Can A Cat Carry A Litter Of Kittens With Different Fathers?

Kittens on a ChairCat biology is a little different to human biology. There are obvious differences – general cuteness of features, presence of retractable claws – as well as some less obvious differences. One of the differences you probably won’t have noticed (unless you are very intimate with your pet) is the way female cats ovulate and mate:

Queens (female cats) are called ‘induced ovulators’. This term is just a fancy way to say that queens do not release eggs from their ovaries – they do not ‘ovulate’ – until they mate with a tom (male cat). So, unlike humans, cats do not have periods every month.

But, it takes two to tango…

The tomcat’s penis has sharp spines, (yes spines) that dig into the queen’s vagina during mating. (Ouch… we don’t know if this is something the queen gets pleasure from!) We think these spines help trigger the release of hormones that lead to ovulation… and ultimately fertilisation.

But one session may not be enough: about half of all queens who mate with just one tom do not ovulate – and therefore do not have kittens. Therefore, to make sure she has a good chance of getting pregnant, she will need to have sex multiple times to have hormone levels that are high enough to trigger the release of her eggs. And as you can imagine, this mating may occur with more than one tomcat in the wild.

During the process of mating, sperm is deposited into the female reproductive tract. Cat sperm is hardy and can stay alive long enough in there to await the release of the eggs. So, when the eggs are finally released, the sperm from all the different tomcats fight their way to the eggs in order to fertilize them.

This process of multiple fathers fertilizing different eggs released during the same period of ovulation is technically called “heteropaternal superfecundation”. Catchy.

And if you thought it only happens in cats, you’d be way off. It can happen in many animals, humans included – just see here and here.

I smell paternity suits…

Answer by Artem Cheprasov

Image credit: Robert Couse-Baker on flickr

Article by Artem Cheprasov

June 10, 2014

Dr. Artem Cheprasov was born in St. Petersburg, Russia. He then moved to the U.S. when he was a little boy. So no, he is not a spy. Or is he? He finished his studies in veterinary medicine at the top 10% of his class, conducted research, and discovered a cool mathematics algorithm; but we cannot confirm this as both Washington and Moscow have refused to comment on this matter either because he really is a spy or more likely because they have no idea who he even is.

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