Feeding the Nursing Cat
I have bred my cat and she is getting ready to deliver her kittens. I have heard that nursing her kittens will be even more energy-intense than pregnancy. Is this true?
It is correct that during nursing (lactation), a cat needs the greatest amount of energy calories of any life stage. Optimal nutrition for reproduction and lactation pursues the following outcomes:
- Conception/successful pregnancy
- Providing the queen with her best ability to deliver her kittens
- Thriving kittens both before and after birth
The various stages of reproduction—heat (estrus), pregnancy, lactation, and weaning— provide unique stresses to the body. Each creates specific nutritional concerns that should be addressed to maximize both queen and kitten health.
"Each [stage] creates specific nutritional
concerns that should be addressed to maximize
both queen and kitten health"
Cats are pregnant for 63–65 days (58–70 day range), and a healthy, well-fed queen will experience steady weight gain throughout her pregnancy. This weight gain appears to be energy storage to support the upcoming lactation. A high-digestibility, high quality kitten formulation is generally recommended during feline pregnancy, and multiple small meals may provide the queen with the means to maintain adequate nutrient and calorie intake.
At delivery, queens will lose about 40% of the weight they have gained during pregnancy, and the rest will be lost during lactation due to the work-load placed on the queen’s body. Once the kittens are born, the queen can increase her food intake because she will have more room in her abdomen, but the energy density of the food must be high enough or she will not be physically able to consume enough to sustain milk production, weight, and body condition. Periodic assessments of the queen’s body condition provide opportunities to fine-tune feedings. Feeding during lactation is best accomplished using a highly-digestible, high-quality kitten formulation.
"Peak milk production and the queen’s peak energy need
occurs at 3–4 weeks of lactation,
but the peak food requirement occurs at
6–7 weeks post-partum."
Peak milk production and the queen’s peak energy need occurs at 3–4 weeks of lactation, but the peak food requirement occurs at 6–7 weeks post-partum. This is primarily due to the fact that the kittens are also consuming the queen’s food as they approach weaning age.
Free-choice feeding during the first 3 to 4 weeks of lactation, unless the cat only has one or two kittens, provides many advantages. The queen can eat on her own schedule, she can consume smaller amounts of food each time she eats, and the kittens can begin sampling solid food as soon as they are able (at about 3 weeks of age).
Do I need to change how I feed my cat as she weans her kittens?
Restricting food to the queen before and during weaning can help her taper off her milk production, helping her be a bit more comfortable. On day one of weaning, withhold the queen’s food, allowing the kittens to eat their food while they are away from their mother. They can all be together that night, and the kittens will suckle a bit. On day two of weaning, the kittens are separated from the queen and she is fed about 25% of her pre-breeding portion and formulation. Over 4 or 5 days, increase to the full pre-breeding portion and meal-feeding. The kittens should not be allowed access to nurse during this time as that delays drying up milk production.
With a bit of planning and input from your veterinarian, you can create a nutritionally sound plan for pregnancy and lactation, setting the stage for both a healthy cat and healthy kittens.
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