Your cat just had kittens. It’s a beautiful experience, but it’s natural to worry about the little ones. You may wonder if your cat is producing milk. Milk is essential for babies’ health and development. If they can’t eat, they will quickly die. This makes it very important to be sure your momma is producing milk. 

How to tell if a mother cat is producing milk

Few things in life are better than watching a mother with her kittens. Amidst all the warm fuzzy feelings, you may also worry about the kittens getting enough milk. You want them to be healthy and well fed. How do you know they are getting milk and are OK?

Kittens Stay On Nipple

One sign that your mother is producing milk is that the kittens spend a lot of time latched onto the nipple. Very young kittens are similar to human babies. They spend the majority of their time nursing and sleeping. Kittens can spend as much as 8 hours a day nursing. Kittens will nurse for up to 45 minutes in one session. If your cat isn’t producing milk, the kittens will lose interest in the nipple quickly. 

Kittens Suckling 

If you look closely at nursing kittens, you can see their mouths and tongues moving. This shows that they are suckling. Their tongue moves as they are taking in milk. It’s a similar motion to an older cat lapping water or milk from a saucer. You may also see their ears moving in rhythm with their tongue.

Kneading and Purring

Kittens will naturally knead their mother with their paws. This is instinctual, and helps to let the mother’s milk down. Kneading continues as the cat gets older. You may notice your cat kneading you when they are particularly content. This is a sign they feel safe and happy. 

You may also hear a low purr as the kittens are nursing. This is an indication they are being fed and are happy. 

Content Sleepy Kittens

Babies of any type have a set pattern. They eat. They get full. Then they sleep. Even adults will sometimes get sleepy when they have a full belly, but it’s very prominent with kittens. 

If the kittens are meowing or crying and not sleeping after eating, this is a sign they aren’t getting enough milk. As they get older, they will sleep less. In the early weeks, they should fall asleep soon after eating. 

Full Bellies

Tiny kittens will have obviously full bellies after a meal. Their stomach should be round and full. If you feel it, it should feel a little tight because it’s full of milk. 

If they don’t have full bellies, it’s a sign that the mother isn’t producing milk. She may be producing some milk, but not enough to keep her kittens satisfied and full. 

Weight Gain

Kittens should gain 7-10 grams each day. They should be putting on 1.75-3.5 ounces each week.  They grow quickly. At 0-6 days, they should weigh 3 to 7 ounces. By three weeks old, they should reach 10 ounces to 1.1 pounds. By six weeks, they should weigh between 1 and 2 pounds. 

If your kittens aren’t growing properly, it’s a sign that they arent’ recieving their proper nutrition. It’s a good idea to pick up a small scale to monitor your kitten’s weight. This is also helpful if you have a runt in the litter. 

Runts often struggle to get enough food, because their bigger siblings push them out of the way. The runt may be smaller than their siblings, but they should also be gaining weight at a steady rate. 

Nipples

When the mother is producing milk, the nipples will be larger and pink. This is known as pinking, and begins when the cat is pregnant. You may also see small amounts of milk coming from the nipples, or on the kitten’s mouths. However, if you don’t see any milk, you shouldn’t worry as long as the other signs the kittens are eating are there. 

What if the mother cat has no milk?

If the mother has no milk, the kittens must be fed artificially. Kittens who aren’t fed will become dehydrated and malnourished. If they aren’t fed soon, they will die. A newborn kitten will only survive for 12 hours with no milk. 

No Milk

Some cats don’t produce milk. They may have an illness or be under extreme stress. They may have a hormonal imbalance that prevents them from making milk. 

Signs your cat is producing no milk include no swelling around the nipples and the kittens showing little interest in suckling. They will meow and seem restless or inconsolable because they are hungry. 

Not Enough Milk

Some cats will produce milk, but they don’t produce enough for their kittens. This can be because they are producing a small amount of milk, or because they have a large number of kittens. 

Signs that your cat isn’t producing enough milk include the kittens meowing frequently and seeming hungry after a feeding. They may pull or knead at the nipple aggressively in an attempt to get more milk to flow. 

They will gain some weight, but not as much as they should. Smaller litter mates may seem hungrier or slower to grow than the larger kittens, because the larger kittens will get more of the supply. 

If she doesn’t produce enough milk for all the kittens, she may reject a few of them. She will choose the weakest or smallest kittens. These kittens will not be allowed to nurse, and will likely not receive her attention. For the cat, it’s better to ensure some of the kittens survive, rather than risk them all dying of malnourishment. 

Litter Rejection

In some cases, the problem isn’t a lack of milk. The mother can also refuse to nurse her kittens. This usually results in litter rejection. The mother doesn’t care for the kittens. They will not feed, groom, or play with them. They may act aggressively when the kittens try to interact with them. 

In some cases, the mother only rejects some of the kittens. This can occur for reasons other than low milk production. If a kitten is sick or deformed, she may reject it, or even kill it. Again, this is survival. She will devote all of her resources to kittens who can survive into adulthood. 

Feeding Kittens

Feeding kittens is hard work. If the mother isn’t producing milk or feeding her kittens, you’ll need to step in. If the mother is producing no milk or refusing to nurse the kittens, you’ll need to provide all their nutrition. 

You can find bottles designed for kittens at a pet supply store. Your vet office may carry them as well. Don’t use a bottle designed for a human baby, they are much to large. 

Newborn kittens up to two weeks old should be fed every 2-3 hours. This includes at night. You’ll need to feed them around the clock, so you may want to enlist some help. 

From 2-3 weeks of age, they should be fed every 4-6 hours. At 3 weeks, you can begin giving them food. You may find it helpful to mix some formula in with wet food in the beginning. Keep up with their regular feedings until they are regularly eating small amounts of food. 

You’ll need to continue bottle feeding them 2-3 times a day until they are eating an adequate amount of food. 

If your cat is producing some milk, but not enough. You’ll need to supplement her feedings. For young kittens, you’ll need to feed them 2-3 times a day. For older kittens, 1-2 supplemental feedings are enough. If you have a large litter of 5 or more kittens, supplemental feedings will ensure they get enough nutrition. 

What to Feed Kittens

There are a few options when it comes to feeding kittens. You can make homemade formula a few ways. For the first recipe, mix together 1 can of evaporated milk with 1 egg yolk and 2 tablespoons of Karo syrup.

To make the second recipe, you’ll need to blend together 8 ounces of whole milk, 2 egg yolks, and 1 teaspoon of olive oil.

The third recipe is 1 part boiled water with 5 parts evaporated milk. Add half a teaspoon bone meal for every 16 oz of fluid. 

All of these recipes should be stored in the fridge once made. Before serving, mix the formula half a half with boiling water. It should be warm but not hot, about the temperature of your wrist. 

Homemade formulas are a temporary solution. They aren’t good for continuous feeding, especially if your kittens are relying soley on you for nutrition. You’ll need to purchase a kitten formula. However, these recipes can get you by in a pinch, until you can get the correct formula. 

Do mother cats always produce milk?

Most cats will produce milk. However, some cats don’t for a variety of reasons. It’s rare that a mother is unable to produce milk, but it is always a possibility. 

How long does it take for a cat’s milk supply to dry up?

A cat’s milk supply will dry up within 1-2 weeks after the kittens stop nursing in most cases. If it doesn’t follow this pattern, there may be a medical issue. 

Gradual Process

Weaning and the drying of milk is normally a gradual process. At 3-4 weeks, kittens will begin to eat solid food. They will start nursing less, until they are fully weaned at 8-10 weeks old. 

Once they stop nursing, the milk should dry up in 1-2 weeks. However, production should slow down as nursing decreases.

Nursing actually stimulates milk production. The more kittens nurse, the more milk the mother will produce to meet the demand. When demand slows down, so does production. When demand, or nursing stops, milk production should stop soon after. 

How long after cats get milk do they give birth?

Her milk will drop about 2 days before birth. You’ll notice her nipple size will increase. As her mammary glands fill, her breasts will swell slightly. You may notice her nipples leaking. You may find you can express milk if you tug on her nipple lightly. 

How to tell if the mother cat is feeding kittens?

You can tell if a mother cat is feeding her kittens by her behavior and her kittens. Essentially, if the kittens appear happy and healthy, she is feeding them. 

Latching

The most obvious sign of a mother feeding her kittens is the kittens latching. They will spend time suckling at her breast when eating. 

Weight Gain

Again, you should expect the kittens to steadily gain weight. It’s best to weigh them daily or at the very least weekly, to monitor their weight. If their weight is increasing at about 1.75-3.5 ounces each week, they are being well fed. 

Behavior

Your kitten’s behavior is another indication that mom is feeding them. Young kittens will eat and sleep when they are being fed. Expect them to spend a significant amount of time suckling, and go to sleep when they are finished. 

As they get older, they become more active. They begin to become mobile and active at 2 weeks. By 3 to 4 weeks, they will be quite playful. If they aren’t being fed properly, they will be less active and playful. This is because play requires energy from calories. If they aren’t eating enough, they will have less energy. 

How to help a mother cat produce milk?

If your momma cat is producing some milk, but not enough, there are things you can do to improve her milk production. If she’s not producing milk, the stimulation of kittens suckling may help her start to produce milk. 

If there’s an underlying problem affecting her milk production, this should be addressed. 

Diet

The number one factor affecting a mother cats milk production is her diet. It’s best to feed her a formula designed for lactating mothers. She will need about 4 times her typical calories to keep up with her kitten’s needs. It’s important to ensure she gets the right mix of fat, protein, vitamins, and minerals, in addition to a higher calorie count. 

She will also need plenty of water. Be sure she has access to clean water at all times. You may want to get a cat fountain, so she always has fresh water. 

Cats can have a difficult time getting enough water, so you may want to feed her wet food during this time. Wet food has a much higher water content than dry food, as the name suggests. You can choose to combine wet and dry food, particularly if she typically eats dry food. 

You can also add goat milk to her diet for an extra calorie and vitamin boost. Goat milk is easy for cats to digest. It can also be mixed with equal parts of water. 

Stress Levels

Stress also has a huge impact on your kitty’s milk production. Just like humans, high stress levels will decrease her milk production. Make sure she has a quiet stress free area for her and the kittens. She may also need a private area away from her kittens. All mothers need a break from time to time, including your cat. 

Medication

Metoclopramide, or Reglan, is a cat medication used to control nasea. It can also increase milk production. It increases dopamine in the brain, which also increases prolactin. Prolactin is the hormone responsible for milk production. 

Treating Mastitis

Mastitis is an infection of the breast. It’s common in nursing mothers, including humans and cats. It will cause the breast to become swollen, hard, and hot. The milk ducts often become blocked, so the kittens can’t get milk from that nipple.

This typically only affects one or two nipples, and kittens can still nurse from the other nipples. Mild cases can be treated with a wet compress, but serious cases require antibiotics. 

Author

I created and currently run Kitty Cat Tips, the website that you can go to when you have questions about your cat's behavior. It's my hope that you find Kitty Cat Tips to be a helpful resource. It is also my hope that it will help you to improve your relationship with your cat. You can read more about me and my website here.