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Average Feline Litter Sizes

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
Julio when he was just 6 days old, the only survivor from a litter of 3 kittens

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.

Average size moggy litter, 4 beautiful kittens

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)
Abyssinian 3-4
American Wirehair 6
Angora 6
Asian 6 (can be up to 12)
Balinese 5
Bengal 5+
Birman 6
Bombay 6+
British Shorthair 5
Burmese 5-6 (up to 14 have been known)
Burmilla 6+
Cornish Rex 6
Devon Rex 5
Egyptian Mau 6
Exotic Shorthair 4
Japanese Bobtail 5
Korat 6
Main Coon 4
Manx 5
Norwegian Forest 4
Ocicat 4-6
Oriental shorthair 6+
Persian 3-4
Ragdoll 5
Russian Blue 6
Scottish Fold 5
Siamese 6+
Singapura 5
Snowshoe 5
Somali 5
Sphynx 4
Tiffanie 6+
Tonkinese 6+
Turkish Van 5

Wild Cats – Breed Specific, Average Litter Sizes

Breed Average Litter Sizes (kittens / cubs) Gestation period
(days)
African Golden Cat 2 75
African Wildcat 2-6 56-69
Asian Golden Cat 1-3 80
Asian Leopard Cat 2-4 65-70
Asiatic Wildcat 2-4 56-68
Black-footed Cat 1-4 Unknown
Borneo Clouded
Leopard / Borneo Cat
1-5 (usually 2) 85-95
Canadian Lynx 1-5 63-70
Caracal/ Desert Lynx 1-4 78-81
Chilean Cat 1-3 72-78
Chinese Mountain Cat 2-4 Unknown
Cheetah 3-5 (can be up to 9) 90-98
Clouded Leopard 2-4 85-93
Eurasian Lynx 2-3 67-74
Fishing Cat 1-4 (usually 2) 63
Flat-headed Cat 1-2 (reported in
captivity)
56
Geoffroy’s Cat 2-3 72-78
Iberian Lynx 2-3 60
Iriomote Cat 1-3 Unknown
Jaguar 2-4 93-105
Jaguarondi 1-4 70
Jungle Cat 1-6 64-66
Leopard 2-4 (infant mortality high, often only 1-2
cubs survive beyond
infancy)
90-105
Lion 1-4 110
Lynx 2-4 Unknown
Marbled Cat 1-4 81
Margay 1 76-84
Ocelot 2-3 70
Palla’s Cat / Manu 3-6 (up to 8) Unknown
Pampas Cat / colocol 1-3 80-85
Puma / Cougar /
Mountain Lion
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
Serval 1-5 66-77
Snow Leopard 1-5 (usually 2 or 3) 90-100
Tiger Cat / Oncilla 1-3 (usually only 1) 74-76
Tiger 3-4 93-112

Please Note

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/

Beautiful Kaya, when she was a week old, she was the only survivor from a litter of 3 kittens

The Kitten Consort is a small, specialised rescue, I receive no funding & rely on sales from this online shop and donations. If you found this article helpful/enjoyable or you love what I do, please consider a small donation or purchasing something from the shop. Every bit helps me to save more neonates and tiny kittens.

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Feline Pregnancy & Birth – Part 2

The Birth

Most of the time you won’t need to do anything other than enjoy watching new life come into the world. Queens are such amazing creatures and usually manage the birth very well, no mess, no fuss and all alone. Human intervention is only necessary if your queen is in distress or shows no sign of breaking the sac and cleaning the kitten’s faces so that they can breathe. Having said that, it is essential that if you think your queen is having difficulty, you call your vet straight away.

Unless there is an emergency you should try to avoid handling your queen’s newborn kittens.

Warning! There are a few graphic photos contained in this article!

Signs of Labour

Just like humans, birth signs are different in every queen, most however, display the following:

  • Your queen becomes restless
  • Cleaning around the nipples & genital area
  • Often a discharge caused by the placental plug being passed
  • Rapid breathing, deep purring or kneading with paws

First Stage of Labour

Your queen’s body is preparing for labour, her uterus will be starting to contract and her muscles, like the pelvic & perineum, start slackening for birth. She may begin to pant through contractions and make trips to and from the kittening bed before she settles.

Note: When your queen begins to bear down to deliver, it’s helpful to note down the time – if her first kitten is not born within half an hour – call your vet and have a clean, towel lined carrier ready. If you’ve seen a bubble emerge – please see below – second stage labour.

Second Stage of Labour

This is where your queen’s contractions become stronger and actually begin pushing kittens out. Normally you will see a dark, greyish coloured sac, which looks like a bubble, emerge first. Each kitten will be wrapped in its own sac of amniotic fluid (placental membrane).

One of Biscuits newborn kittens after she broke the sac of amniotic fluid

Note the time when you first see the bubble, your queen should give birth on her own within 30 minutes. If no kitten appears within 30 minutes, take her immediately to your vet.

Once a kitten is born your queen should break and remove the sac and lick her kitten vigorously, paying particular attention to the nose and mouth to clear mucous. She will also bite through the kitten’s umbilical cord.

Biscuit during the birth of her kittens

Third Stage of Labour

Usually after each kitten is delivered, each placenta will be passed. Your queen will usually eat the placentas! I know this sounds gross but it gives her a big boost of nutrients and in the wild it would hide any evidence of vulnerable prey being around.

Sometimes two kittens come out quickly and both placentas follow. Make sure all placentas are accounted for, there should be 1 placenta passed for every 1 kitten. A retained placenta can cause serious infection, in some cases surgical removal may be necessary, which inevitably means you will need to hand rear her kittens until she has fully recovered.

After the Birth / Post Labour

After delivering all of her kittens and probably sighing in relief, your queen will settle down and encourage her extremely vulnerable neonates to suckle. It is vital that neonates are suckling well and regularly, because if they are not fed regularly they may suffer from hypoglycaemia (low blood glucose levels).

Biscuit settled down, nursing her newborn babies

A neonate also depends on its mother’s colostrum for Maternally Derived Immunity (MDI). This means, in basic terms, a neonate will receive antibodies from its mother’s milk. These antibodies help to protect the neonate’s immune system, which is immature and can’t adequately protect itself against infectious diseases. Most colostrum transfer occurs within the first 24 hours after birth, it may continue for up to 72 hours.

Lactation

This is the production of milk and normally occurs during pregnancy. Lactation is influenced by 3 hormones:

  • Progesterone – secreted by the corpus luteum within the ovary and causes enlargement of the mammary glands during pregnancy
  • Prolactin – secreted by the anterior pituitary gland in the last third of pregnancy and stimulates the production of milk
  • Oxytocin – secreted by the posterior pituitary gland during the last hours of pregnancy and enables the glands to release or ‘let down’ the milk, in response to suckling by the neonate

Did You Know?

Milk produced by a queen is:

  • More concentrated than cow’s milk!
  • Contains more protein than cow’s milk!
  • Contains twice as much fat as cow’s milk!

Kittens are born tiny, blind and completely at the mercy of their mother, but they develop at a very fast rate!

Help and Advice

Most queens are truly awesome and manage to cope with pregnancy and birth very well, without any assistance. A lot of owners say they didn’t know their cat was pregnant until they discovered 3 or 4 tiny brand new kittens next to her!

Sometimes, unfortunately, complications do occur, with most common problems in kittens occurring either: in utero, immediately after birth or between 0 and 12 weeks old.

If an emergency occurs – keep calm and immediately contact your vet.

In Part 3 of Feline Pregnancy & Birth I will talk about when things go wrong, if you wish to read about it, please go here.

The Kitten Consort is a small, specialised rescue, I receive no funding & rely on sales from this online shop and donations. If you found this article helpful/enjoyable or you love what I do, please consider a small donation or purchasing something from the shop. Every bit helps me to save more neonates and tiny kittens.

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The Kitten Consort

Meet the owner

Hi, my name is Kate, I am a qualified Animal Nursing Assistant, Feline Carer & kitten hand rearer. Since childhood I have had a deep sympathy and love for all animals (OK, maybe not spiders, snakes or wasps!) but I am most passionate about felines, domestic and wild. There is always at least 1 cat living with us (3 currently 🙂 see photos below). I have cared for family pet cats all my life and for over 10 years this has included care of elderly and disabled cats.

Mavis
Peaches
Julio

I became extremely distressed when I discovered the amount of abandoned and euthanised cats, especially kittens there are, not just here in the UK, but all over the world. It truly breaks my heart to hear of neonates not given a chance to live and I wanted to do something to help. So I made the choice to spend years re-training (a bit scary in your 30s). My purpose in life became clear – to dedicate the rest of my life to saving neonatal & tiny kittens lives. This passion and purpose led me on a journey of training, volunteering (part-time) in a vets surgery and launching The Kitten Consort – a dedicated neonate and tiny kitten rescue (based in the North East of England).

The knowledge and experience gained from all my courses & training, my time at the vets and personal research has been extensive. From handling animals to clearing up after them! This includes things like: animal anatomy, histology, nutrition, first aid, health & safety, rules & regulations, how felines behave, training felines, best care and hand-rearing neonates.

Along the way I discovered some disturbing facts, such as:

  • Orphaned / abandoned kittens are often a high-risk population due to the intensive resources required to save them
  • There was very little research / information available covering hand-rearing tiny kittens, that was not conflicting or confusing
  • Most rescues/shelters/charities, here in the UK, are already over-run with unwanted cats & kittens & most have limited resources. While they’re all wanting to help, caring for a tiny kitten is incredibly time & labour intensive, costs money (putting further strain on resources) and is a stressful time for all involved due to high mortality rates

I was determined to be part of the solution. Some of my aims & goals with The Kitten Consort are to:

  • Give neonates & tiny kittens a chance of life
  • Provide the best kitten care I can, in a stress-free, safe & loving environment
  • Assist in putting an end to unnecessary euthanasia (at least of tiny kittens here in the North East)
  • Raise awareness of & help reduce the number of unwanted kittens
  • Assist in research into hand rearing kittens, behavioural & phychological health and how these needs can be met, which is largely unknown & under-researched
This is me 🙂 Hand feeding newborn baby Kaya

My qualifications (so far!):

  • Level 2 Animal Nursing Assistant Certificate
  • Level 3 Feline Behaviour & Psychology Diploma – Distinction
  • Level 3 Pet Care Business Diploma – Distinction
  • Level 3 First Aid for Kittens & Cats Diploma – Higher Distinction
  • Various certificates gained from completing Blue Cross Volunteer training – including cat husbandry, cat care, animal welfare, gdpr, customer care and health & safety

I am very proud to say that I have earned the right to display the initials Dip.Fel after my name! I have also been very fortunate to win 2 awards along the way!

‘Pet Care’ Award 2018 from
The Centre of Excellence
‘Outstanding Achievement’ Award 2017 from Myerscough College

The Kitten Consort offers neonatal, tiny kitten care & hand rearing around the clock. All kittens are provided with extensive checks, full vaccination programe, microchipping, flea & worm treatments & are neutered at appropriate age. All kittens are socialised, rehabilitated (where necessary) litter trained and provided with lots of love, care, food and toys. I use the best equipment available to me and am always learning more! As well as saving neonates & tiny kittens as The Kitten Consort (via vets or public), I also volunteer my hand-rearing services to other local rescues and national charities.

I had so many questions in the beginning and even though I’m fortunate to have a good friend who’s also an RVN (who has been amazing at giving me advice). I discovered that, in general, there seems to be a lack of information in some areas of neonate & tiny kitten care & conflicting or confusing information in other areas.

Now when I’m not caring for tiny bundles of love, I’m writing articles, in the hope that by sharing my awareness and knowledge, it may assist you and serve as a helpful guide. None of my articles are intended as a replacement for vets advice/diagnosis/treatment. They are just a culmination of a lot of learning. I hope you enjoy reading them 🙂

The Kitten Consort is a small, specialised rescue, I receive no funding & rely on sales from this online shop and donations. If you found this article helpful/enjoyable or you love what I do, please consider a small donation or purchasing something from the shop. Every bit helps me to save more neonates and tiny kittens.