It can be very useful to know how many kittens your cat is having...find out what to look for.
Is it useful to know how many kittens my cat will have?
The question of how many kittens your cat will have is a question that arises in every cat pregnancy! Generally it comes from a lack of patience (of which we are all guilty!) but it can also be very useful to know how many kittens your cat is expecting. If you know how many kittens are expected then you can make sure they all arrive safely and none are left stuck inside, which is a very dangerous situation.
Average kitten litter size
The average litter size is 4 kittens. This number can be affected by the age of the mother and also the breed. A young queen is likely to have 2-3 kittens, and as a cat ages the number of kittens in her litters will reduce as she becomes less fertile.
In purebred cats, the average number of kittens in a litter can vary wildly. British Shorthair cats have an average of 4 kittens per litter. Siamese cats and related breeds have larger litters, and have been known to have 12 or more kittens in their litters. Persians tend to have smaller litter sizes, as do Singapura cats, possibly because as breed types get more extreme and/or genetic diversity reduces, fertility also declines. You can read more about this in our article on inbreeding and its effects.
It is generally thought that an average cat will almost always release 4 eggs. Some of these can divide, creating twins, and leading to a larger litter size. Some of them can be unsuccessful and be re-absorbed by the mother cat, leading to a smaller number of kittens in the litter. The number of times a cat is mated is generally not thought to affect litter size, although different breeders have different experiences of this.
Below is an image of a kitten in its mother's womb, from Peter Chinn's 'In the Womb: Extreme Animals' series:
Best methods for determining kitten numbers
Unfortunately, there is no real way to know how many kittens your cat will have with any certainty. At around 3 weeks an experienced vet can palpate the stomach and get a rough idea of how many kittens there are, but not a precise number. Never try to palpate your cat’s stomach yourself as you can cause serious injury to the kittens.
Some people use ultrasound scans to try and determine the number of kittens and others use x-ray. Both methods are not 100% reliable as not all of the kittens can always be seen, and in any event the number of kittens expected can change as kittens can be re-absorbed by the queen at almost any stage. It might also cause your queen distress to take her to the vet’s for a scan.
Usually a large litter will correspond with a larger tummy, but even this is not always the case because larger litters can have smaller kittens, and smaller litters can have larger kittens. So sometimes a large litter can be tightly packed, and the kittens can be smaller, and therefore the tummy may not look as big as you would expect.
Equally, the amount of movement visible in the tummy can be misleading. A large litter, tightly packed, can exhibit hardly any movement at all!
So it really is a case of wait and see!
What if I think there are more kittens to come?
If your cat has given birth, and her labour has stopped, it is important to assess whether there are any signs that she may have another kitten to come. If you are very experienced, you can generally tell from her behaviour and from a very gentle feel of her tummy. If you are in any doubt at all, please take her to your veterinarian. Your vet will almost certainly be able to tell by palpating her abdomen, and will experienced enough to do this without harming her or any unborn kittens. It is possible for cats to have 'interrupted labour' where they may have a day or more inbetween kittens, but it is not very common. If your cat's labour stops and she does have another kitten to come, it is a medical emergency: don't take any chances - get her to a vet.
How many kittens...hygiene
If you do have kittens on the way, please make sure that you adopt a very strict litter tray cleaning regime. Young kittens do not have strong immune systems. In fact, it takes about a year for their immune systems to fully develop. This means that they are at high risk of picking up all sorts of infectious conditions including Feline Cornavirus which can cause FIP. To avoid these, and other common nasties, have a quick read of our article on litter tray hygiene.
If you found this article interesting, have a look at our articles page. Here are some we think you might find particularly interesting:
- is my cat pregnant?
- what to do if your cat won't use his litter tray
- the differences between male and female kittens
- understanding inbreeding
- basic colour genetics