That domestic feline dozing on your windowsill without a care in the world has the potential to be a kitten factory, if left unspayed. While average litter size is three to five kittens, double-digit litters aren't unheard of. Healthy females can have litters so large they cannot feed them all.
In 1970, a 4-year-old Burmese named Tarawood Antigone gave birth to 19 kittens, 15 of which survived. Oddly enough, 14 were males, with only one female! Clementine, a mixed domestic shorthair gave birth to 15 (11 survived) in New York in 1976, and that same year a Siamese named Tikatoo had a litter of 15 in Canada.
Certain breeds, including the Burmese like record-holder Miss Antigone, have more kittens per litter on average. One study in Australia found that Burmese have the highest average, at five kittens per litter. Siamese are not far behind at 4.5.
Age, nutrition and health of the mother also influence litter size. Cats are most fertile between 2 and 8 years old. Younger and first-time moms tend to have smaller litters than a 4- or 5-year-old cat. If not in optimal health, spontaneous abortion may occur, leading to smaller litters. While extremely large litters are not desirable, small litters can endanger the mother, as the kittens tend to be larger at birth.
One Smart Cat
Cats have eight teats, and large litters can mean the weaker kittens are pushed aside unless the owner or a foster cat-mom helps. A cat named Percy figured it out all by herself, though. She divided her 12 kittens into two groups, placing them in separate nests. Percy then took turns nursing each group.
Leslie Darling has been a writer since 2003, writing regularly for "Mississippi Magazine" and "South Mississippi Living," specializing in food and wine, animals and pets, and all things Southern. She is a graduate of the University of New Orleans.