What is Nursing?
9 weeks of pregnancy has finally come to an end and your pet has just given birth to a beautiful litter of kittens or puppies. Now all that needs to be done is make sure all the babies are nursing and that the mother remains in good health during this nutritionally demanding stage.
As the time for delivery draws nearer, milk is already being produced so that it will be ready in time for the new arrivals. This special type of milk is called colostrums and it contains essential antibodies from the mom that will help to guard against illness and infection in the early weeks of life.
It is essential that the puppies or kittens each get their fair share of this early milk as it is only available for one to two days. After about 48 hours, mature milk will be produced and this is the milk that will take care of all their nutritional needs over the next few weeks.
The nutritional demands of the new litter are high; in fact, they are growing at such a rapid rate at this stage that they usually double in weight within the first 10 days of life! That means that the new mom has to eat enough high quality food to support both her own needs, and those of her young.
Many veterinarians will suggest that the mother eat a diet of premium puppy or kitten food as this is high in nutrients and will contain all things necessary for the healthy growth of the litter. During nursing, she should be eating between 1- 3 times her usual amount of food, and drinking plenty of water as this will help replace lost fluids as well as stimulate milk production.
What Problems Can Occur During Nursing?
It is important to keep a watchful eye on the new litter and monitor their health and growth rates. In addition, always keep an eye on the mother as nursing problems such as eclampsia and mastitis can cause her to become ill. There are a few things that can go wrong during the nursing phase and by knowing what they are you will be better prepared to recognize them early on.
• Lactation failure (agalactia) – This serious problem occurs when no milk is produced by the mammary glands. As a result, the litter will not receive any nutrition, will cry incessantly and fail to gain weight. Lactation failure is very serious and if it occurs you will need to bottle-feed the litter with an appropriate formula until the milk comes in, or until the litter can be weaned onto solid foods.
• Lactation depression or (dysgalactia) – this is the most common lactation problem and it is one that often has no apparent cause. Lactation depression is when the mammary glands are functioning, yet they are unable to produce enough milk to meet the nutritional needs of the litter. It’s not always easy to know when lactation depression is occurring, however, if you monitor the litter’s weight gains, you should be able to pick up that they are not gaining enough weight. The puppies or kittens may also pull at the teats or cry more than usual and you may also notice that the litter does not nurse for continuous lengths of time, but that they still seem hungry. It is important to treat lactation depression as soon as possible to prevent delays in developmental growth.
- Deficient milk – this less common problem occurs when milk is produced in sufficient quantity but lacks some of the nutrients required for the litter’s growing needs. This can also be a sign of nutritional problems in the mother.
- Eclampsia – In humans, eclampsia is associated with blood pressure, but in cats and dogs it is related to the levels of calcium available in the blood. In eclampsia, the majority of the mother’s calcium is lost to the milk so that while litter receives their nutritional needs, the mother is left calcium deficient which can have serious health consequences. The condition is often the result of a very large litter or those with nutritional problems themselves. If not treated Eclampsia can be life threatening.
- Mastitis – Mastitis is an inflammation or bacterial infection of the mammary glands. This is a potentially serious problem as the infection can contaminate the milk causing illness in the kittens or puppies. The infection can also spread quickly and the mother can become quite ill if the infection is not treated soon.
Help for Nursing
There is something so beautiful about watching a litter of puppies or kittens nursing on their new mother. Nursing is a beautiful and natural process, and when things go wrong with the production of milk, who better to trust than nature to help restore balance safely and effectively. Herbal ingredients such as Milk Thistle and Goat’s Rue are excellent at helping to encourage milk production and increase milk flow.
Milk Thistle also acts as an effective liver tonic and can help reduce the amount of toxins passed through the milk to the litter. Another beneficial herb that increases milk production is Fennel and along with being excellent for nursing problems, it is also an excellent digestive tonic and blood cleanser.
Lastly, Borage helps to encourage healthy milk production while also containing soothing, anti-inflammatory ingredients that help recovery from whelping or queening and act as a tonic remedy for digestive and bowel functioning.
More Information on Nursing
Tips for lactating and nursing pets
- In every litter there are those puppies or kittens that are just more pushy and dominant than others. Just the same, there are often those who may be weaker and if you don’t keep watch, these little ones may get pushed out of the way during feedings. It is especially important to make sure this doesn’t happen within the first 48hours as the entire litter needs to get their full of colostrum!
- The best thing that you can do for your pet and her litter is to provide her with a healthy nutritious diet that meets all her dietary needs as well as those of her babies. Make sure her food and water are close to her nesting area.
- Keep the nesting area clean and replace the newspaper or towel lining regularly.
- Calcium supplements are sometimes recommended for nursing mothers; however, it is important to discuss correct dosages with your vet beforehand. Calcium supplements during pregnancy can sometimes cause eclampsia during nursing, so always consult your vet before deciding on any supplements!
- If for some reason the mother is unable to feed her litter, then you will need to take over. Ask your vet for a recommended pet milk formula and get prepared for the sleepless nights ahead. For the first week, puppies and kittens need to be fed every 2hrs, after which you can usually feed between every 3-4 hours. At week 3, you can gradually start weaning the puppies or kittens onto solid food to supplement their bottle feeds. Whenever possible, steps to encourage the mother to feed should be taken.
- While we may think we know best sometimes, cats and dogs naturally have great maternal instincts and tend to be good mothers. Try leaving them to do their thing and only interfere when necessary.
- Monitor the weights and growth of each kitten or puppy so that you can pick up if they are not gaining sufficient weight. This may be a sign of lactation problems which need to be addressed.