Pregnancy and nursing are responsible for many changes in a cat's lifestyle, as well as in her body. You should pay special attention to your cat’s changing nutritional needs throughout the entire reproduction process.
Before the Pregnancy: Planning Is Important
If you are planning to breed your female cat, it is important to assess her body condition well in advance. Because of the physical demands of pregnancy and nursing, starting off with less-than-ideal health can cause problems.
An underweight cat often can't consume enough food to support her and the developing kittens. Overweight cats may experience abnormal or difficult labor because of large fetuses.
A complete and balanced diet that supports a healthy weight and body condition before breeding helps the female cat maintain her health, and that of her offspring, throughout pregnancy and nursing.
The gestation period for cats is nine weeks. Pregnant cats, like humans, gain weight gradually throughout pregnancy. The energy requirements of pregnant cats are reflected by their weight gain. The energy needs of a pregnant cat should gradually increase so that, by the end of pregnancy, the cat is consuming 25% to 50% more than her normal amount of calories.
Pregnant cats lose weight after giving birth. However, their nutritional needs increase dramatically. Energy needs can be two to three times normal, depending on litter size, in order to produce the milk supply that will support the offspring. Water intake is also important for milk volume.
To ensure a nursing cat is getting enough nutrition, give her a nutrient-dense diet, such as kitten food. Without increasing the amount of food at each meal, increase the number of meals in the day. Free-choice feed her, offering unlimited access to dry food.
By 5 weeks, most kittens show an interest in their mother's food. Gradually, the kittens will begin eating solid food and nursing less. At the same time, the nursing cat will usually start eating less. Most kittens are completely weaned by eight weeks after birth. By this time, the mother's energy requirement is back to normal and she should be eating her usual pre-pregnancy diet.