A female animal appears to approach an upper limit to the rate of sustained energy intake/metabolic rate (SusEI/MR) during lactation. However, different species of animals may respond differently to the sustainable limit. Here, we measured energy budget during lactation in female striped hamsters raising litters of natural size (Con), and females whose litter size was manipulated during early lactation to support fewer or more pups (minus pups, MP or plus pups, PP). The striped hamsters significantly decreased their body mass and increased food intake from early to late lactation; and MP females had lower weight loss and food intake than the control and PP females. Litter size of the PP group decreased significantly over the period of lactation, and pups were weaned at a similar weight to that of the controls. MP females supported a significantly lower litter mass throughout lactation compared with the control and PP females, but during late lactation the pups from the MP group were significantly heavier. Resting metabolic rate (RMR) did not differ significantly between the three groups and the gross energy intake during peak lactation was 5.0 ×, 4.2 × and 5.0 × RMR for the control, MP and PP females, respectively. Female striped hamsters reached a plateau in food intake at around 14 g/d during peak lactation, which might signify a limit of SusEI at 5.0 × RMR. However, it was not possible to determine whether the limitation on SusEI was imposed centrally by the capacity of the gastrointestinal tract to process food, peripherally by the capacity of the mammary gland to produce milk, or by the capacity of animals to dissipate heat.
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