During this short period a few weeks long, which goes from birth through weaning, the frail kitten weighing about one hundred grams, completely dependent upon its mother, is going to acquire most of his/her adult skills as well as determine certain dietary preferences.
After covering, the female cat’s gestation lasts 63 to 66 days on average. A few days before giving birth, the female cat, anxious, looks for a quiet place, sheltered from light, where she’ll be able to make her nest. A plastic box the bottom of which has been covered up with clean pieces of fabric, placed in the bottom of a wardrobe, for instance, is likely to be chosen, provided that she may lie down comfortably there with her little ones. The calm and reassuring presence of her owner is important at that time.
Sharp contractions of the uterus lead to the birth of each kitten, at intervals of about 30 to 60 minutes. The female tears open the amniotic sac and draws out the head of the new-born, warming and stimulating the new kittens breathing with intense licking. The litter may be composed of anything between 1 and 10 kittens (extremes being exceptional) weighing 70 to 150 grams each on average, depending on the breed.
The kitten’s growth and development vary according to factors specific to the animal and to factors linked to its environment.
Growth is a phenomenon which can be assessed quantitatively by measuring the kitten’s weight gain. As for development, it is a qualitative phenomenon which corresponds to the transformation of the embryonic egg into an adult cat with the ability to fend for its self and the potential to breed. These phenomena involve intrinsic factors of breed, gender and parental genotype, and extrinsic factors linked to the kitten’s environment, which influence its growth and development.
“These are factors of a genetic nature:”
- The breed: the new-borns of large-sized breeds such as the Maine Coon are heavier than those of other breeds.
- The gender: sexual dimorphism, almost non-existent at birth, increases with age. The males become heavier than the females between 6 and 12 months of age. Their growth potential is therefore higher, but it takes place a few weeks later.
- The mother’s weight: the heavier and larger-sized the mother is, with a better body condition, the better she’ll be a wet nurse and the higher the kittens’ growth rate will be –
- Individual genetic factors: the mix of maternal genotypes and paternal genotypes results in the formation of a unique individual presenting variations in bone and muscle development and in growth rate, as compared with litter siblings.
- Hormonal factors: after birth, growth is driven by a number of hormones synthesized by the kitten.
Extrinsic factors – These are predominantly external/environmental factors:
Quality of the environment: like the other environmental factors, hygiene and external stressors can largely condition growth. Poor hygiene can weaken the queen and her kittens. Stress affects sucking and disturbs their hormonal balance.
- The litter size: a large litter, beyond 5 kittens, means as many kittens to be fed with the same quantity of milk.
- The mother’s diet during and after gestation: female cats must be at their ideal weight before breeding. Poorly fed female cats run the risk of giving birth to underweight kittens or of not being able to feed. From the start of gestation, the female cat must be fed a food with a high fat content and, consequently, with a high energy content. A Health Nutrition kitten food does meet these nutritional requirements thanks to its concentration in essential elements: high energy content, quantitatively and qualitatively high protein intake, reinforcement of mineral (calcium) and vitamin intakes. This food will also accompany the suckling period during which the nutritional requirements increase considerably. If need be, for kittens, a replacement formula milk may complement or even replace the female cat’s milk if this is necessary until weaning.