As a general rule for all cats, the right food and nutrition will vary based on a number of factors, such as age, breed, sex, level of activity, behavior, environment, and metabolism.
So how is the appetite of your female cat different from a male’s? Here are some important details to know right up front about food and nutrition for female felines.
Spayed Female Cats
Some research suggests that the appetite of fixed cats tends to increase immediately after their operations. To prevent weight gain and obesity, feeding your cat controlled portions—rather than permitting free-range grazing—is recommended.
In addition, your spayed female cat may now also be more likely to seek out prey and bring it home to feast on. Since it’s in her nature to provide for her young, and gradually teach them the art of the hunt, she may instead bring these special surprises to you.
Pregnant and Nursing Cats
Like all other felines, pregnant cats, or “queens” as they’re referred to, need healthy, balanced meals along with regular exercise. Commercially available pet food has been specially formulated for this stage of a cat’s life.
Your girl may experience behavioral changes similar to what humans experience such as a lack of appetite or a preference for new foods. During the last few weeks of her pregnancy, or gestation—which typically lasts for 65 to 69 days—you’ll notice a growing appetite and weight gain, but there’s no need to worry about the pounds, unless your cat was carrying extra girth to begin with. Since queens cannot eat enough during lactation to sustain optimal milk production and also keep up that extra weight, they will likely take off that “kitten weight” during the 6 to 8 weeks of lactation.
Feeding your pet extra protein and smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day may be recommended to accommodate her changing dietary needs. Ask your vet or a certified veterinary nutritionist before changing your cat’s diet to a specific pregnant or nursing diet.
Nursing could increase your cat’s risk for dehydration, so be sure to provide plenty of clean water for your pet and consider switching to wet food, which can up her water intake. Be on the lookout for the following signs of dehydration: lack of appetite, dry mouth, depression, panting, sunken eyes, and increased heart rate.
Finding the Right Cat Food at the Store
Unlike humans and dogs who are omnivores, cats are carnivores—so they require nutrition from animal-based sources to survive. As a result, felines have evolved a diet that is protein-heavy, moderate in fat, and minimal to moderate in carbohydrates. Water is the most important item you can give your cat to consume. Leave plenty of fresh water in multiple sources across your home.
Store-bought cat food—as long as it is labeled “complete and balanced nutrition,” “meets the nutritional requirements of cats established by the American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO),” or “complete and balanced nutrition for cats based on AAFCO feeding trials”—should consist of all the key nutrients your gal needs, including the right balance of proteins, fats, carbs, vitamins, and minerals. These claims mean that the food has been approved by the AAFCO as a daily food for cats.
You can follow the guidelines on the packaging to gauge approximate portions to feed your cat based on her body size. If you want to whip up your pet’s food at home, seek the guidance of a veterinarian or certified veterinary nutritionist.
Mothers provide all the nutrients their babies need until they are about 4 weeks old, at which point mom begins the process of weaning her young of her milk. If a mother’s milk is not available, speak with your vet about finding a replacement. By 6 to 8 weeks, your kitty should be transitioning to commercial pet food. Learn more about food and nutrition for kittens.
If your girl is older than 10 to 12 months, it’s time to start her on the adult cat diet.
Cats typically are considered seniors starting at 7 to 12 years of age and should be switched to a diet for aging cats around this time. If your cat is overweight, obesity can become a real concern as she ages, but the right diet can help. Learn more about the proper food and nutrition for overweight senior cats.
More on Feeding Pets
Nutrition for Male Cats
Food to Treats Liver Disease in Pets
Ash in Pet Food: Filler or Nutrient?
This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian. It has however been reviewed for accuracy by Dr. Joe, a board certified veterinary nutritionist and graduate of Cornell University's program for Veterinary Medicine.