Before breeding your cat, learn what is involved in mating, reproducing and delivering healthy kittens. Sometimes, breeding isn’t a good idea.
The Male (The Tom)
Puberty in a male cat, called a tom cat, sets in at 6 to 8 months of age when he is able to fertilize a female cat. The male’s reproductive life can last 14 years or more. If you want to breed your male cat, he should come from a healthy litter of good size and be born of a female cat who had no difficulties giving birth or rearing the litter.
The Female (The Queen)
Once the breeding season begins, in general around January or February, the female, called the queen, will go into heat multiple times until the end of the breeding season in October or November. The heat cycle is greatly affected by the ratio of daylight to darkness and by temperature. In cat colonies, for example, with 14 hours of light and 10 hours of darkness, as well as constant temperatures, female cats will be in the breeding cycle year-round.
The female is able to bear young as early as 7 to 9 months of age and is fertile another 7 to 9 years. Usually after that, the cat can no longer bear kittens, although there are exceptions. Like the male, the female should come from a good-sized, healthy litter with a mother that delivered with ease and showed regular heat cycles. A good history should be obtained and a complete physical exam performed in order to help detect genetic disorders or illness.
In about 20 percent of females, the actual heat is preceded by a period of up to 2 days where the cat does things like rubbing herself against objects, persistent meowing, treading in place and rolling on the floor. However, she won’t let the tom mount her. In unsuspecting owners, the cat can seem to be in pain, when in fact, it is just raging hormones and no pain is involved.
The heat cycle in a cat lasts between three and 20 days, on average, 5 to 8 days. The interval between the end of one heat and the beginning of the next heat lasts 3 to 14 days in general, with an average of 10 days. In other words, the female cat cycles every 12 to 20 days during breeding season.
There are certain hormonal changes in the cycling queen until she mates. Estrogen is responsible for the queen’s going into heat and progesterone is necessary for pregnancy. When the estrogen concentration rises, the queen goes into heat, and when it drops, the heat ends. Until the queen is mated, this rise and fall of estrogen will continue.
Since the female is less sensitive to environmental changes when in heat, she is brought to the tom for breeding. Once the cats get together, the mating process doesn’t last very long – only about half of a minute to about 4 minutes. First the male bites the female’s neck, mounts her and positions himself on top of her. He then thrusts his pelvis into her and finally penetrates her, which usually only lasts about 4 seconds.
During this last phase or shortly thereafter, the female will scream and attempt to break free by turning, rolling or striking the male with her paw. Then she will have a so-called “after-reaction” where she’ll roll or thrash and clean herself. This after-reaction may last up to 9 minutes.
The time intervals between matings may be as short as 5 minutes or as long as half an hour. A female may allow up to 30 matings, and studies have shown that if only one single mating is allowed only 50 percent of the queens will get pregnant. Queens are not too particular. They will allow mating will various males and this can result in a variety of different fathers for the same litter. Each kitten has only one father and kittens within the same litter may all have different fathers.
The duration of pregnancy is 64 to 69 days. The diagnosis can be made either by feeling the abdomen of the queen or by ultrasound. An experienced person will be able to feel the pregnant uterus at about day 16 of pregnancy. At this time the uterus will feel like a string of pearls. After the 20th day of pregnancy one can easily feel the fetuses in a relaxed queen.
Ultrasound is a helpful tool in determining pregnancy and for checking the development and the heart rate of the fetuses, and it can be performed from day 26 of pregnancy until birth. Some queens will show enlargement and a pink color of her mammary glands as early as the 18th day of pregnancy.