I am an advocate for adoption for both dogs and cats. There are so many needing homes. However, accidents happen and when it does then there are some simple things that you can do to ensure the health of your pet as well as give them a stress free pregnancy and delivery.
As with human pregnancies sometimes our pets and their resulting offspring are also accidental. Cats are pretty organised and their gestation period (pregnancy) lasts between 63 and 65 days whilst dogs can be a little more varied, dependent on breed, and can have a pregnancy lasting between 56 and 72 days. Unless you catch your pet “in the act” during a receptive period (heat) then you may have to ask the vet to verify the pregnancy at about a month. If you need to know how many there are going to be in the litter you can also splash out for a scan at about 45 days and this might be important if you are concerned for the health of the dog or cat.
Before a planned pregnancy
All pets should be eating healthily anyway but this is particularly important during their pregnancy.
For dogs and cats it is important that their vaccinations are up to date and that they have been wormed regularly.
In the second half of pregnancy you need to gradually increase the level of your dog’s food day by day until at the end she is eating about twice her normal amount. Divide the meals into five or six smaller meals per day, as this will be more comfortable for her. She will need a balanced diet that is appropriate for pregnancy and you can ask your vet for recommendations on what natural foods should be included.
As you know I am not a fan of dried food, particularly in this important phase in your dog or cat’s life. However, you cannot suddenly change your pet from dried food that it has eaten since weaning and substitute home-cooked or wet food. Do so gradually over a period of around six weeks. If your dog is used to eating healthy home prepared meals then continue that way, with additional lean poultry and fish as well as vegetables. Make sure that she stays hydrated as her needs for fluids will increase as the pregnancy progresses.
Cats are usually very self-sufficient and will probably supplement the food you give them with fresh caught! But they too need regular small meals later in pregnancy, along with plenty of fresh water.
A dog should have moderate exercise throughout pregnancy and this will help her keep supple and flexible for the birth. It is a good idea to keep your cat indoors during the last two weeks of pregnancy as she may discover what she feels is a suitable place to give birth in your neighbour’s tool shed.
You need to make preparations around three weeks before the litter is due and a whelping box is the safest for both the mother and puppies. The puppies or kittens need to be clustered as closely as possible together, for both warmth and safety, but the mother should be able to lie outstretched to enable her to nurse them comfortably.
If you are building the whelping box yourself it should have sides between 4 and 8 inches high, depending on the breed of your dog. Encourage her to sleep in it up to the birth so that she is used to it. Use shredded newspapers as bedding, or smooth sheets that can be washed easily. Place the box in a quiet place away from the family and noise so that your dog associates it with a safe place to deliver and keep her babies.
Cats like a slightly higher whelping box with sides about 6 to 10 inches high and they too like a secluded corner where they can nurse in safety. Cats may turn their noses up at your efforts and find their own haven – usually in inconvenient places such as the airing cupboard or under your bed – but you will have to leave her alone at least for the first ten days to avoid stressing her unnecessarily. They usually like their boxes to be covered with a towel or something similar so that it is dark as well as quiet.
Signs of impending labour
The mammary glands in both dogs and cats will engorge in the last two or three weeks and milk will become available in the last two to three days and is a good sign that they are about to begin labour. If you are brave enough (my dog likes to try and rip the arm off the vet at the sight of a thermometer) take your dog’s temperature once the milk appears and you will see that it drops to 99F within 10 to 24 hours of labour starting.
If you are not planning on having the vet assist at the birth, which to be honest is unlikely for most domestic pets, then be prepared to help out if necessary. Usually you will come down in the morning and find a proud mother with her litter tucked up and already nursing.
Both dogs and cats will begin to exhibit nesting or nursing behaviour and I have seen dogs and cats start to mother anything from an old slipper to a hairbrush. The maternal instinct is very strong and it is not a good idea to fuss around them unless they come to you specifically for comfort.
This stage lasts from 6 to 24 hours and they will eventually seek seclusion, either in the whelping box they have become used to or their chosen spot. They will start to have contractions and their cervix will dilate as during a human birth but it will not be visible to you.
Contractions will become stronger and will be accompanied by abdominal contractions pushing out the puppies or kittens. If you are present during the birth you will notice a small, green sac visible at the vulva before the puppy or kitten arrives. The placenta will follow each individual birth and the mother will lick and bite the sac to release the baby before cleaning it and biting the umbilical cord. With an inexperienced mother, you may need to help nature along by gently rubbing the kitten or puppy with a towel to stimulate its breathing. This may also happen if the mother begins the contractions for the next member of the litter immediately following the birth of the last one.
There a number of things that you need to look out for during the last stages of pregnancy, and during labour, that might signal that your pet is having difficulties.
If the mother has been having strong contractions for longer than ten minutes and it looks as though the kitten or puppy is lodged in the birth canal, gently grasp it around the shoulders with a thin towel and gently rock back and forth. Without grabbing the legs pull towards you carefully until it is freed.
After the birth, if the mother does not sever the umbilical cord then tie a piece of strong cotton around the cord about an inch from the body and then cut on the side of the knot away from the baby. Dip the end in a little iodine to prevent infection.
Usually there is a ten to thirty minute rest between individual births – but this might vary, particularly with cats.
When to call the vet
- You should have taken your pet to the vet for a check-up during the pregnancy so they will be expecting to be called out it there are problems.
- If the pregnancy lasts more than the usual 65 days or 71 days in the case of a dog then take them to the vet to be checked.
- If after the stronger contractions begin and the mother is having abdominal contractions but no births then you need to call the vet.
- If there is a lapse of more than two hours between puppies, or four hours between kittens, and you are sure that labour is still in progress then you will need help.
- If after gently moving the kitten or puppy in the birth canal you still cannot deliver it then you again will need assistance.
- If the mother has been in labour for over three hours and develops a greenish/black discharge but no babies there is a problem.
- Sometimes a placenta is not delivered for each individual birth and leaving it inside the mother is dangerous and needs to be dealt with.
Having new kittens or puppies in the house is as miraculous as human birth and if you have helped your pet through the process it makes it even more meaningful.
I hope that has not put you off midwifery duties for your dog or cat.. I have been present on a couple of occasions and it is amazing. Thanks for dropping in and as always look forward to your feedback. Sally