Domestic felines can have up to 3 litters of kittens a year! They can deliver a different number of kittens in each litter. Litter size decreases as a feline ages because she becomes less fertile.
Litter size can be influenced by a number of different factors, such as:
- The age of your queen – young queen’s and first time mothers are likely to have less kittens in their first litter
- The genetic history of mum & dad – certain breeds have larger litters, for e.g. Siamese, Oriental & Burmese
- The health & nutrition of your queen – can greatly influence the rate of foetal abortion & how many ova (eggs) are produced initially
- Inbreeding – this can produce smaller average litter sizes (it’s thought that as genetic diversity reduces, fertility also declines)
- How often your queen is bred – can affect the size of litter as the queen’s womb becomes less hospitable in cat’s bred less regularly
- Infections – bacterial, viral & parasitical – can affect litter size (not to mention being very unpleasant for your queen). For e.g. FIP (Feline Infectious Peritonitis) can decrease fertility & lowers kittens ability to thrive. FPV (Feline Panleukopenia Virus) can affect the size of the kittens and can also cause miscarriage or stillborn kittens.
There is a general belief that the average domestic cat releases 4 eggs almost every time she ovulates, some of these eggs divide to create twins. Unsuccessful eggs or kittens can be re-absorbed by the queen at almost any time during pregnancy, she may not show any signs of reabsorbing a foetus but it can occur. Usually this is due to a queen’s health not being optimal or if she experiences trauma.
Other things which can affect the growing kittens and which are harmful to the uterine environment include: infection, overcrowding, oxygen starvation, stress (both foetal & maternal), premature placental separation and toxins (e.g. drugs, poisons and medications).
The gestation period in domestic cats is usually between 63 and 65 days, some queens can go up to 74 days, however, I would recommend seeking vet attention if no labour is obvious after 66 days.
Estimating Litter Size
Litter size can be estimated at various times during gestation; however, it is not possible to give a definite number of kittens due (see below).
- Around 3 week’s gestation, an experienced vet can get a rough idea of the number of kittens by palpating your queen’s stomach. Never try to palpate your queen’s stomach yourself, because you can cause serious injury to the unborn kittens
- Around 21 days gestation, an ultrasound scan can be performed, this is not 100% reliable because not all kittens are always visible
- Around 45 day’s gestation, an x-ray can be taken, but this is rarely considered necessary. Again this method is not 100% accurate as not all kittens are always visible
- The number of kittens expected can change before the queen gives birth because foetal re-absorption can occur at almost any stage
- Please bear in mind, your queen could become distressed by visiting the vets for a scan / x-ray
People give many reasons for wanting to know how many kittens their queen is carrying. In my opinion, it’s not really necessary to know the exact number. I believe the most important concern should be that your queen and kittens are healthy and have all the care they require. However, I have also found this to be an interesting study, especially in comparing the average litter sizes of domestic and wild felines (please see tables below).
Did You Know?
In the largest litter of kittens recorded there were 19 kittens born! The litter of kittens were born in Oxfordshire, UK, on 7th August 1970. (* the source is listed at the bottom of this article)
Average Litter Sizes
On average, our domestic cats have between 3 & 5 kittens per litter. Young or first time mothers having an average of 2-3 kittens per litter. Age 3-4 moggies have an average of 4-5 kittens per litter.
Below you will find a table showing the breed specific average litter sizes for domestic cats. Below that, you will find another table showing the average wild cat litter sizes and gestation periods.
Domestic Cat – Breed Specific, Average Litter Sizes
|Breed||Average litter size (number of kittens)|
|Asian||6 (can be up to 12)|
|Burmese||5-6 (up to 14 have been known)|
Wild Cats – Breed Specific, Average Litter Sizes
|Breed||Average Litter Sizes (kittens / cubs)|| Gestation period|
|African Golden Cat||2||75|
|Asian Golden Cat||1-3||80|
|Asian Leopard Cat||2-4||65-70|
|Borneo Clouded |
Leopard / Borneo Cat
|1-5 (usually 2)||85-95|
|Caracal/ Desert Lynx||1-4||78-81|
|Chinese Mountain Cat||2-4||Unknown|
|Cheetah||3-5 (can be up to 9)||90-98|
|Fishing Cat||1-4 (usually 2)||63|
|Flat-headed Cat|| 1-2 (reported in |
|Leopard|| 2-4 (infant mortality high, often only 1-2 |
cubs survive beyond
|Palla’s Cat / Manu||3-6 (up to 8)||Unknown|
|Pampas Cat / colocol||1-3||80-85|
|Puma / Cougar / |
|1-6|| 90-96 (Tend to|
reproduce every other year)
|Red Lynx / Bobcat||1-6 (usually 2-4)||60-70|
|Rusty Spotted Cat||1-2||65-70|
|Sandcat||2-3 (up to 8)||59-63|
|Snow Leopard||1-5 (usually 2 or 3)||90-100|
|Tiger Cat / Oncilla||1-3 (usually only 1)||74-76|
The Borneo Bay Cat is not listed here because no actual studies of this cat have been made in the wild.
The Serval – this wild cat has been bred with the domestic cat to create a hybrid breed of domestic cat, called the Savannah.
The Savannah – reproduction in this breed is very difficult and fertility rates are low. Litters average 1-3 kittens in higher generations, however, some are infertile due to genetics
*The source of the record number of kittens in a litter is: www.guinnessworldrecords.com/world-records/largest-litter-domestic-cat/
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