We studied the postnatal body weight gain and development of 11 male and nine female giant panda Ailuropoda melanoleuca cubs born at Beijing Zoo from 1985 to 1998. Growth rates of the cubs appeared to be sexually dimorphic from the fourth month after birth; the male grew slightly faster than the female cubs. Growth rates between artificially fed and naturally fed cubs were significantly different from the fourth month after birth. The growth rate of the artificially fed cubs was slightly higher than that of the cubs fed by their mothers, indicating that the substitute milk satisfied the nutrient needs of the cubs. The body length of the cubs increased rapidly after birth; 8-month-old cubs were three times longer than newborn cubs. Chest circumferences of 8-month-old cubs also increased to twice that of newborn cubs. Tail length relative to body length was reduced from 14.9% at birth to about 8.6% in 8-month-old cubs. Cubs started to grow teeth when they were 3 months old. By the age of 1 year, the cubs had fully grown deciduous teeth. The teeth formula of one 1-year-old cub was 2·1·3·0/2·1·3·0=24. We recorded the changes in fur colour, development of the sense organs and limbs of the giant panda cubs. Finally, we compared the body weight and life-history parameters of giant pandas with those of bears and raccoons and discussed the management regime for the care of captive-born giant panda cubs.