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Can a female cat’s litter have different fathers?

Have you ever seen a litter of kittens and wondered how they could look so different from each other and from their mother for that matter? Some are black as coal; others are calico. One is short-haired; the other is long-haired.

How is it possible they can look so unique and be from the same litter?

Believe it or not, this brood of siblings could share the same mother cat but have different fathers! It’s called superfecundation.

A female kitty can breed numerous times with different males when she’s in heat. Once the eggs are released from her ovaries, a process triggered during mating, the male’s little swimmers get trapped in the female’s reproductive tract and can fertilize the eggs, resulting in the potential for multiple donors. The female may release several eggs, which can survive for up to 24 hours, thus widening the window for multiple fertilizations from different sperm donors.

If a female cat mates with males of the same breed, it would be impossible to know for certain whether superfecundation occurred because the physical characteristics would be too difficult to distinguish from one litter mate to the other. Only a DNA test could confirm a kitten’s parentage.

The biggest telltale sign that a litter has more than one father? The brood’s characteristics, sizes and colors. They look drastically different from each other.

With that being said, however, it is possible that litter mates can look vastly different from each other and still share the same father. That’s because cats carry dominant and recessive genes, like blue eyes or short hair, which can result in a variety of kittens with different eye colors and fur lengths. So, it still might be a head scratcher if the kittens from the same litter look nothing like each other.

To allude to superfecundation, you’d need to consider the mother cat’s lifestyle. If she’s a stray with easy access to a flurry of tom cats while she’s in heat, it’s more than likely her offspring has a variety of baby daddies. It’s more common than you think.

Here are some other interesting facts related to cats and pregnancy:

  • Litter mates, a father and a daughter, and a mother and a son can mate with each other. In the feline world, relationship to each other matters not. Another reason spaying and neutering are a good idea.
  • Cats come into heat in spring and autumn. If a female doesn’t mate during her heat cycle, the process begins again a week or two later.
  • Females can be fertile for up to seven days or as short as one day.
  • The average gestation period for a cat is 65 days.
  • A female can become pregnant when she's as young as four months old.
  • Some pregnant cats experience “morning sickness” like humans. They might refuse to eat or vomit.
  • Litters can range from one kitten to up to eight. The average is four kittens per litter.