Last Updated on: October 31, 2022 by Crystal Uys

mother cat with differently colored kittens

The coat and eye color in kittens are determined by genetics, but how is this possible when a mother cat has produced a litter of kittens with different coat colors and lengths? If one kitten is black and the other is ginger, but the mother is a Siamese cat, how could they have received their looks through genetics? If you’ve ever wondered about this, I have the answer for you!

Well, the mother isn’t the only genetic contributor, and female cats can mate with several tomcats before their eggs are released and fertilized, resulting in different fathers and different genetic contributors. So the short (and fascinating!) answer is that yes, a female cat’s litter can come from different male cats! Let’s learn more about this:


What is Superfecundation and How Does It Work?

Superfecundation is when more than two ova are fertilized by different males within the same heat cycle of a cat or other animal, which results in conception.

An unspayed cat goes into heat every two to three weeks and is fertile between 1 to 10 days. There will be many signs to indicate that your cat is in heat as they’ll become more affectionate, demanding, and vocal. She’ll also become restless, groom excessively, and want to roam.

Just as clear as the signs will be for you when your cat has gone into heat, they’ll be for tomcats as your queen will release pheromones off their body and in their urine that instinctively communicates that she’s ready to mate.

When a free-roaming unspayed female cat is ready to mate, she will – and with several male cats. However, cats only ovulate around 20 to 50 hours after they’ve mated. By this time, a female cat will already have the sperm needed for fertilization in their reproductive tract, and if she mates with several males, they will all have a chance at fertilizing one or more eggs.

If the fertilization of two or more eggs from two or more male cats is successful, superfecundation has occurred, and the litter will be made up of kittens that may look completely different from one another because they have different fathers.

Superfecundation can also occur in dogs, sheep, rodents, and cows. Although extremely rare, it does sometimes occur in humans.

a pregnant cat lying on wooden table
Image Credit: Boy67, Shutterstock

Does Superfecundation Produce Multiple Litters?

As an egg is fertilized, it’ll follow the natural path from the ovaries to the uterus, where it’ll attach to the lining. If a queen mates again, and different sperm fertilizes another egg during her fertile window, that egg will also follow the natural path into the uterus. The more a cat mates, the more eggs that will be released.

These different fertilized and implanted eggs will develop at the same time over the next 65 days or so – even though they are separate litters. Although from separate litters and separate fathers, they’ll be born together at the same time.

Although not very common, it is possible for there to be as many different fathers as there are kittens when the mother cat gives birth.

How Can I Know If Superfecundation Has Occurred?

As I’ve mentioned, if kittens from the same litter have different personalities, coat colors, eye colors, and hair lengths, they probably have different fathers.

However, even kittens from the same litter will vary in appearance because they receive half of their genetic makeup from their mother and the other half from their father, while their littermate may receive different genes from each parent.

If you need to know whether one or more fathers are responsible for your cat’s litter of kittens, you can perform a DNA test on the kittens to determine their parents.

differently colored kittens
Image credit: The Lucky Neko, Unsplash

Is Superfecundation Common?

Although superfecundation is extremely rare in people, the opposite is true for cats, with more than half of litters found to have several fathers and different genetic makeup to their littermates.

To prevent your cat from becoming pregnant, you’ll need to get her spayed. Indoor house cats are less likely to experience superfecundation than outdoor cats because you can monitor their movements and prevent them from mating with several tomcats.

If your cat has the freedom to roam about outdoors, there is a much higher chance that superfecundation will occur because they’re free to mate with any tomcat roaming about.

pregnant stray cat
Image Credit: Paul McKinnon,Shutterstock

Why Getting Your Cat Spayed Is Necessary

Getting your cat spayed is an expense but paying out for pregnancy and nursing care is a much higher one – especially when you’ve got a litter of kittens to feed and care for too.

Getting your cat spayed before they go into heat for the first time will lower their risk for certain cancers and infections, which will prolong their life. They also won’t display all the symptoms of a cat in heat, which can be disruptive and aggressive. It’ll also stop their need to roam to find a mate, which will prevent injuries from cat fights and car accidents. A cat at home is a safer cat.

Cats aren’t aware of their relationship with each other and will mate with their siblings or parents. Getting them spayed will prevent this from occurring.


Conclusion

It is quite common for a female cat’s litter to have different fathers. Isn’t that fascinating? This phenomenon is called superfecundation. It can be quite noticeable if the kittens look very different from each other, with different coat colors and hair lengths. However, you won’t be able to know for certain if the kittens come from different fathers unless you do DNA testing on them.

To prevent superfecundation or any pregnancy from occurring, you’ll need to spay your cat or keep them indoors. However, spaying your cat comes with many health and behavioral benefits. We all want to keep our cats safe and healthy, and spaying or neutering them is an important part of that.


Featured Image Credit: Guslin al Fikrah, Unsplash

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