Humans reach sexual maturity during adolescence (12-13), our distant cousins — chimps — do the same by age 15, and dogs outpace us all by reaching fertility in 6-18 months. But it’s only a matter of time before that pint-sized kitten discovers her independence and sets off on her first solo voyage. Tomcats notoriously prey on female cats, but at what age can cats have kittens?
Cats can have kittens as early as six-months-old if they hit sexual maturity by four months, most common in feral cats and certain breeds (like Siamese). Most queens become fertile by 7-9 months. A queen can birth five litters a year and continue reproducing throughout her lifespan unless spayed.
When spring weather returns, menacing tomcats start yowling, and your queen begins pawing at the door, you’ll hear the message loud and clear: it’s breeding season! But is your female cat old (or young) enough to fall pregnant? To learn about what age cats can have kittens, read on.
Female Cats and Sexual Maturity
That fuzzy, miniature, four-legged bundle of joy will discover her independence well before the six-month mark. During this rapid growth period, Fluffy will hit milestones nearly every week:
- By week 1: Open her eyes, unfurl her ears, and begin crawling.
- By week 3: Walk wobbly, learn to use the litter box, and chow down on wet food.
- By week 5: Wrestle with her littermate, snack on solid foods, and begin weaning.
- By week 10: Find a welcoming home.
- By week 12: Begin losing her baby teeth one-by-one and reveal her adult eye color.
Not long after shedding those first deciduous teeth, that bubbly four to six-month-old kitten will likely reach feline puberty (or sexual maturity), marked by her first-ever estrous (heat) cycle. The average female cat will hit this milestone before she’s ten-months-old and nearly full-grown.
However, breed and living conditions ultimately determine when a female cat becomes fertile. For example, Oriental Shorthairs, Siamese, and feral (wild outdoor) cats notoriously reach maturity around four-months-old. Meanwhile, Persian cats may delay fertility until closer to 10-12 months.
How Do Female Cats Become Pregnant?
In the Western Hemisphere, the feline breeding season slowly arrives as the weather becomes warmer and the days get longer, with the mating season running from March to December. A female cat’s hormones and fertility will follow these seasonal changes, too, thanks to her polyestrous nature (meaning she’ll cycle in and out of heat multiple times during the season).
When a queen enters a six-day heat cycle, the hormonal spikes will trigger behavioral changes, with many linked to the desire to mate, such as:
- Increased affection (bunting and snuggling)
- Fleeing or trying to escape the home
- Lower appetite
- More frequent genital grooming
- Assuming the mating position (crying with rear-end elevated)
- Spraying to alert tomcats to her fertility (a message coded in her pheromones)
As they say, “It takes two to tango.”
A queen in heat and a tomcat in rut will both “court” one another via distressed yowling and fragrant urine trails. After the mating session ends, the female cat’s ovary will release an egg (induced ovulation) ready for fertilization.
However, feline pregnancy is not an exact science.
Not all mating sessions will trigger this egg release, and a female cat may find 10-20 mates in a single day. If a tomcat’s sperm fertilizes the egg, the queen’s heat cycle will end within 24-48 hours. That’s because she’s pregnant.
Unless you watch Fluffy like a hawk and keep her strictly indoors, it could take weeks to realize she’s expecting. The clip below describes six key pregnancy signs all queen owners should know:
What Age Can Cats Become Pregnant?
A female queen that explores outdoors or lives with unneutered male cats can become pregnant as early as four-months-old and during her first-ever estrous cycle. That’s eight or so months before reaching adulthood and full-size.
However, an expectant queen won’t give birth until she carries her litter to term, with the average cat gestation period lasting around 58 to 67 days. That means a rapidly maturing female cat can deliver a litter herself by the time she’s six-months-old.
When Do Female Cats Stop Going Into Heat?
Female humans begin going through a condition called menopause around age 51. In simpler terms, a woman’s monthly menstrual cycles will become irregular before stopping entirely, signaling infertility — a lack of viable eggs that can become fertilized by a male’s sperm.
In the feline world, there’s no such thing as menopause.
Unspayed queens will continue to experience heat cycles annually as the breeding season comes and goes, even if they never mate with male tomcats or leave home. Surprisingly, the oldest pregnant cat on-record was a 30-year-old feline named Kitty, who birthed two healthy kittens.
However, pregnancy can take a harsh physical toll on an aging cat’s increasingly fragile body. The most troublesome senior cat pregnancy complications include:
- Primary inertia during delivery (weak uterine contractions)
- Excess joint pressure, especially given the potential 4-pound (1.8-kg) weight gain
- Higher stillbirth rates
- Queen death
- Difficulty nursing
Rest assured, a healthy delivery is 100% possible with regular vet visits, a switch to high-calorie and uber-nutritional kitten food, and a generally stress-free environment (or refuge). However, consult your veterinarian first before intentionally allowing your queen to become pregnant.
Spaying Female Cats
The consensus in the veterinarian community is that all young cats should undergo sterilization as soon as possible unless there’s a medical reason not to or a desire to breed in the future. Old-school myths once suggested spaying cats no earlier than six-months-old, but early sterilization — as soon as eight weeks — poses the best health and behavioral perks.
Scientifically dubbed the “ovariohysterectomy,” the spaying surgery in female cats removes both the uterus (the womb) and the ovaries (the egg storage unit). This simple 15-minute procedure has plenty of underlying perks, including:
- Avoiding that first (or future) heat cycles every 2-3 weeks
- A 39% longer average lifespan
- Lower risk for uterine and breast cancers (though this particular benefit plummets if you wait 2 ½ years to spay)
- No unwanted or unplanned pregnancy
- Improved behavioral outlook (less spraying, aggression, the whole gamut)
- Less drive to flee
Once the surgery is complete, your kitty’s body will no longer produce estrogen, stopping (or preventing) all future heat cycles and ending any lingering pregnancy risks.
The Domestic Cat Overpopulation
Left unspayed, a female cat can deliver up to five litters per year, and since the average litter produces about four kittens, a solo feline can deliver around 20 kittens annually. Unfortunately, this practice only adds to the ongoing cat overpopulation crisis causing overflowing shelters and, in the wild, leading to over 2.4 billion bird casualties per year (caused by hunting).
If a female cat, her mate, and all resulting offspring deliver two, 2.8-kitten litters a year, here’s how many cats that snowballs into within the next nine years:
The half-year mark for kittens is full of milestones — sporting permanent teeth, growing into her lean torso, and reaching sexual maturity. Unless you own a pedigreed queen — like a Siamese or Burmese — and plan to breed, spay your queen as early as eight weeks.
The spaying benefits are two-fold:
- The better-controlled hormones reduce a female cat’s breast tumor and uterine infection risks by up to 90%.
- You can lessen the strain on animal shelters coast-to-coast that rescue over eight million pets per year (dogs and cats) due to overpopulation.
Schedule an ovariohysterectomy before Fluffy returns home already-pregnant.
- ASPCA: Spay/Neuter Your Pet
- The Humane Society of the United States: Pets by the numbers
- Alley Cat Allies: Newborn Kitten Progression & Cat Age Chart with Pictures
- VCA Hospitals: Estrous Cycles in Cats
- Mayo Clinic: Menopause – Symptoms and causes
- Banfield: News Room – News, information, and updates from Banfield Pet Hospital