Observing for the visible signs of pregnancy can often be the only way to determine this status in a feral cat. A feral cat is one who is born wild. She may have never had any contact with humans making her fearful and distrustful of people. When you approach a feral cat, the tendency is she will run away and hide. Unless you are successful in trapping her, the feral cat cannot be examined for pregnancy using palpation (feeling the abdomen), Relaxin testing, ultrasound and X-ray.
The term feral is sometimes used synonymously with stray. In strict terms they are different. A stray cat grew up socialized with people but may have gotten lost or abandoned. If a cat has been a stray for long enough, she may eventually forget her connection with people and become a feral. Feral cats, being free roaming, can breed prolifically. This results to litters of kittens that further add to the population of feral cats.
The Visible Signs of Pregnancy in Cats
Enlargement of the queen’s nipples is one of the first visible signs of pregnancy. This is known as “pinking-up” because the nipples takes on a pink colour. They become visible from under the fur, even from a distance, when the cat lies on her back. This event starts from around 15 to 18 days of pregnancy.
Enlargement of the Belly and Breasts
About 5 weeks into the pregnancy, the queen’s breasts begin to enlarge and look heavy. At around the same time, her belly will also become noticeably rounded and bulging. When she is standing, the enlarged abdomen hangs lower. Her hip bones become more prominent.
Kitten Movements in the Abdomen
When the feral queen is lying on her side and in a relaxed state, you may be able to see the fetal kittens’ movements along her flanks. This is a good indication that the kittens are alive and moving.
Female cats coming into heat are usually very vocal and noisy. They roll around and raise their hindquarters. If you do not see these behavioral signs of heat in your female feral 2-3 weeks after you saw her mate then she is most likely pregnant.
If you are feeding the feral cat and she is pregnant, you will notice her eating more. She will seem to be always hungry and spending more time sleeping. Towards the end of pregnancy you may notice her gone for longer periods of time as she begins “nesting”. She will be looking for a quiet, secluded place to give birth and will be spending more time there.
Feral cat or pet house cat, queens go through the same three stages of pregnancy: Pre-implantation/Implantation, Embryogenesis, and Fetal Growth Stages. To learn more about what is happening and what are the signs in each of these stages, check out our Cat Pregnancy Calendar.
These physical and behavioral changes may all indicate pregnancy in a feral cat but one confusing factor is False Pregnancy. While this condition is not as common in cats as in dogs, it may still happen. In False Pregnancy, cats show the changes in pregnancy but is not really pregnant.
Trapping a Pregnant Feral Cat
It would be good to try to trap a feral cat suspected of being pregnant. This way she can be taken to the veterinarian for a health check and proper pregnancy diagnosis. When she gives birth, her kittens can be socialized to people so they won’t grow up feral. This increases the kittens’ chances of finding good forever homes. On rare occasions, a feral cat can be rehabilitated and they learn to trust people. This makes them adoptable but it takes time and a lot of patience. Sadly, most of the time this is not the case. The best thing you can do then for this feral mother is to have her neutered and return her to her territory. This is what is known as the Trap, Neuter, Return Program (TNR) to control the numbers of these feral cats. It also improves the cat’s quality of life. Inquire with your local humane society how you can help.