A cat needs extra food when having kittens to provide for the growth of the young before birth, and for milk production afterwards. During early pregnancy, your cat will need only a little extra food, but she will need progressively more (about one and a half times the usual quantity), during the later stages.
A nursing mother may need up to three times her usual amount of nutrients when her kittens are three to four weeks old. It is important, therefore, that she is fed increased amounts of food and that the proportion of energy and protein-rich foods are increased accordingly. It may be necessary to feed her several times daily to ensure an adequate intake. It is wise to give her as much milk as she will drink, provided she can digest it properly.
It is a good idea to provide variety to encourage a greater food consumption; to feed branded cat foods with a high nutrient content and also cheese and a little cooked egg or cooked fresh meat such as liver.
Continue this extra feeding until the kittens are weaned, then gradually cut back on the extras until the queen is eating her normal food again. The condition of the mother is the best guide. Watch for signs of weight loss or gain, and adjust her diet accordingly.
Because they are growing, young animals need large amounts of protein to make muscle, also calcium and phosphorus to make bone, as well as an ample supply of other minerals and vitamins. Plenty of good quality canned or dry food should be given. Eggs and milk can be added, but remember to have drinking water available always. Solid food should be offered to a kitten as soon as it is four weeks old, for it may not then be getting sufficient nourishment from its mother’s milk.
Weaned kittens should be fed at least three times a day. All good branded cat foods are suitable for feeding to kittens and can be used with confidence as a convenient and nourishing food. Alternatively, you may like to wean initially with some lightly cooked minced beef.
When feeding three meals a day the morning and evening feed should consist of about 45 g of a complete or all-meat cat food. For one of the three meals, preferably midday, give one or two teaspoons of a dry baby food, such as Farex, Complan or baby rice, mixed with evaporated milk, or powdered milk plus water. With another meal, give a pinch of yeast extract, such as Marmite or Vegemite, or half a yeast tablet, such as Kitzyme.
Kittens grow rapidly, and as they grow so their need for food will increase. The amounts suggested are only a guide. Do not stint a hungry kitten. A playful young puss is bound to have an appetite to match!
Although weaning the kittens from their mum at an early age, by gradual feeding of solids, don’t allow them to go to their new homes until they are about eight weeks of age. Maybe they are feeding and playing happily and independently, but the kitten who leaves the nest too young could well develop into a weakling, be prone to disease, and develop intestinal infection. The mother cat, funnily enough, like her prey the bird, has much to teach her young in the way of hunting and survival before they leave her for ever. Don’t deprive her, or her offspring of this schooling.
Orphan and premature kittens
The best way to feed orphaned or premature kittens is to use a commercial artificial food such as Lactol (generally intended for puppies, but equally good for cats), Cimicat or Ostermilk. In an emergency other foods, based on fresh, or dried cows’ milk, can be used.
For a short time only, fresh cows’ milk may be used. This is not too rich for kittens in the way that it would be for human babies; in fact it does not contain enough protein or fat. Because of this, cows’ milk by itself should not be used for longer than is necessary.
Cows’ milk can be made suitable for longer use by adding cream, or butter, and egg yolk as below: 1 cup fresh cows’ milk xk cup fresh full cream or
1 teaspoon of butter % of an egg yolk 1 drop cod liver oil Warm and beat in the cream and egg.
Another substitute, which may be used for kittens, is babies’ full cream powdered milk (such as Ostermilk) reconstituted at twice the recommended rate for babies.
Newly-born kittens should be given a milk feed every two hours. When the kitten is four weeks old, it should be offered a little solid canned food, and by this time the milk feeds should have been reduced to three to four during the day and one at night.
During the next three to four weeks more solid food should be introduced and the regular milk feeding eliminated, though milk of course may still be offered to drink in the normal way.