Well, I won't go into the birds and bees thing, but if that stray kitten you recently allowed to stay suddenly looks a bit too rotund for overeating, you might have a sneaky suspicion that it's not worms at all - she might be pregnant. And there were you, only just thinking it was time she needed to get ‘fixed’!
A kitten can become sexually mature in four to six months – just about the time you thought she could be trusted to find her way home if you let her out – and she’s obviously had a dalliance with the local tom behind your back.. A cat’s gestation period is 63-65 days and will start to show at around 30 days, so by the time you have noticed, she is halfway there. To check if she is pregnant might be obvious by feeling her belly, but your best bet is a trip to the vet for confirmation.
She might be ‘eating for two’ already, and now a special diet that is rich in vitamins and minerals specially designed for pregnant and lactating cats should be started and should continue once the kittens are born and she is still nursing them. She might even have been throwing up – it’s not unusual for cats to get morning sickness as well!
If she is in the middle of an inoculation plan or deworming/flea treatment it would be wise to check with your vet, to make sure the treatments are safe for her unborn babies at this point.
About two weeks before her due date she shouldn’t be allowed out, as there is the danger she will seek out a birthing area in the bushes or go into labour somewhere unsafe. To help her as she seeks a nesting area, prepare a safe place for her in a quiet corner with a low box covered with newspapers, soft towels, etc, and introduce her to it - but bear in mind cats are pretty independent creatures, she is just as likely to take over your laundry basket or give birth in the back of your wardrobe if she feels like it!
Take her to the vet for a final pre-natal check when she starts getting into ‘nesting mode’, and they will give you all the information you need about preparing for the delivery and what to do if there is an emergency. A clue she is nearing her time is she will stop eating 24 hours beforehand.
Once the kittens are born, make sure mum has plenty of high quality food and water close by, and that a litter box is near. During the first week, mum might not let you touch the kittens, especially if she doesn’t know you well yet, so don’t push your luck! The number of kittens she gives birth to varies, but the average is four for a first time mum, and she will instinctively and fastidiously clean up after each one is born.
The newborns will likely just sleep and feed for the first week and they will be blind. Don’t try to open their eyes, even if one eye is open and the other is still closed or half-open, nature will take care of it.
These new kittens, both male and female, may reach sexual maturity between four and six months of age, so if you still have them by that age, it is entirely possible a male kitten could impregnate his own mother! This is potentially dangerous both for her and for her kittens, so this scenario should definitely be avoided. Bearing kittens, giving birth, and nursing them can deplete her physical resources, leaving her tired out and malnourished.
The kittens will be eating solids at around 8 weeks, and may still be being trained in the basics by mum, so separation isn’t recommended until 10-12 weeks to give them a healthy start. Now it is important to find new homes for the kittens - and definitely start planning on mum’s neutering too!