When in the Pregnancy of a Cat Do the Nipples Swell?

Mama cat's nipples swell during pregnancy in preparation for nursing her kittens.
Mama cat's nipples swell during pregnancy in preparation for nursing her kittens. (Image: George Marks/Retrofile/Getty Images)

If there's a chance your kitty was successful in getting a date with the neighbor's tomcat during her heat cycle, then there's more than a chance that she'll become a mother. With a short gestation period of only eight to 10 weeks, Felicity will be almost halfway to the end of her term before she starts showing signs, such as swelling of her nipples.

Almost Halfway

"Pinking up" is the term for the change your cat's nipples will undergo when she becomes pregnant, and it's one of the first noticeable indications that Felicity is carrying kittens. At around three weeks in, her nipples will become firm, rigid and deepen in their pink color.

Milk Production

Although your cat's nipples start preparing for nursing about five or six weeks before her kittens are born, her milk won't start flowing until the happy event. The act of birth along with the kittens' cries will stimulate Felicity's body to start producing milk. The babies should be happily nursing within an hour or two of being born.

Nursing Duration

Cats' nipples will remain swollen and they'll continue to produce milk as long as the kittens nurse. With your help, Felicity can start to wean her kittens when they're 5 or 6 weeks old, but wild kittens don't go through a formal weaning. Wild mother cats usually bring their kittens prey and teach them to hunt. This encourages the kittens to nurse less and helps them develop a taste for solid food, as milk that mama cat produces after the kittens are 12 weeks old isn't as nutritious as the milk she produced earlier in their little lives.

If There's a Problem

If Felicity doesn't begin producing milk immediately following the birth of her kittens, contact her vet. When mother cats don't make enough milk, or any at all, the kitten's health could be jeopardized because the babies need the colostrum their mommy's milk contains. It provides the antibodies their little systems can't produce yet. Additionally, if the kittens don't get enough to eat, they may fail to thrive. Under the supervision and instruction of your vet, you may need to help out by bottle-feeding the babies. Always consult an experienced veterinarian regarding the health and treatment of your cat and her kittens when a problem arises.


Mastitis is a possible problem for nursing cats, although it occurs only occasionally. Since the mammary glands are already swollen, filled with milk for the nursing babies, you have to be aware of other symptoms of the condition, like Felicity becoming depressed and losing her appetite. Her swollen nipples will be hot and painful, too. She may not want to nurse her kittens, and that is OK because her milk will be infected and the kittens shouldn't be allowed to drink it. If Felicity shows signs of mastitis, separate her from her kittens and contact your vet immediately to obtain treatment for her. The vet should also check the kittens over to ensure that none of them have contracted the infection through nursing.

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