Queening Nutrition

2010 | Nutrition & Health | Cat Breeding Guide, Royal Canin SAS

Although the nutritional requirements of cats have been well known for several years, feline nutrition has made a significant step-change in the last decade., We now have a better grasp of the specific nutritional requirements during a cat’s different physiological stages. In this article we delve into the nutritional requirements of breeding and lactating queens.

Gestation

Contrary to dogs, it is normal for a cat’s weight to increase at the inception of gestation. During the first third of pregnancy, this is due to an accumulation of fat reserves that will be used at the end of gestation and during lactation. This is known as pregnancy anabolism. After day 40 (week six), the weight gain basically corresponds to the rate of growth of the kittens.

A kitten food meets the needs of the pregnant queen. The indispensable nutrients concentration corresponds to the queen’s nutritional requirement. Its consumption increases steadily by 10% per week throughout the gestation. Accordingly, the queen should consume 70% more energy at the end of gestation than she would normally..

At the end of gestation, there is often a temporary fall in dietary consumption. The queen’s uterus is large in size at the end of gestation, limiting the possibility of filling the stomach. The queen then draws on her reserves.

Gestation and lactation course

The weight of a queen plotted during the course of gestation and lactation.

A queen gains around 40% in weight during gestation and, post birth, she will still weight 20% more than her weight at the time of covering. This excess weight is usually lost at the end of lactation.

Queens reproduction cycle

Development of energy requirements in the queen’s reproductive cycle.

The queen’s dietary consumption remains high until week 7 of lactation before falling. The more kittens there are, the higher the requirements of the nursing queen. In fact, the queen must restore her reserves and compensate for the losses during the initial stage of lactation, even when the kittens are weaning.

Lactation

After birthing, the queen still weighs around 20% more than her weight at the time of covering. This weight excess, which is due to the fat reserves, will be drawn on in full to cover the animal’s energy requirements during lactation, which demands a much greater expense of energy than gestation. The queen’s energy requirements are such that she will not be able to cover her energy expenditure irrespective of the food she is able to eat.

After the kittens have been born, the queen must be allowed to consume a high energy (high fat) food on an ad libitum basis. The food given during lactation, which lasts for five to seven weeks, must be considerably more concentrated than a maintenance food. The kitten food fed during gestation is generally well suited for lactation. 

A kitten must consume at least 2.7g of milk to gain one gram in weight. Therefore, the queen packs a lot of protein into the milk, thus her food must provide more protein than a maintenance food.

The queen must also have permanent access to clear, fresh water. Even slight dehydration will affect the milk production. Milk production increases with the number of kittens, but not proportionally. At the highest point of lactation (week three), daily production corresponds to 2% of the queen’s weight if it is suckling one or two kittens, rising to 8% for five kittens and so on and so forth. The larger the litter is, the lower the quality of milk per kitten. If the kittens do not grow properly, it is wise to suckle the kittens artificially, or to start them on semi-solids.

In normal conditions, it is always advisable to give the kittens an alternative to mother’s milk from week three or four. A queen fed ad libitum during the period of reproduction will not return to her initial (pre-gestation) weight until weaning, which is six to seven weeks after the kittens are birthed. If the queen has lost a large amount of weight, the diet she received during lactation should be continued after the kittens have been weaned, until she regains a healthy weight. A gradual dietary transition should then be used to reintroduce a maintenance food.

Average Milk Comparison between Cows, Dogs & Cats

Nutrients

Cow

Bitch

Queen

Lactose (g/l)

47

33

40

Protein (g/l)

33

75

75

Fat (g/l)

36

95

85

Energy (kcal/I)

640

1460

1210

Calcium (g/l)

1.2

2.4

1.8

Phosphorus (g/l)

0.9

1.8

1.6

Key Points:

  • Feeding kitten food to a breeding queen from the beginning of gestation through to weaning is important to meet her nutritional requirements.
  • It is expected that the weight of the queen should increase in the first third of the pregnancy.
  • Appropriately feeding the queen during gestation affects the energy reserves in kittens and their subsequent growth.
  • After the birth of the kittens, the queen should be fed ad libitum.

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