CARE DURING PREGNANCY
Pregnancy usually lasts sixty-three to sixty-six days, although some normal pregnancies have lasted as long as seventy-one days. Most queens kitten around sixty-six days. If delivery occurs before sixty-three days many kittens are stillborn or die shortly after birth.
Pregnancy increases the protein and calorie requirements of the mother, but if you have been feeding a good quality, well-balanced diet, no major changes in content or calorie supply are necessary during the first two to three weeks.
FEEDING DURING PREGNANCY AND LACTATION
Sources of high-quality proteins, such as milk products, eggs, and muscle meat, can be used to improve the protein content of maintenance foods and to increase their palatability without sacrificing nutritional balance if they are added at no more than 10% of the diet’s dry matter.
Kitten milk replacement formulas can also be offered as a supplement to maintenance foods.
After three weeks of pregnancy, well-balanced commercial foods adequately formulated for kitten growth are nutritionally satisfactory for the rest of the pregnancy and for lactation. Good products will provide at least 1,800 to 2,300 calories per pound dry matter (4 to 5 calories per gram fed) and contain at least 30% high-quality protein. The amount of food offered will have to be increased as pregnancy advances. By the end of pregnancy expect to be feeding about twice the volume of food your cat ate before she was bred. Although food intake increases, calorie requirements on a per-pound basis increase only slightly during pregnancy—from a baseline of about 40 to about 50 calories per pound (from 85 to 110 calories per kilogram) body weight per day. It is because the mother is gaining weight due to the growth of the fetuses that her food intake must increase as much as it does. Since it is often impossible for the queen to take in all the necessary food in two meals, particularly as the uterus enlarges and begins to compress the other abdominal organs, you must increase the daily number of meals throughout pregnancy and lactation or offer food on a free-choice basis.
It is not unusual for a queen to partially lose her appetite and perhaps lose a little weight over a few days during the third week of pregnancy, but after that period a steady increase should be evident until twenty-four to forty-eight hours prior to delivery. Ask your veterinarian for advice if you don’t think your queen is eating adequately to maintain a healthy pregnancy. Vitamin and/or mineral supplements are not usually required if the diet you offer is nutritionally sound, but you may also wish to discuss this issue with your veterinarian.
Throughout pregnancy it is extremely important not to overfeed and/or underexercise, to prevent obesity and poor muscle tone that can cause a difficult delivery. Most cats restrict their exercise as the time for delivery approaches. If your cat seems too active during the last week of pregnancy, however, you may have to confine her to certain areas of the house where jumping and running can be prevented.
To minimize psychological stress and to prevent your cat from having her kittens in an undesirable place (like the middle of your bed!), accustom her to a warm and draft-free delivery area well before the time of delivery. If your cat has her own bed, which she prefers, this is all that is really necessary.
GIVE YOUR CAT A MATERNITY BOX
Otherwise, provide a maternity box (queening box). The best, most simple kind is a cardboard box with an opening cut on the side about four or five inches from the bottom. This design provides a convenient entrance and exit for the mother, but keeps the kittens from falling out. The box should have a top that can be opened or removed to provide access to the kittens when necessary but left in place at other times to provide a dark, secure environment for the queen. Introduce the cat to the box daily, beginning at least a week before delivery and encourage her to sleep in it by lining it with soft clean towels. If you find that she is not interested but attempts to make a nest in a closet or some other area, you may need to place the nest box there to get her to use it. Since newspapers are easy to remove and discard, it is simplest to line the box with several layers of them at the time of delivery. Clean sheets, towels, or diapers, however, are just as satisfactory and may be more pleasing to your cat.
If you have a very long-haired cat, you may wish to gently clip (not shave) the hair away from the vulvar area and the nipples before delivery. It makes delivery a little more tidy and allows the kittens to reach the nipples a little more easily, but is not a necessity.