Before we move on to the next post, I'll give you the answer to yesterday's question as promised.
Tia, a seal tortie point, carries dilute and chocolate. The dad, a cream point, does not carry chocolate. This means that all dominant coloured kittens, red, seal or tortie, will carry dilute. All kittens will also be colourpoint. Any of the kittens could carry chocolate, but only a DNA test will tell us which ones, as none of them will show the colouring.
Girls: red, cream, seal tortie, blue-cream tortie.
Boys: Seal, blue, red, cream.
Now that that's out of the way, on to pregnancy.
The question that I see over and over again on forums, websites and groups is this. "What are the signs that a cat is pregnant?" There are certain signs which, when you know what you are looking for, are unmistakable at confirming a cat's pregnancy. Let's start with the mating.
When a cat is in season, she is said to be calling. Anyone who has lived with a calling cat will know why the name is so apt, for they do indeed call, usually very loudly and incessantly. The call varies in length from cat to cat, but normally lasts between five and seven days. A cat will become unusually vocal, will roll around on the floor and often become much more affectionate. One of the very obvious signs of calling comes when she lies on her stomach on the floor, tucks her back feet under her and lifts her rear into the air. Touch her lower back and her tail will move to one side and her back feet will tread in place. This is her way of presenting herself to the male, and any red blooded tom will not ignore such a blatant invitation. I don't need to explain what happens next, right? Most owners don't know that their cat has mated for sure or when they've done it. If the girl is an outdoor puss, the owner may have no idea that mating has happened until pregnancy is well established. If an indoor cat escapes while in call, they will have more of a rough idea, but timings will still not be specific. That's why other signs are essential to confirm a cat's pregnancy.
One of the earliest signs anyone will notice is what breeders term as pinking up. This normally happens at about three weeks gestation. If the cat's nipples are examined, they will often be slightly enlarged, and a nice, rosy pink colour. It's very noticeable when they do pink up, but a few cats never show this sign, and others don't exhibit it until much later in the pregnancy. First time mothers, or maiden queens, will normally pink spectacularly.
At four weeks of gestation, an experienced vet will be able to feel the babies when they palpate the queen's stomach. They are about the size of walnuts now, and easier to count than later in the pregnancy when they are more squashed together.
The fifth week sees the queen begin to eat more food and gain weight. She should be fed a high quality complete diet, preferably wet and preferably kitten food as this has extra nutrition added to it that her growing babies will need. If the cat will not eat wet, then don't worry too much, but it is the first choice if tolerated. She may also experience morning sickness during the 3-5 week period. This is very normal.
At seven weeks, there can be no doubt. The cat is fat and kitten movement can now be felt. There is an easy way to tell the difference in a fat cat and one who is pregnant, as a pregnant tummy bulges out to the sides rather like saddlebags, whereas an over-weight cat's tummy will simply hang down. The queen will have a huge appetite to cope with the demand of the growing babies, but will probably go off her food in week eight due to the over-crowding of her abdomen. If any cat exhibits these signs, then they are definitely pregnant.
Average cat gestation lasts for 65 days, but birth can happen anywhere from day 63 to day 70. This is quite a large window bearing in mind the relatively short pregnancy time, but it is proposed that the time period is so great due to most owners not being aware of the mating date of the cat. Vets have a hard time setting an accurate date based on the pregnant cat's condition, so this somewhat alters averages and allows for much more variation.
Vets have a number of tools which can be used to diagnose pregnancy. The first, and least stressful for the cat, is that already mentioned; palpation. Using their hands, the vet feels the cat's stomach, searching for an enlarged uterus and the small uterine swellings which indicate kittens. However, unless a vet is very experienced, there's a chance they may mis-diagnose. Some cats have been thought to be pregnant when they are simply constipated. Others show no sign of uterine swelling only to produce a large litter a few weeks later. This test should be used as evidence in the case for or against pregnancy rather than the definitive answer.
Vets can also perform an ultrasound exam. This will definitely confirm pregnancy if the cat carries kittens, but it does not allow accurate fetal aging or counting of a litter size. This is because babies are aged by looking at their crown rump length. They are curled up in the stomach, making this very difficult to measure. Babies also curl around internal organs, hide behind one another and generally try to avoid detection, so although pregnancy is confirmed, ultrasound will most likely predict a much smaller litter size than is present. It requires shaving the cat's abdomen which many do not like.
If the pregnancy is more advanced, a vet may choose to x-ray the mother cat in order to accurately predict litter size, and more closely estimate the age of the babies and the date birthing will take place. However, this is not normally a routinely used diagnosing method. For one thing, calcification of the bones, the stage necessary for babies' bones to show up on the film, doesn't happen until much, much later in the pregnancy, by which point it is clear without an x-ray that the cat is in fact pregnant. For another, x-rays do pose a risk to the unborn babies, one which is normally not worth taking. it is used mostly when a queen has had difficulties in the past, or if a breeder absolutely must know the size of the litter to expect.
X-ray allows more accurate fetal aging as it defines the crown rump bone structure very clearly. As this is on a physical film, it can be measured with a tape measure, and the size will correspond to a certain gestational period. In this way, the birthing time can be more closely predicted. The size of the litter can be seen by counting skull bones on the film.
There is one last test which can be used. This is a hormone test, and requires some of the cat's blood to run. however, very few labs perform the test, mainly because it is not normally demanded. It is used in early pregnancy to confirm that the queen carries kittens.
Most people would never dream of using ultrasound, x-ray or hormone tests, and often, the palpation combined with physical signs that the cat exhibits are enough to accurately predict the presence or absence of a pregnancy. However, if a cat has escaped and mated, and kittens were not planned, it is worthwhile considering having her spayed. Pregnancy carries enormous risks which can claim the life of a mother and some or all of the babies. Treatment for illness or birth problems can be very expensive. Even raising healthy, problem-free kittens is a very costly business. When considering whether to allow the cat to have kittens, one must also come to terms with the harsh reality that you might exchange your girl's life for the new ones.
If the father of the kittens is not known, the queen and/or the kittens may have contracted numerous diseases. FIV and feline leukemia are very real possibilities, and queens should be tested for these as soon as possible. If the father is known and vaccinated, this is less of a risk.
In short, breeding is not for the faint-hearted, and should be something very carefully considered before embarked upon. If the breeding of kittens does not contribute something to the breed in question, then it would be much better to spay the girl and enjoy her as a much loved pet. However, if she can better the breed somehow, then kittens should be enjoyed and cherished as much as possible.
Tomorrow I'll talk about preparing for the arrival of kittens. What sort of area will the cat need to give birth in? What equipment will you need? Will you have to help? What if things go wrong and how will you actually know they're going wrong? Until then.