has since gone on to have her litter). Her abdomen isvery round and distended and hangs almost pendulously below her spine. Feline pregnancy signs pictures 3 and 4:
These are pictures of a heavily pregnant catin the later stages of cat pregnancy (she has since gone on to have her litter). She is laying on herback and her swollen belly expands outwards around her. Her abdomen is very round and distended. Her udder (mammary gland chain) is now well developed with large, well-developed nipples and enlargement of themammary blood vessels. No milk was yet being produced by this cat.Cat pregnancy signs image 5:
This is a picture of a cat in the middle stages of cat pregnancy (sheis nowhere near as advanced as the black and white cat above). Her abdomen is just starting to drop down and become distended and her back is mildly bowed with the increasing weight of her pregnancy. Cat pregnancy signs images 6 and 7:
These are images of a cat in the middle stages of cat pregnancy (sheis nowhere near as advanced in her pregnancy as the black and white cat above). Her abdomen is just starting to drop down and become distended and her back is mildly bowed with the increasing weight of her pregnancy. 1c) Weight gain or weight distribution changes seen during cat pregnancy.
If fed properly (i.e. in a manner appropriate to their pregnant condition), pregnant cats will usually gain weight (weigh more on the scales) in the latter stages of their pregnancy as their fetal kittens grow in size and increase in mass. This overall increase in body-weight is the combined effect of the mother cat's own body-weight as well as the weight of the enlarged pregnant uterus, the growing kitten fetuses and the bulky placental fluids and membranes that surround each fetus.
If pregnant female cats are not fed quite enough food or if the kittens are growing exceptionallyrapidly or are large in number, such that their use of nutrient calories out-strips the amount of nutrientsthat the female cat can take in through diet alone, then a body-weight redistribution, rather than an overallweight increase, may be seen instead. In these cases, the female pregnant cat willsacrifice her ingested dietary nutrients and even her body reserves of fat and, in severe cases, muscleprotein, redirecting them to the placenta so that the unborn kittens will be able to grow and thrive. This occurs at the expense of the mother cat and her own body-weight.
The female cat will generally lose weight over the dorsal spine, ribcageand pelvic bones (the so-called "top-line"), becoming thin in these areas. The mother cat's skin mayeven appear thinner (almost see-through) as a result of the consumption (breakdown) of thesubcutaneous fat stores located just beneath the skin (the fat will be utilised to support the kittens). The uterus, kittens and mammary glands will continue to grow because of all of the nutrients beingdiverted to them and, consequently, these regions of the female cat's body will continue to enlarge.The end result will be an overall shape change for the pregnant cat. The cat will appear thin and ribby-looking over much of the body (particularly over the dorsal hip-bones, ribs and spine)with a large, pendulous, swollen tummy and mammary glands. In these cats, the toplinewill appear thin and narrow, but the belly will be enormous and round (like a pear). 1d) An abdominal mass or fetal movement may be felt by the cat's owner.
In the later stages of cat pregnancy (generally the last 1-2 weeks of feline pregnancy), the cat owner may be able to feel the fetal kittens if s/he very gently
palpates and presses upon the walls of the cat's abdomen with his/her fingers. Fetalkittens feel solid and firm and irregular in shape, but smooth in outline (like a weird, firm, smooth, knobby mass, which seems likeit should not be there) and will generally float or driftaway from you when touched (i.e. they are not fixed in position). Occasionally, a catowner may even be lucky enough to feel the pointy impression of an elbow or a kneewhen gently running his/her hands across and into the animal's sides and belly.Contact with this elbow or knee may even elicit an annoyed kick or twitch from the kittenit belongs to - a sure sign that the cat is pregnant and that the kittens are alive.
In the late stages of cat pregnancy, the kittens will usually be quite mobile.Owners sitting with their hand resting on the belly of their pregnant cat may feelsudden twitches under the skin as the kittens roll and kick or the odd bump as a kitten rises up, bounces off their hand and disappears again. In cats with very thin fur, nocontact with the pregnant cat may be needed in order for owners to be able to see the kittensmoving about within the cat's abdomen. The cat's abdomen will appear to move about, with focalareas of the belly occasionally lifting out in domed or pointy shapes as the kitten'sheads and legs press and push outwards. 1e) Mammary gland enlargement and mammary gland blood vessel dilation seen during feline pregnancy.
In the final week/s of pregnancy, the pregnant cat's mammary glands enlarge and develop, becoming firm, large and obvious. The nipples on the cat's mammary glands also enlarge too, becoming pointed and protuberant. This greatlyincreased mammary gland (breast) development generally occurs after
the abdominaldistension characteristic of pregnancy has already become obvious (i.e. mammary gland enlargement is a later stage finding).Author's note:
Subjectively, I have found that the blood vessels supplying the mammary glands(especially the caudal superficial epigastric arteries and veins) become engorged, enlargedand greater in size some time before the mammary gland tissues themselves become obviouslyincreased in size. At the vet clinic, I have often "guessed" that a cat is pregnanteven if no other cat pregnancy signs are yet obvious by observing the enlargement of themammary gland blood vessels. Double-checking these cases with ultrasound has often discovereda mid-to-later term feline pregnancy. I doubt it is scientific and I very muchdoubt it can be proven - it's just something I've noticed quite commonly.Author's note:
Please note that the enlarged, dilated mammary gland blood vessels are not only seen with pregnancy. Female cats who are in heat or who have very recentlybeen in heat (i.e. post-heat cats) also seem to have more obvious mammary gland blood vessels. Again, just an observation. Cat pregnancy signs pictures 8 and 9:
These are pictures of a heavily pregnant catin the later stages of cat pregnancy (she has since gone on to have her litter). She is laying on herback and her swollen belly expands outwards around her. Her abdomen is very round and distended. Her udder (mammary gland chain) is now well developed with large, well-developed nipples and enlargement of themammary blood vessels. No milk was yet being produced by this cat. Feline pregnancy signs picture 10:
This is an image of the enlarged udder of a pregnant cat (the cat's fur has been shaved from the belly for ease of visualisation). The mammary glands are massively enlarged, as are the blood vessels (blue lines criss-crossingthe skin) supplying them. Feline pregnancy signs picture 11:
This is a close up image of the enlarged udder of a pregnant cat. The blood vessels (dark blue-purple lines criss-crossing the skin) supplying the engorged mammary glandsare very dilated and large.Cat pregnancy signs photo 12:
This is an image of the massively-enlarged udder of a pregnant cat (the cat's fur has been shaved from the belly for ease of visualisation). The mammary glands take the form of a massively enlarged, raised slab of tissue (outlined in white in image 14, below) with numerous, interlacing blood vessels (the blue lines criss-crossing the skin) supplying them.Feline pregnancy signs picture 13:
This is a close up image of the surface of the udder (mammary tissue skin)of the pregnant cat pictured in image 12. The blood vessels (dark blue-purple lines criss-crossing the skin) supplying the engorged mammary glands are very dilated and large with many branches.Feline pregnancy signs photo 14:
This is an image of the massively-enlarged udder of a pregnant cat (the cat's fur has been shaved from the belly for ease of visualisation). The mammary glands take the form of a massively enlarged, raised slab of tissue (outlined in white) with numerous, interlacing blood vessels (the blue lines criss-crossing the skin) supplying them.Feline pregnancy signs picture 15:
This is an image of the caudal aspect of the massively-enlarged udder of a pregnant cat, pictured in image 14. This image shows how well-definedthe mammary gland tissue is from the rest of the abdominal wall. The enlarged mammary glands literally take the form of a massive, raised slab of pale, milk-filled glandular tissue.1f) Signs of Pregnant Cats - Milk and colostrum production just prior to birth.
At the very end of feline pregnancy, in the final days of gestation immediately before the birth (parturition)of the kittens, the already enlarged mammary glands start to produce milk for thesoon-to-be born kittens to feed upon. The milk that is produced first by the mammaryglands just prior to the arrival of the kittens is yellow in color and not completely opaque (i.e. itdoes not look like normal, white milk). This yellow milk is called colostrum
(the "first milk") and it is packed full of antibodies from the mother (maternal antibodies), which are essential to helping the kittens to fight diseasesprior to the maturation of their own immune systems. It is essential that each of the kittensdoes receive a good feed of colostrum within the first 24 hours (ideally the first twelve hours)after birth otherwise the kittens will be susceptible to infection from local bacteriaand viruses in the mother's environment.
Pet owners can check whether their pregnant cat is close to giving birth by gently expressingone of the teats and seeing if milk (usually yellow colostrum) appears. The cat ownershould wash his hands thoroughly in detergent and rinse them well before squeezing the teat so that bacterialcontamination of the teat is minimised (hands have lots of bacteria on them). The catowner should only sample one or two teats at most (i.e. just enough to prove that milk is
being made) and, even then, only squeeze the udder just enough to make a single drop of milk or colostrum bead from the tip of teat. Don't keep on repeatedly squeezing the teat so that drops of milk start dripping out because this is wasteful. The pregnant cat only makes a certain amount of colostrum andyou don't want to be responsible for the cat losing her valuable colostrum because youkept on testing the nipple for milk! Author's note:
If you squeeze the teats prior to birthing and only bright, white, opaque milkappears instead of colostrum, make a note of it. It is possible that this pregnantcat has not produced colostrum or that the colostrum made is poor in quantity or antibody quality. These kittens may well not receive enough of their maternal antibodiesfrom this cat and they will, therefore, be more susceptible to infectious disease. The owners of such cats will have to be very vigilant about keeping their cat's nurseryquarters very clean; dipping their kitten's freshly-cut umbilical cords in dilute betadine(to prevent umbilical cord infection or "navel-ill") and watching for any signsof illness, particularly respiratory illness (early antibiotic intervention may be required if such immune-starved kittens are to recoverfrom mild bacterial infections that would have been minimally harmful in kittens thatreceived their full quota of colostrum). Signs of Pregnant Cats picture 16:
This is a close up image of the udder of a pregnant dog who is shortlyabout to give birth. The dog's udder was large, sagging and pendulous with large, milk-fillednipples. When the mammary gland was expressed, milk beaded on the tips of the nipples.This particular mammary gland revealed a honey-like, watery, pale-yellow, straw-coloured milk called "colostrum" (the first milk). The colostrum appears a bit greenish (rather than yellow) in this image because colostrum is not fully opaque like true milk isand the black pigmentation of the nipple skin behind it is showing through the colostrum fluid, artificiallydarkening the colour.Feline pregnancy signs pictures 17 and 18:
This is the mammary gland of a late pregnant cat. When the mammary gland is expressed, white milk beads on the tip of the cat's nipple. 1g) Behavioral changes seen in the cat during feline pregnancy.
When cats become pregnant, their body comes under the influence of large quantities of progesterone. Progesterone is a reproductive hormone that is made by the corpus lutea during early pregnancy (large, yellow, secretory nodules which form on the surface of the cat's ovaries following the ovulationof eggs from the ripe ovarian follicles) and by the fetal kitten placenta during late pregnancy.Progesterone's role is to make the uterine environment satisfactory for embryonic nutrition andimplantation to occur (during the first 2-3 weeks of pregnancy) and to help with the maintenance of pregnancy throughout the entire cat gestation period. Progesterone suppresses uterine wall motilityand thereby prevents the uterus from contracting and moving and inadvertently expelling or aborting the babies prior to term.
Progesterone also has a behavior modifying effect on the female cat. It makes the catrelaxed and calm during pregnancy and owners often comment that their pregnant catsare less moody and more mellow and even-tempered with fewer displays of anxiety or aggression.Some cats may even appear more affectionate than normal.
The animal will typically show no signs of feline heat behavior duringpregnancy, although heat signs may occasionally be seen in pregnant cats just beforethe onset of birth (whelping or parturition), when, for a brief time, progesterone levels plummetand estrogen levels dominate (producing signs of heat behaviour).
Another one of the feline pregnancy signs is an increase in appetite. Pregnant cats areeating for themselves and for their babies and so pet owners will normally noticethat their pregnant pets are always hungry and begging for food.
In the very last 1-2 days of feline pregnancy, just prior to the onset of birth, the pregnant cat will start to show nesting behaviours. Considered to be part ofthe first stage of feline labor, nesting is when the pregnant cat prepares a safe, warm, quiet, out-of-the-way place in which to have her kittens. Generally, femalecats will just go off and find a warm, comfortable place to hide and give birth(e.g. a clothes closet, under a house, in a specially-designed cat nesting box, in a washing basket ...), but some cats will make a huge production of it, draggingitems of clothing and even toys into the bed to make it even more perfect and comfortable. 2) Conditions that mimic and look like feline pregnancy signs.
There are other conditions (both disease and non-disease conditions) that can produce symptoms and signs, which are similar to those seen in feline pregnancy. Some of these conditionsproduce abdominal enlargement and some of them produce mammary gland enlargement(breast enlargement) and even milk production!
Conditions other than feline pregnancy that cause abdominal swelling and cat belly enlargement:
- Obesity (usually accompanied by increased subcutaneous fat accumulation particularly in the inguinal or groin region);
- False pregnancy (phantom pregnancy);
- Non-pregnant uterine distension as a result of uterine fluid accumulation (e.g. pus exudate - pyometron, watery fluid - hydrometra, mucus - mucometra);
- Non-pregnant uterine distension as a result of increased tissue mass (e.g. uterine cancer);
- Bladder enlargement or expansion with urine;
- Abdominal cancers (e.g. spleen masses, liver tumours, bladder masses, intestinal cancers, ovarian neoplasia);
- Free fluid in the abdomen, which can occur for many reasons (many kinds of free abdominal fluid are possible - urine, pus, chyle, bile, blood, ascites-fluid, inflammatory fluid, FIP effusion);
- Enlarged visceral organs, which can occur for many reasons (e.g. liver enlargement, spleen enlargement);
- Gas accumulation within the stomach and/or intestines (e.g. bloating, intestinal blockage, flatulence);
- Food accumulation within the stomach and/or intestines (e.g. large meal, food gorging);
- Fluid accumulation within the stomach and/or intestines (e.g. intestinal blockage, ileus);
- Fecal accumulation (e.g. constipation, megacolon);
- Abdominal inflammatory conditions (e.g. pancreatitis, gastroenteritis, hepatitis, steatitis);
- Conditions that cause weakness and relaxation of the abdominal wall muscles and a resultant "pot-belly" (e.g. Cushing's disease).
This is a picture of a cat with a very swollen abdomen (the cat's head is outside-of-image to the right). The belly was swollen because the cat's abdominal cavity was full of inflammatory fluid. The cat had FIP (Feline Infectious Peritonitis) and was not pregnant, despite the pregnant-looking appearance.
Conditions other than feline pregnancy that cause mammary gland enlargement and sometimes milk production:
- False pregnancy (phantom pregnancy or fake pregnancy);
- Galactostasis or milk stasis (uncomfortable milk build up in the udder often associated with such factors as: over-production of milk, small litter size, blocked milk ducts or the abrupt loss or removal of a suckling litter);
- Mastitis - infection of the breasts (usually painful);
- Fibroadenomatous mammary hyperplasia or feline mammary hypertrophy (massive, non-painful mammary glands without milk production usually associated with progesterone influence);
- Mammary cancers (usually a single breast, not all of them);
- Prolactin secreting brain tumours.
To go from this feline pregnancy signs page to the Pet Informed Homepage, click here.
To go from this pregnancy signs in cats page to our female cat desexing page, click here.
To go to our photographic "diagnosing cat pregnancy" page, click here.
Feline Pregnancy Signs References and Suggested Readings:
1) Feline Reproduction. In Feldman EC and Nelson RW: Canine and Feline Endocrinology and Reproduction, 2nd ed. Sydney, 1996, WB Saunders Company.
2) Feline Reproduction. In Daris W, editor: Compendium of AnimalReproduction, 5th ed. 1998, Intervet.
3) Physiology of Reproduction in Mammals. In Daris W, editor: Compendium of AnimalReproduction, 5th ed. 1998, Intervet.
4) Verstegen J, Feline Reproduction. In Ettinger SJ, Feldman EC, editors: Textbook of VeterinaryInternal Medicine, Sydney, 2000, WB Saunders Company.
5) Female Physiology Before Pregnancy and the Female Hormones. In Guyton AC and Hall JE: Textbook of Medical Physiology, 9th ed. Sydney, 1996, WB Saunders Company.
6) Abrams-Ogg A, The Cat With Abdominal Distention or Abdominal Fluid. In Rand J, Problem Based Feline Medicine. Sydney, 2007, Elsevier Saunders.
7) Linde-Forsberg C and Eneroth A, Abnormalities In Pregnancy, Parturition and the Periparturient Period. In Ettinger SJ, Feldman EC, editors: Textbook of Veterinary Internal Medicine, Sydney, 2000, WB Saunders Company.
8) Kruth SA, Abdominal Distention, Ascites and Peritonitis. In Ettinger SJ, Feldman EC, editors: Textbook of Veterinary Internal Medicine, Sydney, 2000, WB Saunders Company.
9) Johnson CA Disorders of the Mammary Gland. In Nelson RW, Couto CG, editors: Small AnimalInternal Medicine, Sydney, 1998, Mosby.
Feline Pregnancy Signs - Copyright August 10, 2010, www.pet-informed-veterinary-advice-online.com.
All rights reserved, protected under Australian copyright. No images or graphics on this Pet Informed feline pregnancy signs webpage may be used without written permission of their owner, Dr. O'Meara BVSc (Hon).
Please do not steal our cat pregnancy signs images. A lot of time and effort and waiting goes into collectingthese original 'signs of a pregnant cat' pictures for our readers.