If your pet dog or cat is pregnant, you may be wondering what to expect during her pregnancy, what you should be doing for her, and what to do during and after the birth. Here’s what you need to know about pregnancy in dogs and cats.
During Your Dog or Cat’s Pregnancy
The average pregnancy for both dogs and cats lasts 61-63 days. Your pet may give birth a few days before or a few days after this due date, though. As your pet’s pregnancy progresses, you’ll notice her abdomen starting to swell. Shortly before the birth, you’ll also see her mammary glands starting to fill with milk.
Proper nutrition is essential for a pregnant dog or cat. As your pet’s pregnancy progresses, her nutritional needs will increase as well. During the pregnancy, feed your female dog or cat puppy or kitten food, respectively. You will need to gradually increase the amount of food offered as the pregnancy progresses as well. If in doubt about your pet’s nutritional needs, consult your veterinarian for advice about what type of food and how much to feed.
A week or two before your pet’s due date, provide a whelping (or queening) box for her. The sides of the box should be low enough for your pet to enter and exit easily but high enough to keep the newly born puppies or kittens from escaping the box. Line the box with towels or blankets for your pet’s comfort. Be prepared to replace and launder the towels or blankets regularly once your pet has given birth. The box should be placed in a quiet warm area of your home. If your pet gives birth outside of the box, it’s okay to move her along with her puppies or kittens to the box after the birth.
For a normal healthy dog or cat, the rectal temperature will range between 100-102°F. Within 24 hours prior to the beginning of the birthing process, your pet’s temperature will drop to slightly below 100°F.
The Whelping or Queening Process
Most dogs and cats will be able to give birth without aid. However, sometimes complications occur and a responsible pet owner should be prepared for them.
Once your pet goes into labor and begins having active contractions, the first kitten or puppy should be born within 1-2 hours. The first thing you will see is a sac protruding from your pet’s vagina. This is part of the placental sac surrounding the puppy. Once this sac is visible, the puppy or kitten should be born within 15 minutes. If no kitten or puppy is produced after 1-2 hours of active labor or within 15 minutes of seeing the sac, you should seek veterinary care.
Once the kitten or puppy is born, the mother should remove the placental membranes from around the head and mouth immediately and begin licking the newborn to stimulate breathing. If your dog or cat does not do this, you will need to remove the sac and gently rub the newborn with a towel to stimulate its first few breaths.
If your dog or cat continues to have active contractions, a new puppy or kitten should be born every 1-2 hours. Sometimes, a mother will rest for a time between individual births. However, if your dog or cat has not passed a puppy or kitten within 3-4 hours, seek veterinary care. If active contractions are occurring and no puppy or kitten is forthcoming in 1-2 hours, seek veterinary care.
Once the birthing process is complete, make sure there is ample milk in your pet’s mammary glands (breasts) to feed the puppies or kittens. Make sure all puppies and kittens are nursing. If the mother has not removed the umbilical cord, tie the cord with sewing thread about one inch from the puppy or kitten’s body and cut the cord so that the thread remains with the puppy or kitten. The remainder of the cord will eventually dry up and disappear.
Your pet should visit her veterinarian within 24 hours of giving birth for a general checkup. She may require an injection to clean any afterbirths out of her uterus at that time also.
Caring for the Puppies or Kittens After the Birth
Be sure all puppies and kittens are nursing after the birth. The mother dog or cat will spend most of her time with the babies at first. The babies rely on the mother’s body heat to keep them warm and help them maintain their own body temperature. Make sure she has food and water available nearby.
At approximately 2 weeks of age, the puppies or kittens will open their eyes. As they grow, they will start to become more active and move about more freely. Handling puppies and kittens from a young age will provide socialization for them and get them used to being around people. This is an important part of their development.
Puppies and kittens can be weaned at 6 weeks, once they’re eating solid food. You can begin introducing solid food to them as early as 4-5 weeks of age. Puppies and kittens should remain with their litter mates until at least 8 weeks of age. Interaction with their brothers and sisters will begin the socialization process for them.
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