Nutritional needs of cats and dogs during reproduction are different for gestation (pregnancy) and lactation. The gestation period in both cats and dogs is about nine weeks - 63 days. The important point to remember is that dogs and cats in any life stage or with any lifestyle should be fed to condition. Keep them looking healthy and avoid laying down excess fat.
Gestation: During the first six weeks of gestation, the fetuses do not grow significantly and the mother's nutritional needs can be met with her maintenance food, providing it is suitable for all life stages or specifically identified as a gestation diet.
Beginning with the seventh week of gestation, food intake should be increased gradually by up to 50% over her maintenance intake at the time of breeding. The mild increase is continued until delivery (called "whelping" in dogs and "queening" in cats). This will support the rapid growth of the fetuses during the last three weeks of gestation.
A bitch or queen with a large litter may need to be fed more frequently, especially in the final stages of pregnancy since her stomach may not be able to expand sufficiently for normal-sized meals. It is not unusual for a drop in appetite near whelping or queening. At whelping or queening and the day immediately after, bitches and queens frequently lose their appetite. Keeping nutrient dense, highly palatable foods available at this time is beneficial so that when they do eat, they get as much nutrition in each mouthful as possible.
Practical feeding tips:
- Feed a diet that is highly digestible and energy and nutrient dense
- Do not increase feed intake until the seventh week of gestation
- Provide several small meals per day during gestation
- Increase food intake to approximately 1.5 times maintenance by the end of gestation (a 50% increase)
- Bitches and queens should gain about 15% to 25% of their body weight by the end of gestation
- Bitches and queens should weigh 5% to 10% above their normal body weight after whelping/queening
Lactation: Large amounts of nutrients are required for a lactating animal. During the first week of lactation, food intake will typically be about 50 to 75% greater than the maintenance level. During the second week, food intake may be increased to twice the maintenance level and to three times maintenance during the third week. Queens often increase their intake more, on a percentage basis, than bitches.
The third and fourth weeks of lactation are the most nutritionally demanding for the new moms. Their offspring are still consuming almost all of their nutrients from milk and have not begun substantial intake of either dry or canned food. Once the kittens or puppies start eating some of mom's food or food placed out specifically for them, their consumption of milk will begin to level off and may even decrease until weaning. Because the large volumes of food the bitch or queen needs to support this large milk production may be difficult to consume, it is important to feed a nutrient dense diet to prevent the break down of body proteins and fats. Both lactating queens and bitches can usually be fed free choice during lactation.
At weaning time, the food amount for either the queen or the bitch should be tapered back to the amount she was receiving when she was bred. Continued feeding of the lactation amount will only put extra weight on her. Milk production is influenced by the quantity and quality of dietary protein. If a queen or bitch is being fed a high quality, nutritionally balanced pet food, she will not require additional vitamin or mineral supplementation during her breeding cycle. The use of such supplements is unlikely to be beneficial and, in some cases, may actually do harm.
Practical feeding tips:
- Feed a diet that is highly digestible and energy and nutrient dense.
- Provide adequate calories to prevent excess weight loss.
- Feed two to three times maintenance during peak lactation.
- Provide free-choice feeding or several small meals per day during peak lactation.
- Slowly reduce the mother's intake for the week before weaning.
- Always provide clean, fresh water free choice.Nutritional needs of cats and dogs during reproduction are different for gestation (pregnancy) and lactation. The gestation period in both cats and dogs is about nine weeks - 63 days. The important point to remember is that dogs and cats in any life stage or with any lifestyle should be fed to condition. Keep them looking healthy and avoid laying down excess fat.