What is Pregnancy?
So your beloved dog or cat is pregnant! Now what? It helps to know a few details about your pet’s pregnancy and what to expect before embarking on this wonderful journey.
The first important detail to know is the gestation period. Unlike the long 9 months necessary for human gestation, for most cats and dogs, pregnancy lasts approximately 9 weeks or 63 days, give or take a few days on either side.
In cats and dogs, you may not notice any changes within the first 3 weeks of conception. If you do suspect that your pet is pregnant, your vet can run some tests or perform some imaging scans to accurately diagnose the condition and possibly even estimate a due date. However there, are a few tell tale signs that may suggest your pet is pregnant.
In cats, the cessation of the regular heat cycle may be the first thing you notice, while in dogs, the first sign is often the clear vaginal discharge that becomes evident between 4-5 weeks after conception.
An enlarged abdomen is often noticed in cats at about 5 weeks; however, many dogs can come to full term without looking noticeably pregnant, making it an unreliable method of determining pregnancy.
Other subtle symptoms include:
- increased affection and attention seeking
- an increased appetite
- prominent nipples which tend to become pinker
- decrease in physical activity and increased sleeping
- a firm abdomen
- nesting behaviors
- frequent urination
Caring for Your Pregnant Pet
The first thing to be done if your suspect your pet is pregnant is to make an appointment with your pet’s veterinarian. An all-round check-up will help to pick up on any potential problems and your vet will also be able to advise you on any dietary changes or supplements that may be necessary.
If your pet has any parasites then it is important to discuss treatment options with your vet before administering any drugs. Remember, drugs should be avoided during pregnancy, unless prescribed or recommended by your vet.
The next important consideration is your pet’s diet. Many pets do well on their regular diets through-out their pregnancy term, provided it is a high quality and nutritious diet. However, it may be advisable to start adding premium kitten or puppy food to your pet’s diet from 4 weeks as it is higher in nutrients and this is when your pet will need it.
You can increase the amount of puppy or kitten food each week so that by the time she is in her final week of pregnancy her usual diet has been replaced with the puppy or kitten food. She can remain on this diet through-out the lactation period as well as this is a very nutritionally demanding time for your pet.
In addition to the diet change, it is important to start increasing the frequency of her daily meals. Most pregnant pets do best on eating 3-4 times per day and during the last two weeks of pregnancy she should be eating between 1 and 3 times her usual amount of food, as this is when most of the fetal growth takes place.
With the dietary changes in place, the rest is fairly simple. You should encourage moderate exercise in your pet to retain healthy muscle tone, and avoid unnecessary weight gain, but make sure it is gentle and easy exercise – no rough and tumble!
Approximately two weeks before your pet is due to give birth, it is advisable to provide her with a nesting area such as a box, basket or even a laundry basket will do for most cats. Make the area comfortable with some clean towels and let her become accustomed to the area. The box should be placed in a warm room that is free from noise and distractions as this is the place she will most likely give birth.
The Birthing Process
The birth processes in cats is often referred to as queening, while in dogs, the term used is whelping. It’s always advisable to speak to your vet about what can be expected during the birthing process. For some pets, the process is quick and simple, you may even wake up one morning and find you cat has already given birth and is happily nursing her kittens. However, the process can also be dangerous for mom and her litter, especially if it is a first-time mom.
The first signs of labor are not always obvious. Your pet may stop eating as early as 24 hours before giving birth and she may display more nesting behaviors. As contractions begin, she may become restless, start panting, and may even vomit during this stage. As contractions continue, the cervix will dilate and a colorless discharge from the vagina is often apparent.
This labor stage of whelping or queening may take up to 12-24 hours.
The second stage starts when your cat or dog actively starts pushing out the first puppy or kitten. The first puppy or kitten generally takes the longest, and you may see your dog or cat straining and pushing. The first thing to be seen is usually the amniotic sack or water bubble, which should bust as it comes out. You pet will then have to remove the sac from the puppy or kitten, and if she doesn’t then you may have to do this for her so that the pup or kitten can breathe. The mother should then lick the newborn (often quite vigorously) which stimulates breathing. Within a few seconds, the new puppy or kitten should be breathing, moving around and becoming vocal. The mother will also bite off the umbilical cord between 1 and 3 inches from the newborn, and if she doesn’t do this after approximately 4 min, you may need to clamp the cord and cut it yourself, using only sterile equipment.
The third stage of the process is the delivery of the placenta. Remember that each kitten or puppy has a placenta and these are usually delivered with each newborn. Try keeping track of the placentas because if one is not delivered it can result in infection. Your cat or dog may eat the placenta as it offers great nourishment, however, eating too many may cause digestive upset.
Between each birth, the new puppies or kittens may already start to nurse. Keep a watch out that they do not get in the way or get stood on during contractions. Make sure the new comers also get a chance to nurse without being bullied by the others as it is essential that they all get their fair share of colostrum – a special type of milk available for the first 24 hours that contains anti-bodies to guard against illness and infection. Once all is done and mother is looking happy with her new litter, you can relax a little and begin to enjoy the pleasures of these new additions.
Help for Pregnancy
For many seasoned breeders, the biggest concern is not the pregnancy itself, but the lactation process after the puppies or kittens are born. This is because problems with lactation are fairly common and if the mother doesn’t produce enough milk, the puppies or kittens will not get the required amount of nutrients necessary for optimal growth.
Luckily, there are herbal and homeopathic remedies which can aid in problem free lactation are which are perfectly safe for your pet and her new litter. Milk Thistle is an example of an herb that helps prompt the production of milk in nursing mothers, and because it also supports liver health, it helps to reduce the amount of toxins passed through the milk to the litter.
Another recommenced herb for breastfeeding pets is Goat’s Rue which promotes milk production and encourages a steady flow for milk. Fennel and Borage are also useful in both the production of milk and the recovery process after birth. Both these herbal ingredients help with digestive functioning and bowel regulation, and Borage has excellent anti-inflammatory properties to assist with recovery.