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How Many Kittens is Normal for a First Litter?

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Overview

The only thing cuter than a newborn kitten is a whole litter of them. If you're the proud parent of a first-time mama kitty, you may be wondering how many kittens to expect.

Knowing how many kittens to prepare for can ensure you have the appropriate supplies on hand to care for them and their mother. In this article, we'll cover everything related to cat pregnancy, including how to estimate litter size and tips for caring for a pregnant cat.


How many kittens are usually in a first litter?

The average litter size for cats is 4 to 6 kittens; however, adolescents, seniors, and first-timers typically have smaller-than-average litters. First-time moms usually only have 2 or 3 kittens. Purebred cats tend to have more kittens per litter than mixed breeds, though experts aren't sure why. The largest litter of kittens on record was 19 kittens and belonged to a Burmese/Siamese mix.


What factors affect litter size?

How many kittens a feline will produce depends on many environmental, genetic, and health factors. Genetics and breed play a major role in determining litter size. For example, Siamese, Mane Coons, Ragdolls, and Ragamuffins are notorious for having huge litters, whereas Persians tend to have fewer kittens.

Litter size can be difficult to predict in mixed breeds. But if a feline's mother had large litters, that feline will likely have large litters as well. Like most mammals, larger felines tend to carry more offspring than smaller felines.

Age can also influence the number of offspring a cat produces, with middle-aged felines producing more kittens on average than their younger or much older counterparts.

A cat's health and nutrition can impact not only how many fetuses develop but how many kittens are carried to term. Malnutrition and conditions like feline distemper can increase the risk of fetal reabsorption and miscarriage.


How can you tell how many kittens your cat is having?

There's no way for pet parents to determine litter size at home, and even with a vet’s help you might not get an accurate number.

Abdominal palpation can help vets approximate how many kittens there are, but this is just an educated guess. X-rays can provide a better idea of litter size, though these still may give an incorrect estimate. What's more, vets may only perform x-rays in late pregnancy due to the risks. Ultrasounds cannot determine litter size in felines.


Did you know certain pet insurers cover pregnant cats?

Some pet insurers, like Trupanion, offer add-ons that cover vet care costs for pregnant cats. Start comparing pet insurance plans and wellness packages to give your kitty the care she needs.


Tips for caring for a pregnant cat

Below are some tips to ensure your pregnant kitty stays as healthy as "pawssible".

Feed your cat a well-balanced diet

Good nutrition is so important for pregnant and lactating cats. Not only do pregnant cats need 50% more food than normal, but they need more calorie-dense foods. Vets often recommend cat food made specifically for pregnant and lactating cats, though a quality kitten food can also fit the bill.

Stay up-to-date with your cat's vaccinations

Vaccine-preventable illnesses like distemper can harm not only your cat, but also the kittens they're carrying. Protect your fur-baby (and their babies) by sticking to their normal vaccine schedule.

Prepare a birthing space for your cat

When the big day comes, your cat will need a secluded space where they can give birth. Besides making the labor process more comfortable for your cat, creating a birthing box will ensure your cat doesn't give birth in an inappropriate or unsafe place.

Preparing a birthing box is simple. All you'll need is a cardboard box, a box cutter, and a couple of clean towels. Cut out an opening in the side of the box and line the bottom of the box with towels. Store the birthing box in a low-traffic area of your home like a seldom-used closet. Show your kitty the box location and make sure she always has access to it.

Know the signs of labor

Pet parents should know the signs of impending labor so they can monitor their cat closely when the birthing process nears.

Cats will typically start exhibiting the signs of labor 48 hours before giving birth. As active labor approaches, cats will typically: 

  • Frequently visit their birthing box
  • Pace
  • Meow, yowl, or whimper
  • Experience a slight drop in body temperature
  • Groom their vulva excessively
  • Become disinterested in eating

Assist with birth (as needed)

Most breeding cats can manage the birthing process by themselves, though first-time mothers may need a helping hand from their pet parents. You may need to assist your cat by removing the sacs from their kittens or tying off the umbilical cords with thread or dental floss.

If your fur-baby is unable to fully push out a kitten, you can help guide the kitten out using gentle downward pressure and clean hands. Check out this handy pamphlet for more information on preparing for and assisting with the feline birthing process.

Know when to call the vet

Pregnancy and labor are not without their risks. Seek immediate veterinary attention if your cat:

  • Has unusual or smelly discharge
  • Has blood in their urine
  • Has trouble peeing
  • Pushes for longer than 30 minutes and no kitten appears
  • Goes more than an hour between births
  • Seems lethargic mid birth
  • Is losing a lot of blood during or after the birthing process


Feline pregnancy FAQ

How old are cats when they first can become pregnant?

On average, cats reach reproductive maturity around 6 months old. However, cats can enter their first heat cycle and become pregnant as early as 4 months. Larger cat breeds tend to reach reproductive maturity much later, at around 10 months old.

What are the signs of pregnancy in cats?

Like humans, cats can experience a range of symptoms during pregnancy. If your cat is exhibiting any of the below symptoms, chances are they’re pregnant:

How long is a feline’s gestation period?

The normal gestation period for cats is typically between 63 and 67 days.


Consult with a vet

If you have questions about your cat’s pregnancy, live chat with a vet now. Wag! Health ensures you have 24/7 access to veterinary advice, giving you peace of mind.


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