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.
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Cats are known for being a bit choosey about what they will and won’t do. And a little pickiness is fine when it comes to picking out toys and napping spots! But if your cat is or becomes extra-selective about what they’ll eat, it’s time to pay attention and perhaps talk to your vet. You and your vet know your cat best, so it’s always worth checking in if you think your cat isn’t eating enough and want their professional advice.
Start by paying close attention to what your cat is eating and how they behave. This information will help you, your household and your vet work together to make sure your cat is living and eating well.
Feeding Tips for the Truly Finicky Cat
Pay Attention to All the Cat Treats
Is your cat begging for table scraps or holding out on eating until you offer treats? Extras like these can be very disruptive to your cat’s appetite and diet. Think about them like snacks or desserts for you — tasty cravings that are easy to fill up on. A small portion may not seem like much, but it can make a big different for a cat-sized digestive system!
Try dialing back how much you treat your cat to tasty extras and see if their interest in the food bowl starts to return. Remember, it’s generally all right for cats to skip a few meals, but if they haven’t eaten for 24-36 hours it’s time to call the vet (even if they’ve continued drinking water).
Review Your Cat’s Food Routine
Humans often crave variety in their meals, but for cats, routine is king. It’s not likely they’d avoid their regular food out of boredom with it, but if you’ve recently changed the kind of food, the number of feedings or the times you feed your cat, they may be avoiding eating as a response.
It's a good idea to change your cat’s diet gradually (unless your vet advises otherwise). Pickiness can often be resolved by helping your cat adjust and get comfortable with their updated diet!
Help Your Cat Relax While Feeding
If your cat starts eating less, you may want to look for factors that could be causing stress. Seemingly unrelated changes to their environment can shift your cat’s stress levels enough to impact their interest in food. Has another animal or person joined or left the household? Has your cat been adapting to new surroundings due to a move or renovation? As the stress of that change begins to subside, your cat will probably go back to a normal diet.
Talk to your vet about good ideas for reducing your cat’s stress levels and share any concerns you have about their diet then too. You’re both on the same team, so work together to help your cat feel better!
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