How long are cats pregnant? It varies depending on the species.

Pregnant cat
Pregnant cat. Image by Marc Pascual from Pixabay.
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How long are cats pregnant? The answer depends on the type of cat. Here is a graph showing the domestic cat and some wild cats, medium and large and the differences in length of pregnancy:

chart showing how long cats are pregnant for

And here is the same information presented in the form of a table:

CatAve. Length of Pregnancy (days)
Domestic cat63
Scottish Wildcat65
Serval74
Cheetah92.5
Clouded leopard93
Leopard101
Snow Leopard101.5
Tiger102
Lion108

Although the length of pregnancy differs between cats and particularly between domestic and wild cats the style of mating is all very similar including the male’s teeth being sunk into the neck of the female to “sedate” her during mating.

Savannah cats mating
Savannah cats mating. Photo by Michael. Taken at A1 Savannahs. These cats were the opposite to reluctant.

Some information about reproduction and development of the domestic cat

The female domestic cat is seasonally polyoestrous and the onset of sexual activity appears to be controlled by photoperiod. Photoperiodism is the reaction of organisms to the length of night-time or the dark part of the day. And so, the main breeding season is in early spring in northern latitudes. In Italy, for example, it is in mid-January and in Sweden it is February-March. Typically, females undergo a series of oestrous cycles at 15-day intervals. Estrous is the period of sexual receptivity. It lasts 1-4 days. During these periods the female may attract as many as 20 males. She may be inseminated by as many as 10 different males. Some litters have more than one father.

In most places domestic cats have two litters per year. In Sweden 60% of older females bred twice a year and 7% bred three times according to a study by O. Liberg in 1983 called Courtship behaviour and sexual selection in the domestic cat.

Picture of Sphynx mother and her newborn kittens looking like something out of the Alien series
Picture of Sphynx mother and her newborn kittens looking like something out of the Alien series. Photo: Reddit video screenshot.

The gestation period i.e. the period of pregnancy typically lasts 63 days and towards the end of this period she begins to search for a safe place to deliver her kittens. The selection process depends upon the individual and it varies. For example, if it happens in the human home and the owner provides a secluded box, she may choose somewhere else completely different and perhaps unexpectedly. In the wild feral cats make their dens in places that they consider to be safe such as dense thickets or rock piles.

At the end of the nine-week gestation period the pregnant mother becomes restless. As mentioned, she searches for a den. Cat owners might hear her digging around looking for a suitable place. She loses her appetite and refuses food which indicates that birth is imminent. It might be a few hours away. She disappears and settles down to bring her kittens into the world.

Typically, they prefer to be left alone at this stage but if a cat has never enjoyed privacy they might not care too much.

The process of giving birth can be quite lengthy. In a typical litter of five kittens with 30 minutes between the arrival of each one the process lasts for two hours. She will be exhausted at the end of it. Some domestic cats give birth quickly at one kitten per minute but this is unusual. Conversely, it may take one hour between deliveries. The half hour interval has evolved to allow the mother to attend to the newborn kitten properly before the arrival of the next.

There are three phases to the attention she gives to a newborn kitten. Firstly, she breaks away the amniotic sac which encases the kitten when he or she emerges. Then she cleans and nose and mouth to enable the kitten to breathe properly. Then she cleans up, biting through the umbilical cord which she eats. She leaves a one-inch stump of the umbilical cord attached to the kitten. It dries out and finally drops off without intervention.

Here is a serval giving birth.

She eats the placenta which provides her with nourishment which in turn helps to deal with the long hours of looking after her kittens. She licks the kitten all over and then rests. And then she starts all over again after the next birth. Most mothers are excellent in their job and don’t need help from their human caregivers.

Sources: various including Dr Desmond Morris and Mel and Fiona Sunquist. Also, Kathrin and Martin Stucki.

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