Dear Green Gato #14 – Baby Mama Drama

Cat nursing her kittensDear Green Gato,

Hello! I’m coming to you with an odd question. I just adopted a beautiful calico cat named Grenda from our local animal shelter a few weeks ago. I was told that Grenda was spayed, and allowed her to go outdoors once we got back to the house. Well, turns out that she hadn’t been spayed, as she came home pregnant within the first two weeks of being a member of our household. We live in the country, and have many friends who can always use a good barn cat, so we decided that it would be fine if she had the babies. The surprise, and the purpose of my writing to you, has to do with the appearance of Grenda’s five babies.

We don’t know who the father is, but it almost looks like these cats came from all different guys. The cats all have totally different colors of fur, and a few of them look like they’re going to have long coats despite Grenda being a standard American Shorthair. One even looks like a Siamese cat. What the heck is going on here?

-Melissa R.

Dear Melissa,

Well, it sure sounds like Grenda has made herself right at home! Going through the process of pregnancy with a cat is an interesting experience, and it’s great that you have homes for the kittens. It is certainly interesting the way that kittens come out, as brothers and sisters can look as different as night and day. There are a few things that could be going on here.

You’re seeing different phenotypes from the same litter: Phenotype is the way that something looks, as opposed to genotype, which refers to the genetic makeup of something. The kittens may have the same genotype, but different phenotypes depending on the dominant and recessive traits that Grenda and the father cat(s) held. Did you know that the colors of a cat have nothing to do with their breed in most cases? An American Shorthair can be black, white, brown, grey, and any combination of the feline colors that you could think of.

Different coat types can also pop up in a single litter. The way that cat breeds are created is through selecting cats that have similar phenotypes and breeding them in the hopes that they will create more similar kitties. You could think of this phenomenon in terms of people when you think about two parents who have brown hair and brown eyes producing a blonde-haired blue-eyed offspring. The blue eyes and blonde hair were recessive traits carried by one or both of the parents, and these traits somehow became prominent in the child.

Grenda got pregnant by more than one cat: Cats are actually able to do this fairly easily. Female cats go through heat, the time when they’re ready to mate, throughout the spring and summer. During this time, her heat cycle never stops regardless of if she’s been impregnated or not. Referred to as superfetation, a cat can become pregnant with fetuses of different ages from different mates. This could result in a whole slew of different-looking cats, from color to coat type.
The Siamese kitten can be explained with genetics as well. Many people don’t know this, but the Siamese cat has its signature smoky look from a form of albinism. The dark patches that appear on the kitty’s ears, muzzle, paws, and tail are not markings that they’re born with. This happens because those parts of the cat’s body are the coolest, attracting the coloration while the rest of their warm body stays light. For more information about Siamese cats, click here.

So yes, your sweet little Grenda may have been having a bit too much fun out there on the streets, and you should probably keep her indoors until you can deliver the babies and take her to go get spayed since she can still get pregnant again. While you’re at it, you should also have the new kittens spayed and neutered when they’re old enough, which is only at two months of age. Spaying and neutering is the best way to control the population of cats in the world. There are already thousands of cats being euthanized every day due to homelessness and lack of demand for kitties, and you wouldn’t want to contribute to this growing epidemic.

Enjoy the kittens and make sure to visit your veterinarian before and after the birth. Thanks for writing in!

-Green Gato

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