It’s a sad fact that approximately 3.4 million unwanted cats and kittens are euthanized each year. Most people know that the best way to prevent unwanted pregnancies in cats is to have them neutered.
How early should kittens be spayed? Can kittens even get pregnant?
In this article we’ll cover the following:
Without a doubt, kittens can and do get pregnant. While most people think of kittens as any cat that is not yet an adult, cats go through six distinct life stages which are characterized by specific growths rates, behaviors, and hormonal changes.
The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) has developed feline Life Stage Classification guidelines to assist in understanding the cat’s age progression:
Many cats do not fit neatly in the above classification, as some breeds, like the Maine Coon, don’t reach their full potential size until they’re between three to five years old. The important thing to know is that some kittens are able to mate and become pregnant as young as 4 months old.
Cats are super-fecund which means that a female in estrous may mate with more than one male when she is in heat. As a result, different kittens in the same litter can actually have different fathers.
Additionally, female cats are seasonally polyestrous, so they can have many periods of heat over the course of a year, usually beginning in spring and ending in late autumn. Heat periods occur about every two weeks, lasting from 4 to 7 days.
Gestation for cats averages of 66 days, and the usual litter size is three to five kittens. The first litter tends to be smaller than subsequent litters.
Taking all this into perspective, an unspayed female cat can have two to three litters per year, producing up to 150 kittens during their breeding life of around ten years. Now you know why so many unwanted cats are euthanized each year.
The age a cat reaches puberty varies from breed to breed and kitten to kitten. Other factors can also influence the time a kitten first goes into heat, such as breed, nutrition and environment.
For example, outdoor or feral kittens can become sexually mature earlier, especially when intact male cats are around. Some breeds, such as Siamese cats commonly show signs of puberty as young as 4 months of age. Keep in mind that both male and female kittens are born with nipples.
In the video below, we see a 4 month kitten showing signs of going into heat:
Once a female kittens goes into heat, she can become pregnant even though she’s little more than a kitten herself. Pregnancy is hard on such a young, small cat, and outcomes and survival rate for her and her kittens are often much worse than with adult cats.
Without question, the best way to prevent your kitten from getting pregnant is to have her spayed before she reaches sexual maturity. In fact, this is the current recommendation by veterinarians.
In June, 2017, the American Veterinary Medical Association formally endorsed spaying and neutering all cats not intended for breeding by five months of age. Besides preventing unwanted pregnancies, there are many health benefits your feline companion gains with early spaying.
Spaying your female cat before her first estrous cycle eliminates her risk of ovarian cancer. Removal of the ovaries also greatly reduces her risk of cervical and mammary cancer because the ovaries produce hormones that are known to spur the growth of cancerous tumors.
Additionally, neutered cats have a lower incidence of other feline diseases such as leukemia and feline AIDS. These diseases can be spread through cat behaviors associated with mating such as biting and fighting.
Cat in estrous attract also male cats that might carry disease from far and wide. By decreasing your cat contact with random males, you lessen the chance of your cat becoming ill.
Neutering male cats prevents them from getting other cats, or kittens, pregnant. Neutering also reduces a male cat’s urge to roam and fight over mates and territory, again reducing the chance they encounter a sick cat.
So, can kittens get pregnant?
You may know that kittens can get pregnant, however, responsible cat owners should have their kittens spayed and neutered by five months of age so they aren’t able to get pregnant.
If you want a better understanding check out stray – a shelter veterinarian’s reflection on triumph and tragedy, by Dr. Dena Mangiamele. Stray is a hard hitting narrative that will make you laugh and cry as you explore the inner workings of Los Angeles’ busy animal shelter and meet the dedicated people who care for thousands of stray and abandoned animals.
If you want to learn more about the world of stray and feral cats, The Stray Cat Handbook provides a wealth of information about those familiar feline strangers that come around for handouts, but seem stay just out of reach.
What did you think of this post? If you have any questions or would like to share a story about your kitten or a rescue you may have adopted, please tell us in the comments below! We’d love to hear from you.
Phil’s lifelong love of animals began as a young boy growing up with three pet dogs. As a teenager and young adult, Phil spent six years working as a veterinary technician, later earning a B.S. in Animal Science. After college, Phil continued working as a vet tech part-time while caring for a private collection of mountain lions used in wildlife educational programs. During this time, Phil volunteered at the Dallas Zoo and was eventually offered a position as a zookeeper in the zoo’s naturalistic Wilds of Africa area. Phil became the primary keeper for a black leopard named “Grady” and a caracal named “Tut” in the predator/prey exhibit.