It is very important to look after your pregnant cat, provide good nutrition and excellent medical care. Most cats are more than capable of looking after themselves throughout pregnancy, but there are still a number of ways in which you can help to make sure everything goes as smoothly as possible.
Good nutrition is never more important than during pregnancy. Like kittens, pregnant cats need an extra boost of protein and energy to help them through a period of physical stress. A commercially produced kitten formula is a better source of the extra nutrients required both during gestation and for some weeks after the birth. The additional calories and higher levels of other key nutrients are just what she needs. Kitten foods also have an added advantage during weaning: the litter will already have tried some of their growing-up food by copying Mum. If your cat suffers from mild food sensitivities and is fed a ‘delicate’ formula food, there are a variety of sensitive and delicate formula kitten foods available. However, if your cat is on a specific diet for health reasons, consult your vet before making any changes.
From mating, your pregnant cat’s food intake will gradually rise - reaching about 50% above normal by the end of the pregnancy (although it’s not unusual for levels to reach twice her regular intake). Fortunately, pregnant cats are sensible eaters. As long as you provide enough food, most cats should regulate their daily intake to suit their needs. However, adequate nutrition during pregnancy is vital for the health of the cat and her kittens, so consult your vet immediately if her appetite drops, she loses weight or you feel she isn’t eating enough.
To achieve the necessary energy boost, and due to the pressure of the unborn kittens on her stomach, it is best to give her lots of smaller meals throughout the day and to ensure that food is generally available on a continuous basis, day and night. Don’t forget she also needs a plenty of fresh water, particularly if she is eating dry food.
There should be a steady increase in body weight concurrent with increased food intake. Some of this weight is the fat she’s laying down to help feed her kittens during nursing. This weight gain is completely normal and you can expect to see an overall gain of 40-50% during pregnancy when compared to her pre-mating weight. She will lose the excess during her 3-4 week nursing period.
Ideally, your cat will be up to date with all vaccinations immediately prior to breeding. Healthy mothers pass on immunity to their kittens in the first milk they produce, so it's good to ensure antibody levels are at their peak. However, remember that if your cat is already pregnant and her vaccinations are due, some vaccines are not safe during pregnancy, so always discuss this with your vet.
It is important to worm your cat during pregnancy to prevent her passing worms to her kittens via her milk. However, these medications must be safe for administration during pregnancy and therefore must be supplied by your vet. Flea treatment may also be required during pregnancy, again via your vet to ensure you use a product safe for the unborn kittens. Avoid any supplements or complimentary medications as they may not be safe. Always chat to your vet before administering anything to your pregnant cat.
Complications during pregnancy are uncommon, usually limited to miscarriages early on. Infectious diseases can be involved in such cases so always contact your vet if your cat does miscarry. Always ensure you employ excellent breeding practices regarding hygiene and separation of pregnant and non-pregnant cats as well as infectious-disease testing where indicated.
Cats are much less likely than dogs to develop a problem with low calcium during/after pregnancy (eclampsia) but it is possible, with affected cats showing signs of twitching, nervousness, agitation and eventually seizures if not treated. A diet low in calcium will predispose them to this condition, but it is also seen in cats fed a normal diet. All pregnant cats should be fed a complete, commercially manufactured cat food
Complications during labour are rare in cats. Occasionally a caesarean section may be necessary if the birth canal is narrowed because of previous trauma (such as pelvic fractures), if the breed has an unusually large head or body size, or if there are other factors affecting the mother’s ability to give birth normally.
After the birth
Newborn kittens are entirely dependent on the milk supplied by their mother for the first four weeks of life. Producing milk, never mind having to deal with a litter of curious kittens, means a new mother requires a lot of energy, so it’s usually best to stick with the kitten food for some time after the birth. Depending on the number of kittens in the litter, she may eat as much as four times her normal food intake while nursing. Only after weaning, as mum begins to lose interest in nursing, and her kittens start nibbling solid food, should you move back to a regular adult formula food. See ‘Feeding during pregnancy and nursing’ for more information.