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Abby has a very young cat that she rescued as a kitten, along with one of her brothers. Now she's in heat and the brother is doing what comes naturally. She can't afford to get them fixed and wonders if her cat will survive having kittens. We answer her question and provide links to low-cost spay/neuter resources.

Kittens having kittens: It’s a very common problem and one that we can help to solve. Photo CC-BY-NC Alexandra Guerson

Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:

I have a 5-month-old kitty. She was feral when I found her and I took her in with her littermates–I kept her and one boy. He continues to try and mate with her and I’m afraid that if she gets pregnant she’ll die from labor and birthing. I can’t afford to get either of them fixed and I don’t want to put her up for adoption. So if she gets pregnant, will she survive the pregnancy?

~ Abby

Thomas: Oh, yes, ’tis the season. As spring returns in the northern climates, cats start doing what comes naturally: going into heat and mating!

Bella: And because a cat can become pregnant as young as four months old, there’s an ongoing epidemic of kittens having kittens!

Tara: And because spaying and neutering can be expensive operations, there are plenty of people who simply can’t afford to have the procedure done, even if they know it’s the right thing to do.

Thomas: So, we’re not judging you at all, Abby. We actually think you did a wonderful thing in rescuing these kittens and giving two of them a home with you.

Bella: First things first: Will your cat survive getting pregnant and having kittens? The odds are good that she will, but first litters can have complications like the mother not having enough milk for the kittens (that happened with Mama’s first cat, Iris, way back in the days before spay/neuter was a thing).

Tara: One factor that you need to consider, though, is that cats don’t have an incest taboo, so they’ll happily mate with their siblings and parents. This kind of inbreeding can bring any genetic defects to the forefront, so it’s possible that any litter your cat has may have problems because of that.

Kittens having kittens: It's an increasingly common problem, since a cat can get pregnant as young as four months of age. Add to that the fact that spay and neuter can be expensive surgeries, and you've got the groundwork laid for an epidemic of unplanned kittens. We've got some tips on how to handle a pregnancy in a young cat and links to spay/neuter resources across the U.S. and Canada in this post.

Thomas: The good news is that there actually are a lot of resources out there for low-cost or free spay and neuter services. Nobody really wants to see cats having kittens, one litter after another. This is why there are trap-neuter-return programs for feral cats, and low-cost spay/neuter services springing up all across the U.S. and Canada.

Bella: We’re sure there are similar services in other countries as well, but they may be few and far between in the developing world and nations with low populations or economic troubles. But since we’re American kitties, we really only know about services based in the United States and Canada.

Tara: So, what should you do if your cat is already pregnant? You’ll need to watch her carefully and make sure she doesn’t get outside, for one thing. If she does, she may well decide to have her kittens in a place where you can’t find them and keep them healthy.

Thomas: The average gestation period for a cat is 63 to 65 days, so about two months. You won’t really notice pregnancy for some of that time. The only clue you’ll have is that your cat will stop going into heat.

Bella: Cats go into heat once every two to three weeks until they’ve mated and become pregnant. If it’s been more than three weeks since her last heat, the odds are good that she’s pregnant.

Tara: Your cat’s belly will start getting big around one month into the pregnancy, but if she’s having a small litter, the size difference may not be all that noticeable. Another sign that she’s getting ready for having kittens is that her nipples will “pink up” and the hair around them will be shed away, in order to make it easier for the kittens to nurse.

Thomas: A couple of weeks before she’s ready to give birth, your cat will start searching around for quiet places to have her kittens. The best thing you can do is make her a “kittening box” and put it in a quiet, safe place in your home. Give her a few options, and she’ll pick the one she likes best.

Bella: She may just be plain old contrary and decide to have her kittens in the middle of a pile of shoes in the bottom of your closet, though! Tee hee hee!

Tara: Hey, what’s so bad about sitting in the middle of a pile of shoes in the closet? I like to do that sometimes!

Thomas: Oh, there’s nothing bad about it, Tara, don’t worry.

Bella: But we’ve got some other help for you, too. Your cat doesn’t have to get pregnant, because there are lots of resources for low-cost spay/neuter services!

Tara: You see, animal rescuers don’t want to see cats having unplanned and unwanted kittens, either, so they’ve made a lot of effort to make spaying and neutering accessible to as many people as possible.

Thomas: The first thing we suggest you do is to call animal rescue organizations in your area and see if they can connect you with low-cost spay/neuter services. If you can keep your cat from having kittens, that’s obviously the best choice.

Bella: The ASPCA has a comprehensive database of low-cost spay/neuter programs throughout the U.S. and Canada.

Tara: The North Shore Animal League’s SpayUSA provides a nationwide referral network for low-cost spay/neuter services, too.

Thomas: Some states also have voucher programs for spay/neuter services. These vouchers are typically for people who meet certain income guidelines (mostly for people on public assistance or other fixed incomes such as Social Security), and they get snapped up pretty quickly.

Bella: Another option is to look into trap-neuter-return programs in your area. Particularly if there are feral cats in your neighborhood, it’s a great idea to keep those feral kitties from having kittens.

Tara: The best way to start the search in your area is to Google “low-cost spay/neuter [your state or province]”–you may be surprised how many options pop up.

Thomas: It is possible to spay a pregnant cat, although the procedure is riskier because there’s a lot more blood flow to the uterus in a pregnant kitty.

Bella: So ultimately, Abby, if your cat is pregnant, she most likely will survive having kittens. But it’s not too late to have her spayed and your boy-cat neutered before he starts to spray. Look into some of the low-cost spay/neuter resources we mentioned; we’re sure you’ll get some help.

Tara: What about you other readers? Have you had a young cat that got pregnant? Did she do well with having kittens? Do you have any other recommendations for Abby as far as places to look for low-cost spay/neuter services? We especially would like to hear from readers outside the U.S.

Thomas: And remember–no judging! Abby wants to do the right thing by her cats, and she’s already done something wonderful by giving two cats a home–cats that would have been feral otherwise.