Perhaps you are considering breeding your beautiful queen to experience the joy of having kittens. Or maybe your cat’s breed is highly valued and you want to share her bloodline with other cat lovers.
Either way, you probably want to know how many litters a cat can have safely.
Breeding a cat requires lots of money, care, and responsibilities. If you are up for the challenges, there are some things you need to know beforehand to ensure good health for both mother cat and her kittens.
In this article, we will provide you with some facts about feline pregnancy and how many litters per year are healthy for your queen.
Cats’ sexual maturity and pregnancy
On average, female cats become sexually mature and able to reproduce at six months of age. However, this might vary depending on the breed. For example, Persian cats can reach sexual maturity at ten months of age, while Siamese cats can get pregnant as young as four months old!
The time when a cat is able to fall pregnant is commonly known as the heat cycle (or estrous cycle). Younger cats tend to have short periods of rest between cycles – usually about two to three weeks. This means that unspayed, free-roaming female cats will have a higher chance of unwanted pregnancies and contracting diseases year-round. Unfortunately, most of their kittens will end up in the shelters, waiting for a fur-ever home.
If you intend to get your furry friend pregnant for the value of the breed, then keep in mind that it is important to choose the right time to breed her. Although cats are able to fall pregnant at four to six months old, that does not mean you should allow them to do so. Your cat’s health matters the most, as does that of her kittens, so the ideal age for her to reproduce should be around one year of age. This means you should wait until she is fully grown and mature enough to handle her offspring.
How many litters can a cat have safely?
Breeding a female cat requires proper care and timing to ensure that both the queen and her babies are healthy.
Cats are induced ovulators, meaning that they can get pregnant at any time during their heat cycle. When sperms enter the female’s reproductive tract, it is only then that the eggs are released from the ovaries. Female cats also need about three to four matings within 24 hours to ensure that ovulation is successful. At this point, the queen’s heat cycle ends and she is ready to conceive.
Once the queen is pregnant, her gestation period typically lasts about two months, or 61 to 72 days. Unfortunately, she can go into heat again as early as four weeks after giving birth, so if she frequently roams outside, it is possible for her to fall pregnant again while nursing her kittens.
A female cat can become pregnant as many as five times a year. But, although she can produce several litters in a year, it is generally not recommended for health and safety reasons. To ensure your cat’s safety and well-being, you should only allow her to get pregnant once or twice a year at the most.
Also keep in mind that your cat’s age plays a role in producing healthy and beautiful kittens. Ideally, cats should be bred between one and six years of age. Once they are older than seven years, it is probably best to retire them from breeding for the sake of their health. Health complications and any issues with a previous pregnancy should also be a sign that another litter is no longer safe for the cat.
How many times do cats get pregnant in their lifetime?
Cats can get pregnant throughout their lifetime, starting in their adolescent years. Unlike humans, our feline friends do not go through a menopausal stage. That means they will remain fertile throughout their lifetime – even during old age!
Hence, hypothetically, if your cat reaches 14 years of age and has been pregnant five times in a year, she could have about 70 pregnancies throughout her life. This is too many kittens for a single cat. For this reason, vets advise owners to have their pets spayed (or neutered) so they do not have to deal with kittens year after year.
If an owner does intend to breed their cat, they should prioritize health by limiting the number of pregnancies. To avoid health risks, it is recommended to let the queen recover for at least 19 weeks before the next pregnancy. This equates to not more than two pregnancies per year. Keep in mind that a healthy momma cat will also produce healthy and beautiful offspring.
On the other hand, over-breeding cats can harm both the mother cat and her kittens. Producing multiple litters in a year can amplify both the good and the bad genes of a particular breed.
Kittens produced from over-breeding often suffer from physical deformations, malnutrition, vision and hearing problems, hip dysplasia, respiratory diseases (in flat-faced breeds), and many other birth defects. The queen can also suffer from malnutrition, urinary infections, mastitis, and hypocalcemia. For these reasons, female cats who live in colonies often experience a tragic end while the growing kitten population spins out of control.
Why your cat should not have too many litters
While kittens might look adorable in Instagram pictures, they also entail a lot of responsibility and hard work. So, if you do not want to deal with all the extra costs and headaches, it is better and kinder to have your furry friend spayed or neutered.
Otherwise, if you want to have the next generation of the breed under your roof, make sure to set a healthy limit on your cat’s litters. These reasons explain why:
1. Risk of undernourishment
As mentioned before, female cats can go into heat quickly, even while nursing kittens. Pregnancy alone is already physically demanding for the mother cat, and without an extended period of healing and recovery, the new pregnancy can take a very heavy toll on the cat’s health, leading to malnourishment. This might also cause delivery issues, hemorrhage, and health complications for the mother cat.
2. Risk of death
While queens are capable of producing litter after litter throughout their lifetime, this can decrease their life span as their bodies become severely exhausted after several pregnancies. This is why unspayed outdoor cats tend to have shorter lives, due to uncontrolled pregnancies and, overall, a poor quality of life.
3. Pregnancy at the wrong time
Early pregnancy in cats can have detrimental effects on their health. Kittens as young as four months of age are not yet fully grown and mature enough to support a healthy pregnancy. This can lead to several health issues for the kittens, as well.
Unplanned pregnancy could also mean an increased number of kittens in rescue centers that need to be rehomed, as well as an overpopulation of stray cats.
4. Complications of old age
Although cats do not have a menopausal stage, their fertility can decline as they get older. This means older felines will have fewer litters in a year compared with younger ones. Even senile cats might still produce litters, albeit smaller ones.
Pregnancies in older cats can result in health complications and a lower quality of life. If your furry companion has diseases and joint pains related to old age, then giving birth to kittens can become more challenging physically. Some unborn kittens might not even survive at all due to malnourishment and delivery issues. It is also more likely that kittens born to an older mother will suffer from birth defects and smaller size.
The big question – should you spay/neuter your cat?
If you are not a professional breeder, it is always best – and kindest – to have your furry companion spayed or neutered. Aside from preventing unwanted pregnancies, this procedure can also provide a lot of benefits for your cat.
One great reason for spaying or neutering your cat is to prevent reproductive-related issues like breast cancer, prostate problems, testicular cancer, and life-threatening urinary infections.
You will also notice that your cat’s behavior gradually changes after undergoing the procedure. Since your feline no longer needs to go through a heat cycle, you will not have to suffer with the incessant yowling, spraying, and frequent roaming in search of a mate. Fixed cats can become more affectionate as well, since they can focus their energy on you instead of mating.
The community will also benefit when cats are spayed or neutered. No more surprise litters; hence, the burden on animal shelters will be reduced.
For some cat parents, having their furry friends spayed or neutered might sound scary. But keep in mind that there is no other way to stop a female cat from going into heat – eventually, she will find a way to attract tom cats and get pregnant. Male cats are also determined to find females to mate with, so it might not always be easy to keep your tom cat indoors, either. Keeping your cats intact will also raise their risk of developing certain cancers. Hence, if you truly care for your furry companion, you should consider spaying or neutering them to ensure that they live the best quality life.
If you are a breeder or a cat owner who prefers to keep your queen intact, it is important to know the dangers of overbreeding. Cats can go into heat several times a year, meaning they can produce up to five litters every year. This is too extreme for an animal, and if you do not protect your cat from unwanted pregnancies, her health will likely suffer.
Remember that, while it is perfectly okay to have your cat impregnated once in a while, you need to know the limits. This way, you are protecting your cat’s well-being as well as helping to reduce the population of homeless kittens in your community.
Image: istockphoto.com / Esin Deniz