Curious about how many kittens a cat can have? We’ll dig deep into the topic of kitten litter size in just a second, plus we’ll cover factors that have an impact on the average number of kittens in a litter. Last but not least, we’ll give you a quick introduction to related topics including how to help your pregnant cat when the time to give birth finally arrives.
What is kitten season?
First things first! Kitten season is a term that describes the warmer months of the year, when cats typically mate and give birth. Depending on where you are, kitten season could last all the way from March through October; in areas where it’s warm all year, kitten season can be a year-round “event.”
Keep in mind that a cat that comes into heat can become pregnant and have kittens at any time during the year, but spring and early summer tend to be the busiest time for kitten adoptions.
How many kittens can a cat have?
Cats have an average of four to eight kittens per litter, although it’s normal to encounter larger and smaller litters. For example, first-time cat moms often have just two or three kittens.
In case you’re curious, the largest litter of kittens on record was a group of 19, born in 1970. Four were stillborn, and fourteen of the surviving kittens were male.
Here’s another fun (and kind of weird!) fact: If a female cat mates with multiple males while she is in heat, she can give birth to kittens with different fathers. This partly explains why a litter of kittens can include babies in so many different colors as well as long and short hair lengths.
A female cat is able to have a litter of kittens at least twice per year – although it’s certainly not recommended. The kindest thing to do is have your queen spayed after the kittens arrive, when your vet says she’s ready. This will extend your mama cat’s life and ultimately help reduce the number of kittens needing homes. Even if you’re responsibly finding families for all of your cat’s kittens, shelters are packed during kitten season and those that don’t find a home are euthanized all too often.
What determines how many kittens a cat has?
Each kitten in a litter comes from a separate egg, and when cats mate, more eggs are released. The more exposure a female cat has to males and the more frequently she mates, the larger her litter is likely to be.
Infections including feline infectious peritonitis (FIP) and feline panleukopenia virus (FPV) can have smaller litters or stillborn kittens. If the queen is infected early in her pregnancy, surviving kittens can suffer from disabilities and poor cognitive development.
Certain cat breeds have a predisposition toward larger or smaller litters. Siamese and similar breeds typically have large litters, while Persians and similar breeds tend to have fewer kittens. When two tailless Manx cats are bred, an average of one in four kittens doesn’t survive.
Helping your pregnant cat give birth
A cat’s pregnancy lasts an average of sixty to seventy days – but she can show signs that birth is imminent for several days before the event actually occurs.
Since pregnant cats tend to sleep far more than average, and as they prefer warm, cozy, confined surroundings, a cat cave or another warm, covered bed is the ideal hideaway. Your pregnant kitty will appreciate it while she’s building up her strength for the big event, particularly if you set the thermostat around 72 degrees. After kittens arrive, a cat cave can help keep them warm and safe, as they aren’t able to control their own body temperature.
Top tip: Our handmade Feltcave cat caves are made of 100% merino wool and can hold cats up to 20 pounds. They are perfect for newborn kittens as they help regulate their temperature - something kittens cannot do on their own. They’re also ideal for pregnant queens who need a comfortable and private spot to relax in.
The good news is that creating a safe, cozy haven and providing high-quality food are normally the only steps you’ll need to take to help your cat give birth. Most cats require no intervention. Here’s a quick look at what you can expect:
- Panting is normal, and it will happen throughout the birthing process.
- Your cat will wash the kittens and eat the placenta. Both activities are completely normal.
- Newborn kittens might start to nurse even as more kittens are born.
- Kittens are born with their eyes closed; they’ll typically open between 9 and 14 days after birth.
If you notice that your cat seems to be taking a break from her labor, you can offer her a little bit of food and water, and see if she accepts. Before birth happens, learn about possible problems your cat might encounter while having kittens, so you’ll know what to watch for. Keep your vet on speed dial so you can get your kitty into the clinic if needed.