By Dr Reeja George P.*
The post pregnancy period can be quite hectic for both – the excited cat parent and the new cat mother, as both of them take the plunge into a new phase of their lives. Just delivered cats require quite some attention when compared to dogs, with respect to their nutritional requirements. If she is not well cared for, there is a tendency for the new cat mother to lose a lot of weight and this could be quite detrimental to her health and wellbeing. As a general rule of thumb, it would be in the best interests of both the cat and the kittens that they are taken to vet at about a week after birth. This is especially important if the cat mother was not vaccinated. The kittens and their mother could be given medicines for worms at this visit and your vet would also speak about the important vaccinations that the kittens have to be administered.
The early part of motherhood for the cat is a period of nervous concern for her new born kittens. The new mother cat will not leave her kittens alone for the first twenty four hours and even by the first week; she may be too worried to move too far away from her kittens. Because of this nervous concern for her kittens the new cat mother will even skip her meals and water as well if she is not provided meals and water near her nesting box so that she does not have to move out. For this reason, it is extremely important that you give her full time access to feed and water very near her nesting box. Specially made lactation kitten food available in the market should be fed to the new mother and she may eat even four times her normal amount of feed. Her bowl should always be full and water should be readily available as well. Around four weeks after kittening, you may begin to reduce the mother cat’s diet slowly as her kittens begin to get weaned. But you should remember that the whole process of weaning will be over only by eight weeks, so a gradual reduction in feed so that she reaches her pre partum adult requirement by eight weeks post partum should be programmed.
New mothers have been found to lose weight sharply while nursing their kittens. Because of this high requirement, pet parents have to pay quite good attention to the quantity and quality of her meals. There is scientific evidence to indicate that cat mothers lose an average of 5.7g per day over the eight weeks that they nurse their kittens. The size of the litter is also a factor that influences the amount of food that the cat mother would require and generally, mothers with larger litters lose more weight as compared to those with smaller litters due to their tendency to draw more from their body reserves to meet the milk requirements of their kittens. It is therefore imperative that the cat mother be fed well during this period, failing which she would be under great nutritional stress. The key indicator of nutritional stress in the cat mom is her unsteady gait and an obvious change for the worse in her body condition highlighted by what is called a ‘bedraggled appearance of fur’ coupled with a decreased appetite. Cat mothers tend to lose 40 per cent of the weight that they gain over a pregnancy. While making a rough idea of the requirements of cat mothers one should remember that cats that nurse more than two kittens will need nearly 2 to 2.5 times more calories than their usual requirements.
Feeding cow milk as such to cat mothers is not recommended as adult cats are unable to digest milk sugar, lactose due to a gradual loss of the enzyme that digests this sugar, as the cat grows older. You should make it a point to feed your lactating cat with commercially available high quality kitten food having additional protein as well, three or four times a day. In case you need any help in choosing a good kitten food, you could seek help from your veterinarian. If you have a lot of spare time and you enjoy cooking cat meals, you could also prepare your new cat mother a homemade lunch or dinner using animal proteins, fats, eggs, cheese, and vegetables. A chicken stew that essentially is a mix of chicken cooked with rice and vegetables, like carrots and peas, could be fed for lunch or dinner. Be careful with chicken bones, especially the long ones; it is better to stick to boneless chicken pieces if you wish to cook her meal. You could also cook chicken with an egg and oil or with rice for a simple but protein rich meal. Fish remains cat’s favourite food, whatever her life stage is. A preparation of fish, cooked with an egg or rice and carrots would also make a healthy, filling meal. While choosing the ingredients for a meal, be careful to avoid gluten rich products and corn based food in your cat’s diet. In case you opt for home made food, you will have to feed her extra vitamin and mineral supplements for which you should seek your vet’s advice.
Managing Post Partum Behavioural Problems In The Mother Cat
Some cat mothers have very strong protective instincts that make them paranoid about their kittens’ safety. These mothers may exhibit various forms of aggression towards anyone who tries to approach her when she is with the kittens. Speaking softly and offering her warm, tasty meals will help to reassure her about your intentions. You should never respond in a retaliatory manner towards her as such behaviour would only aggravate the situation. Aggressiveness after delivery can sometimes also be directed towards other pets at home for the same reasons. In all such cases, it is important to respect privacy of the new mother as she begins her new venture, which could be stressful for her. She should be given a quiet place to herself without any intrusions, except for a regular uninterrupted supply of good food and clean water and once she has calmed down, you could venture to check her bedding.
Once in a while, kittens may be born weak or with certain defects that the cat mother is quick to sense. Cat mothers may ignore such weaklings and even cannibalise them. This can be viewed as nature’s way of taking care of things.
Lack of Maternal Instincts
In some cases, you may face a situation wherein your cat has very low maternal instincts and so she may not respond to her kittens that depend on her for warmth, especially, in early days after birth. It is quite common for a kitten to stray away from the cat mother and usually she should respond and bring the erring kitten back to her fold. Cat mothers with low maternal instincts may fail to attend to a kitten that unknowingly strays away from its mother’s warmth resulting in hypothermia and death. It is estimated that eight per cent of kittens are lost due to maternal neglect. In many cases, intrusions and disturbances by curious humans often make the nesting process stressful for the new cat mother and this may also exacerbate any inherent behavioural defect that she has. So again, it is stressed that a quiet and calm environment with no intrusions or minimum intrusions must be provided to the new mom and her kittens for the first two weeks after birth. However, if you notice from a distance that the new cat mom is totally in another world, oblivious of the fact that her kittens are calling her, failing repeatedly to respond, you should immediately move in and take control of the situation. If you don’t, you may be placing the life of those kittens in danger. In such cases, you may have to hand feed the kittens. There are quite a number of commercial cat milk replacers available in the market that can be fed to kittens using a special feeding bottle. Feeding of new born kittens with a feeding bottle has to be done with utmost caution and only in totally unavoidable situations when it is obvious that their life is in danger due to a negligent mom. In such cases, you could consult your vet on how to proceed to feed and care for your kittens that are now ‘orphaned’ but have a mom!
*Author is an Associate Professor, Department of Veterinary and AH Extension, College of Veterinary and Animal Sciences, Mannuthy, Kerala Veterinary and Animal Sciences University, Thrissur, Kerala 680 651