So, your cat has just given birth and it’s time for her to start nursing her kittens. Remember that the nutritional needs of a nursing cat are higher than those of a pregnant one. It’s important to keep an eye on her during this phase too, to make sure she and her kittens are always healthy.
Kittens nurse from 40 to 60 days. Every nursing session lasts about 20 minutes, and up to their 20 days of age kittens will latch to their mother’s nipples at least every two or three hours. The amount of milk a cat produces will depend on the number of kittens and remains unchanged until the fifth week after their birth, when it starts diminishing and then stops altogether.
Before the milk itself, kittens will nurse on colostrum, a very dense liquid rich in proteins, fats, minerals and antibodies, indispensable to make sure they grow fast and are almost fully protected against diseases.
Keep in mind that it’s the kittens themselves that decide when to stop nursing. Don’t attempt to enforce early weaning: once grown, the cats might have serious behaviour issues.
Cat diet while nursing
While nursing, a cat has remarkably higher nutritional needs, to the point that she may need up to three times her usual rations. She must be fed 4-5 times a day, with high-protein meals (ordinary cat food is fine, and so are oily fish and fruit purées) that can be provided with food supplements containing calcium and phosphorus, magnesium and vitamin C. Of course, water must always be available to her. You can also help her keep hydrated giving her liquid foods, such as soups and meat broth.
What to do in the event of complications during nursing
The complications that may arise during this delicate period are mostly two: milk production may stop, or she may refuse to nurse a kitten. In both cases, the solution is giving the kitten formula. It is absolutely forbidden to give it cow’s milk. If you have no alternative whatsoever, purchase specific formula at a drugstore and dilute it in water, and use a nursing bottle.
Hold the kitten straight, with its head between your thumb and index finger. Never hold them with the belly up, as they may suffocate. After nursing, stimulate their genital area and massage their abdomen, just like their mommy would, to stimulate digestion.