What Is the Average Feline Litter Size?

Cats make wonderful mothers and the approach of kittens can be a time of excitement. The average feline litter is small, but a number of different factors can contribute to how many kittens are born. Knowing how many kittens to expect can help when seeking out homes to place them all, and can also affect the ease of the birth. Additionally, breeders may wish to know how to maximize the chances of having a large litter. Here is some information about average feline litter sizes and what to expect.

What Influences Litter Size

Feline litter sizes can be influenced by multiple factors including the type of cat, the age of the mother, the health of the mother and the genetic history of both the mother and father. The average litter size is 3 to 5 kittens, but a young mother, or a first time mother can expect to have around 2 to 3 kittens. At 3 to 4 years old a cat will be more likely to have around 4 to 5 kittens per litter, although this also depends on how often she is bred. Cats which are bred less regularly tend to have smaller litters as the womb becomes a less hospitable place. However, eventually as the cat becomes older, her average litter size will naturally decrease. Cats can have up to 3 litters per year.

Nutrition and the health of the mother can greatly influence the size of the litter, not only by affecting how many ova are produced, but also by affecting the rate of fetal abortion. Cats may not show any signs of reabsorbing a fetus, but may do so if their health is not optimal or if they experience trauma, aborting some or all of the litter. Bacterial, viral and parasitical infections can also affect litter size. Finally, the genetic heritage of a cat can influence the size of her litter, with certain breeds having more kittens at a time. For example, the Burmese has an average of 5 kittens per litter, while the Abyssinian averages 3.5. Cats that are the product of a large amount of inbreeding will also have smaller average litter sizes.

Determining Litter Size

Litter size can be estimated by taking into account these factors. It can also be estimated by a veterinarian at different points of gestation. In some cases, it is important to determine the size of the litter, as smaller litters may result in larger kittens and more difficulty during the birth. Litter size can be estimated by ultrasound at 21 days gestation, an external examination at 35 days (the least effective, least expensive method), and an X-ray after 45 days. Of these, an X-ray is the most accurate, but is also rarely considered necessary.

Estimating your cat's litter size is important, as a small litter size can contribute to problems at the birth. Understanding the different factors that contribute to litter size, such as age, health and genetics, can help you raise your cat's average to maximize her breeding potential, or predict how roughly how many kittens will need homes after the birth.