MYTH: It is not normal if my queen displays a lack of appetite during heat, gestation or lactation.
NUTRITIONAL TRUTH: During heat, at the end of gestation, and around the time of delivery, a lack of appetite can be observed. Appetite and food intake increase very soon after the delivery, driven by the body’s significant need for energy to meet the demands of lactation. A number of different factors can explain why appetite and food intake are reduced during heat, the end of gestation and around delivery.
Changes in hormonal secretions can induce behavioral changes, so appetite may decrease.
Stress or agitation around mating.
Stress or agitation around delivery.
The large size of the uterus at the end of gestation puts pressure on the stomach.
For the queen, nutritional needs change from the very beginning of gestation, so is it essential to adapt her food from the first day of heat. During lactation, a queen may produce 250 mL of milk a day, which demands major energy expenditures. The food must be given ad libitum without any restriction.
An example of a hormonal change that has an impact on food consumption: Progesterone is produced in large amounts during gestation, and decreases at the end of gestation, just before the delivery. This hormone’s major role is to maintain the gestation, and to secure safe delivery at term. Due to the decrease of this hormone (end of gestation and around delivery,) the queen may also show behavioral changes such as decreased appetite, food and water consumption and a higher sensitivity to stress.
MORE COMMON MISCONCEPTIONS IN CAT BREEDING
MYTH: Gestation and lactation have no influence on the coat condition of the queen.
NUTRITIONAL TRUTH: It is very common for queens to have a modification of the coat condition during gestation and lactation, due to a hormone called prolactin. Prolactin is a hormone secreted during the second stage of gestation and lactation. Its major roles are to stimulate and sustain milk production, but this hormone also has a negative effect on hair growth which can lead to change in the coat condition. Hair, coat and skin quality can be affected by genetics, environment, grooming and nutrition.
Some nutrients, such as biotin and choline, play a positive role in keeping the skin healthy. Specific fatty acids (such as Omega 3 & 6) are also known for the beneficial effects on skin and coat. The hair follicle is an anatomical structure which evolved to produce and extrude a hair shaft. Cat hair growth in a continuous cycle pattern and is named the “hair growth cycle.”
The effect of Prolactin on Hair Growth
Prolactin secretion rises during the second part of gestation, and remains high for six weeks while the queen is lactating. The major role prolactin is to stimulate and sustain milk production, and it also has many other physiological functions. Current evidence suggests that prolactin primarily serves as a hair growth-inhibitory hormone, which means that prolactin has a negative effect on hair growth by inducing premature catagen development.
MYTH: Food fed to a lactating queen has no impact on the milk quality and quantity.
NUTRITIONAL TRUTH: The diet given to a lactating queen can have an impact on the quality and the quantity of milk. A nutritional solution specifically adapted for the reproduction stage has a positive influence on the following:
- Queen’s body condition and overall health
- Neonate vitality and growth during nursing
- Healthy lactation, including the quality and quantity of milk
Maternal milk is very rich and made up of all the nutrients necessary for her kittens’ healthy development, including proteins, fats, carbohydrates, minerals and vitamins. The proportion of these constituents changes over the course of lactation in line with the kittens’ needs. To have a positive influence on the quantity and quality of milk production, the diet given to the lactating queen should be rich in fatty acids, with a protein level that is perfectly adapted to prepare for lactation and support optimum milk production.
It’s important to note litter size affects the fat percentage of milk. However, it has no effect on the other milk constituents (proteins, carbohydrates, etc.) Generally, milk fat percentage decreases as litter size increases. The reason is most likely to be the dilution of fat that occurs with a larger litters’ demand for a higher total volume of milk.
Other factors can also influence milk quality and quantity, such as:
- Stage of lactation: milk production peaks around the fourth week of lactation
- Teat position: milk from back teats has a higher lactose concentration than from the front teats; back teats also produce a higher volume of milk
Whatever the number of kittens per litter, it is recommended that they are weighed regularly to monitor weight gain. If the mother does not have enough milk or kittens are losing weight, consult your veterinarian.
MYTH: There is no need to change foods, whether my cat is pregnant or not, or during lactation.
NUTRITIONAL TRUTH: The nutritional requirements for pregnant or lactating cats are very different than for non-reproducing or spayed/neutered adult cats. Many adult cats are fed maintenance diets, which may not offer the right balance of nutrients and energy needed during reproduction.
Whenever breeding is planned, the queen should be gradually transitioned over 5-7 days to an appropriate diet such as Royal Canin Queen. This diet is designed to support both a healthy pregnancy and lactation and should be fed from the first day of estrus (heat) until the kittens are weaned. The amount fed per day should gradually increase throughout gestation to approximately 50% more kcal/day than prior to breeding.
After parturition (queening, birth of kittens), most queens should be fed free-choice (all they can eat) so that they can maintain their own healthy body condition while producing large quantities of milk. The kittens can be offered solid food starting at 3 to 4 weeks of age. An appropriate diet for kittens is Royal Canin Mother & Babycat. The special rehydratable (moistened) kibbles of this diet are perfect for weaning.
For convenience, the queen can also be transitioned from Queen to Mother & Babycat diet at the same time. When the queen is ready to stop nursing the litter, generally when the kittens are between 5 and 7 weeks of age, she should be separated temporarily from her litter and offered less food. The kittens can continue eating Babycat while the queen can be transitioned over 5-7 days back to her original diet.