Your cat is producing milk – How does that happen?

When will your cat produce milk?

Cats are mammals. So the female animals are able to have babies and raise these babies by feeding them with milk. That’s why a cat is producing milk at times. The mammary glands are on the abdomen and they will make the milk. Most cats have 4 mammary glands on each side. So 8 mammary glands in total. And therefor 8 nipples. Very occasionally cats have more, but that does not happen very often.

Before milk can be produced, it all starts with a rise of the hormone levels progesterone in the blood. After a while, this hormone will decrease in the blood and there will be an increase in the hormone prolactin. This combination will cause the mammary glands to develop and your cat will start with producing milk.

What causes a progesterone rise in the blood?

The progesterone is made when there was ovulation. The remnant of the piece that contained the egg in the ovary will make this hormone. However, cats usually only ovulate after mating with a male cat or when there is stretching of the vulva in some other way. The conclusion is therefore that a cat is producing milk only if she is pregnant, if she has been mated but has not become pregnant or if her vulva has been stretched in some other way. To stop heat, some people sometimes want to put a moistened cotton swab in the vulva of the cat so that mating is imitated and the heat stops.

Milk production in your cat when she is pregnant

The amount of progesterone in the blood will start to drop about 1 to 7 days before the kittens will be born. At that time there will also be an increased amount of the hormone prolactin in the blood. This combination will cause the mammary glands to develop and your cat is producing milk as soon as the kittens are born.

How to know if your cat is pregnant?

But how do you know if your cat is pregnant? In the first place, your cat is of course not yet neutered. That makes sense. But there must have been an occasion when your cat has mated with a male. And don’t say your cat won’t go outside. Because that turns out not to be a very good excuse in real life. Cats in heat often escape. But even worse: males are very resourceful if there is a female in heat in their environment. It is therefore also quite possible that a neighbour cat came in through the window, mated with your female cat and then left again. Trust us, it’s more common than you think! If you want to know if your cat is pregnant, you can test this yourself with a home test for cats. Though they are not as reliable as the pregnancy tests for humans. 

Cat pregnancy test

The moment your cat is pregnant and already your cat is producing milk, she will be around the end of the pregnancy. In most cases you will see that your cat has a pretty round belly and she has probably eaten a bit more food lately. Put your hand on her belly when she’s sleeping peacefully. You may feel the kittens move under your hands from time to time. Are you in doubt? Then it is wise to pay a visit to your vet. After all, you better prepare for the arrival of the new life when it is coming.

Milk production in your cat when she is in a false pregnancy

False pregnancy is common in dogs. This is much less the case with cats. That’s because they don’t ovulate without being mated and dogs do. But as soon as there has been a mating in one way or another, but no pregnancy has resulted from this, the cat usually has an increased amount of progesterone in her blood since there was an ovulation. After all, female cats only ovulate after mating. With a false pregnancy, however, she will experience a decrease in this hormone more quickly. Namely, around the 45th day after a possible mating, this decrease will occur instead of around the 60th day when a cat is pregnant. The decrease in progesterone causes an increase in the hormone prolactin and as a result, mammary glands will develop and your cat is producing milk. The mammary glands become larger and the nipples also increase in size.

It is therefore at this time that there is an opportunity to bring motherless kittens to this kittenless mother. There is a good chance that she will adopt them. This gives the kittens the best chance to grow up healthy while they have lost their real mother.

Mom cat producing milk for her kittens to grow up.

Milk production in a cat whose kittens have died in her belly

Unfortunately, this scenario also occurs. The cat was pregnant, but somewhere during the pregnancy a problem arose that caused the kittens to die. Depending on how long she was pregnant, the kittens will be cleared out of her womb by her body, or the deceased kittens will be expelled with a natural delivery. However, in this case it is also possible that her mammary glands will develop and your cat is producing milk. This is because her progesteron hormone will drop if the kittens have died causing the prolactin hormone to rise. The result is that she will start to produce milk. 

How do you prevent unwanted milk production in your cat?

It probably is not necessary to say, but it is not a good idea to prevent milk production when your cat is pregnant. In that case the kittens would die.

However, if you are sure that your cat is not pregnant, you can stop your cat producing milk in several ways. By the way, you don’t have to do this. It will stop automatically when no milk is sucked from the nipples. But if you want, there is the possibility to get the medicin cabergolin from your vet to stop milk production. This is a medication that ensures that your cat regains a normal hormonal balance as quickly as possible.

In the long run, you prevent your cat from producing milk if your cat can no longer ovulate. You can temporarily counter this by giving your cat a birthcontroll pill to your cat. But if you do not wish to have a litter, it is wiser to have your cat neutered by your vet. In doing so, they remove the ovaries so that no more eggs can be formed and therefore no more progesterone production can take place.

Milk production in case of abnormal mammary gland enlargement

There is a medical condition in pregnant cats called mammary gland hyperplasia. Breeders also call this the Dolly Parton Syndrome in cats. The mammary glands of this cat take on extreme shapes during pregnancy. This obviously feels uncomfortable for your cat, but in very serious cases her mammary glands can also become very inflamed or even the mammarygland tissue may die. She also experiences an extreme itch on her belly. Many breeders therefore choose to interrupt the pregnancy at that time and then have her neutered. This problem almost always returns with a subsequent pregnancy.

How long does a cat give milk?

In principle, a cat will continue producing milk as long as milk continues to be sucked from her nipples. But if this is not the case, the milk production will decrease a little more every day. Usually after a week or two they are completely done making milk and the mammary glands have become a lot smaller again. But this is only the case if she has had a normal hormonal course. With a mammary gland hyperplasia, this can take considerably longer if the cat is not neutered.

Good luck!

Hopefully your cat is just pregnant. If you are in doubt about the health of your cat you should visit your veterinarian. Good luck to both you and your cat and hopefully you will soon have some lovely kittens.