PREGNANCY & BIRTH
If you have never had a pet which has become pregnant then the prospect of birth and a noisy litter of little ones might seem a bit daunting at first.
Being able to predict the date of birth is always useful. If you observed the day of mating then you should be able to calculate the date of birth given that dogs generally are pregnant for 58 to 62 days and cats for around 63 days. This length of time is not fixed in stone however. First-time pregnancies sometimes last a little longer.
Do not use any treatment for fleas or worms during pregnancy, and if your dog is already on medication it is sensible to confirm with a vet if this is harmless in pregnant animals.
You should be able to observe some changes in your pregnant pet as time goes by. Most animals will eat more, become heavier and towards the end of pregancy the mammary glands and teats will enlarge in preparation for suckling a litter of young. Sometimes the animal's behaviour will change and they will show a sudden interest in a particular toy or area of the house where they feel secure.
Making Sure your Pet is Comfortable
To keep your pregnant pet at ease, it is important not to change any domestic routines such as beginning any building work, adding new pets to the household, taking in visitors or relatives who will be spending several days with you. All of this changes the animal's perception of its own home environment, and the natural instinct is to find somewhere safe and secure to give birth.
For dogs this may be its own bed : for cats it can vary widely from the cat's bed to your bed, the towel cupboard, the garden shed outside etc so do not be surprised if she chooses somewhere that might at first seem wholly unsuitable. Mothers have an instinct to move their young about as a protection mechanism so offering an alternative safe den is always sensible. if you think the mother has chosen a site, place a small cloth such as a tea towel for example around the edge of the bed so that it picks up the mother's scent and smells like her.
The teats may exude a little clear milk a few days prior to birth, and often the vulva relaxes and becomes more swollen in anticipation of the delivery. There is no hard and fast rule about how soon milk is visible - some animals do show some several days before birth and some show nothing at all. If your pet is very furry on is tummy it may be useful to clip some of the fur from around the teats to make suckling easier for the young when they appear.
When a dog is about to give birth she usually shows signs of discomfort and may be off her food, a little clingy to you as the owner (following you everywhere for example) and may start whining or panting. This is an external sign that Stage 1 birth has begun - and means that the uterus has begun to contract. You can expect your pet to then seek out its bed or den to actually deliver the young. One important feature of Mother Nature is that nearly all births occur AT NIGHT - so even if your pet has begun panting and whining and shifting position the whole time during the day it does not necessarily mean the litter will appear within the hour.
The actual birth - Stage 2 - is a natural process that normally occurs over a few hours providing there are no interuptions. This means that the animal is often best left on its own to give birth - sitting beside it, talking to it, moving it etc will not help - it merely delays the process and can sometimes lead to complications. A much better policy is to leave your pet well alone for the night and come down early in the morning to see what has happened in your absence. Difficult for some ! Remember the room should be warm enough so the young do not lose heat after birth too quickly.
The first sign is often the appearance of a bag of fluid from the birth canal - the amniotic sac, and this heralds the imminent arrival of the first puppy or kitten. Sometimes these are born backwards, so don't be alarmed if you happen to see that. Normally the mother will turn round to lick the newborn, thus freeing it from the amniotic sac and allowing it to take its first breath. In an ideal world each puppy or kitten should be bron with its own aminiotic sac attached. The umbilical cord rthen usually breaks of its own accord or it cut by the mother biting through it. Generally speaking the whole litter should be born within a period of 2 to 4 hours. Some animals produce the whole litter much faster, others more slowly. The newborn will try to find a teat very soon after birth, and as both puppies and kittens are born blind they navigate by smell.
How newborns behave
The newborn will start paddling with their legs and may propel themselves into a corner where they cannot move - if this happens you may have to assist by picking them up and placing them next to mother again. A bed with definite sides to it helps keep the litter together - a blanket on the floor it more risky. If you are going to handle any of the newborn, it is worth remembering that some mothers will abandon their young if there is human scent on it. Much-loved and much-handled pets are unlikely to do this but farm dogs and cats may find it very disturbing. That is why I suggested you add a small towel of some sort to the bed so you can use that, already smelling of mother, to move the babies without adding human scent. Such precautions are not always necessary but if you think like an animal it is much easier to understand what they find acceptable.
Of course not all deliveries run smoothly, and not all young survive. Read here about some of the problems that can arise and how to deal with them.
"Don't use any treatment for fleas or worms during your pet's pregnancy without consulting first with the vet"
"If you think the mother has chosen a site, place a small cloth such as a tea towel for example around the edge of the bed so that it picks up the mother's scent and smells like her."
"If you are going to handle any of the newborn, it is worth remembering that some mothers will abandon their young if there is human scent on it."