Phantom pregnancy in cats

Phantom pregnancy is uncommon in cats. Symptoms can range from mothering behaviour and milk production to vomiting and abdominal contractions. Most phantom pregnancies are mild and resolve within a few weeks.

Phantom pregnancy is a phenomenon where a female cat experiences symptoms of pregnancy without being pregnant. This is also known as a false pregnancy or pseudopregnancy. It affects female cats that haven’t been neutered, regardless of age or breed.



What is phantom pregnancy in cats?

  • The reproductive cycle of a queen includes different stages. One of the stages is called being in season or heat.
  • Queens can be in season several times a year at irregular intervals, which may be shorter at certain times of the year.
  • Phantom pregnancy is rarely seen in cats. It is caused by a normal hormonal change during the reproductive cycle.
  • These hormone changes can trick your cat’s body into thinking it is pregnant and about to give birth.
  • The symptoms of pseudopregnancy usually occur 3-4 weeks after the end of your cat’s heat and should resolve within 1-3 weeks.
  • The reason why these biological processes occur in a non-pregnant cat remains a mystery.



What are the signs of phantom pregnancy in cats?

When present, the signs can be:

  • Teats (mammary glands) enlargement
  • Milk production (lactation)
  • Collecting and mothering of objects
  • Nesting behaviour

But your cat can also show:

  • Weight gain
  • Swollen tummy
  • Abdominal contractions
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Changes in activity levels (increased or decreased)
  • Reduced appetite
  • Anxiety




Are there some cats more at risk of phantom pregnancy?

There is no age or breed predisposition.

Frequent phantom pregnancies can increase the risk of mastitis, womb infection (pyometra), and mammary tumours.

If your cat has phantom pregnancies and you do not intend to breed from her, having her spayed is advisable to reduce these risks.



How is phantom pregnancy in cats diagnosed?

False pregnancy is diagnosed by:

  • Taking your cat’s history of recent seasons and any matings.
  • Examining your cat for abdominal swelling, teat enlargement, and milk production (lactation).

On some occasions, your vet may need to take:

  • Radiographs (x-rays)
  • Ultrasound scan
  • Blood test
  • Urine test


Vet treatment

What is the treatment for phantom pregnancy in cats?

It is always important to confirm the diagnosis with a vet.

Phantom pregnancy usually resolves in 1-3 weeks without any treatment.

Following the diagnosis, the vet might recommend one of the options:

  • Home and behaviour modification
  • Surgery

Home and behaviour modification

It is vital that you monitor your cat closely with the guidance of a vet, as the signs can change and require further intervention.

The conservative treatment includes:

  • Exercise/distraction
  • Removing the mothered objects
  • Preventing teats stimulation

Check out the home treatment section for more detailed information.


Spaying is a permanent solution that will prevent future episodes of phantom pregnancy.


Home treatment

What can you do at home to help your cat with a phantom pregnancy?

If your cat is showing mild symptoms of phantom pregnancy, you can provide them with home and behaviour modification:


You can distract your cat from mothering by increasing exercise, play, and mental stimulation games.

Removing the mothered objects

Gently do this by distracting her with a game or a toy. Do not punish your cat for mothering.

Preventing teat stimulation

Your cat may be licking her nipples. This will increase milk production and may cause irritation and even mastitis. If your cat is licking, try to stop them by using a body suit or a buster collar.



How to prevent phantom pregnancies in cats

Phantom pregnancy is a hormonal change that cannot be controlled.

The only way to prevent it is to spay your cat.

Talk to your vet if you are worried.


When to worry

When should you worry about phantom pregnancy in cats?

Call your vets if your cat shows any of these signs:

  • Aggressive behaviour
  • Losing weight
  • Symptoms are not resolving after 3 weeks

Joii can help with:

  • Identifying the signs of phantom pregnancy
  • Treating mild signs of the disease
  • Identifying when a physical vet assessment is necessary
Consult a vet - £28

Consult your vet online. Anyday, anytime.

Consult a Joii vet online for £28. Or free if you’re insured with one of our partners.

Developed by vets 🩺

QR code to app

How to get an

Join a practice

*It's free*

Download the app to register and become a member of Joii vets. In only a few taps you will have access to digital vet care 24/7 as well as a vet practice

Download the app

We’re writing as quick as we can

This article is currently being written by one of our expert vets. Check back soon.