The average (human) woman in America will go through menopause at age 51—meaning her chances of getting pregnant will drop to near-zero around the time she’s “over the hill.” The reproductive cycles and fertility of our feline friends are far different. Now you’re curious: At what age do cats stop having kittens?
Cats never stop having kittens and can go through “heat” every few weeks during mating season if she’s left unfixed. Between hitting puberty as early as four months old and reaching the average cat lifespan (13-17 years old), a female cat could give birth to 180 kittens in her lifetime.
It’s easy to say that your female cat is “too young” or “too old” to have kittens, but your assessment will be wrong more often than not. To learn more about when cats stop having kittens, read on!
Major Cat Milestones (and Where Fertility Fits In)
Many people consider a cat officially an “adult” by the time she’s a year old, but she reaches maturity far before entering adulthood. To put a female cat’s maturation process into a clearer perspective, take a look at these significant developmental milestones.
|Birth||Your kitten is born deaf, blind, unable to walk, and requiring some help.|
|One||Your kitten can open her eyes, though her vision is quite fuzzy.|
|Two||Your kitten can start scooting around on her own, albeit a little clumsily.|
|Three||Your kitten can begin feeding on wet food and get the hang of using the litter box.|
|Four||Your kitten likes to run, jump, and play with her littermates.|
|Eight||Your kitten is (likely) fully weaned from her mother and is one independent kitty.|
|Ten||Your kitten has all of her baby teeth, knows how to retract her claws when she needs to, and is coming into her personality.|
|Sixteen||Your kitten may still be a “baby” to you, but she also may be reaching sexual maturity.|
Your female kitten may hit puberty as early as four months old—though some cats may fully mature closer to eighteen months old—meaning she can get pregnant! And with a 63-65 day gestational period, your 6-month-old kitty could be having kittens herself.
How Cats Get Pregnant
Once a female cat reaches a point of sexual maturity or puberty (which usually happens at around six months old), she’ll go through her first “heat cycle”—also called an estrus cycle. Your “queen” will experience hormonal changes—specifically estrogen—and seek out a mate at all costs. A female cat in heat may cry out to attract male tomcats (yowling), spray urine on your walls, and become overly affectionate.
This cycle (and your cat’s fertility) lasts for about six days.
If she finds a tomcat to mate with during these six days, her body will trigger an egg release. Unlike humans—where ovulation occurs about once every 28 days and lasts for about 24 hours—your cat’s ovaries won’t release an egg until she breeds, particularly after several mating sessions in a short period. If your cat cannot find a tomcat or doesn’t fall pregnant while in heat, she’ll go through another heat cycle in about three weeks.
Do Cats Have Menopause?
When we talk about menopause, we’re usually referencing a female human’s ability to reproduce. In humans, menopause occurs when a female goes 12 months without a menstrual period, her reproductive hormones—like estrogen—decline, and fertility is practically impossible (though possible in rare cases). The average onset of menopause in humans is age 51.
Female cats do not go through menopause.
A cat’s heat cycles will continue for the rest of her life, enabling her to have kittens whether she’s four months old during her first heat cycle or 17 years old and well into her senior years.
And given the average 63-65 day gestational period of kittens and the idea that a cat can go into heat just a few weeks after giving birth, a female cat may have:
- Five litters of kittens a year
- 15-25 kittens a year
- 60 pregnancies in a lifetime
- 180 kittens in a lifetime
In short: Your female cat will continue to have kittens and go through tri-weekly heat cycles until you actively try to prevent both. The two surefire ways to keep your cat (or kitten) from getting pregnant are having her spayed or removing her access to un-neutered males cats.
Cats Who Can’t Have Kittens
A perfectly healthy female who’s not spayed and has access to tomcats during her estrus cycles will fall pregnant several times per year. However, just like humans, there are quite a few medical conditions that may impact a female cat’s ability to reproduce or ovulate.
Possible causes of infertility in sexually mature cats include:
- Hormonal issues (low estrogen)
- Ovarian cysts
- Reproductive system infections
- Irregular heat cycles
- Nutritional deficiencies
If you have an adult cat that you’re actively trying to breed but doesn’t seem to be going through heat or getting pregnant, you may want to take her to the vet. She could be having fertility issues that may be reversible with appropriate treatment—however, lack of mating with a tomcat while fertile will also keep your cat from getting pregnant.
It’s possible your unspayed female cat is pregnant, but that you just don’t recognize the signs! Here’s a video describing how to figure out if your female cat is pregnant.
Spaying Your Female Cat
Unless you have a purebred cat that you’re looking to breed, there’s no physiological need for your female cat to go through these heat cycles at all. Most cat owners will spay their female kitties as early as eight weeks old—though some vets recommend waiting until your kitten is around six months old before undergoing the spaying procedure. The longer you wait, the more likely your cat will go through her first heat cycle and risk getting pregnant as a kitten!
Now you might be wondering: What happens when your cat is spayed?
A spayed cat undergoes a medical procedure called an ovariohysterectomy.
In other words: A veterinarian will surgically remove your young kitten’s uterus and ovaries—while under anesthesia. Without ovaries, your female cat doesn’t have any eggs to be fertilized. And without a uterus, your cat has no place to carry a litter of kittens. Spaying your female cat will bring her chances of getting pregnant to zero.
Your cat’s ability to have kittens is brought to a grinding halt after this procedure.
Spaying your female cat won’t only keep her from getting pregnant (and save you the hassle of caring for young kittens and adopting them out). Additional spaying benefits include:
- Lowering your cat’s risk of developing breast and cervical cancer
- Avoiding the behavioral changes, spraying, and yowling that comes with heat
- Keeping your cat from escaping the house to look for a tomcat
Keep in mind that the longer you wait to spay your cat, the less intense the benefits will be. For example, the reduced risk of developing breast cancer after spaying goes away if you wait until your cat is 30 months old to spay her. Spay your cat as soon as possible if you don’t plan to breed her.
Cats are quite fertile creatures, and a female cat with no underlying health conditions with a tomcat to mate with during breeding season can give birth to nearly 200 kittens in her lifetime. In fact, a cat can get pregnant a second time while pregnant with another litter.
However, just because your cat can get pregnant well into her senior years, that doesn’t mean she should. The dangers of pregnancy greatly increase as your cat gets older, so consider spaying your queen as soon as you possibly can.
- Mayo Clinic: Menopause
- ASPCA: Cat Care
- Alley Cat Allies: How Old Is That Kitten? Kitten Progression: At-a-Glance
- Pets WebMD: What to Expect When Your Cat Is Pregnant
- VCA Hospitals: Estrous Cycles in Cats
- NIH National Institute on Aging: What Is Menopause?
- Susan E. Little: Female Reproduction
- NIH: Infertility in purebred cats – A review of the potential causes
- ASPCA: Spay/Neuter Your Pet
- VCA Hospitals: Spaying in Cats