There's no bigger job in life than taking care of a baby.
Imagine, however, having to be responsible for up to ten at a time! We're not talking about people, but puppies and kittens. Taking care of a pregnant pet can be extremely difficult. To help, The Saturday Early Show's resident veterinarian Debbye Turner shared some tips in the latest Pet Planet.
First, if you are not absolutely ready for the responsibility of caring for, and finding good homes for, a litter of puppies or kittens, then please have your pet spayed, says Turner. Eight to 10 million pets end up in shelters each year. And more than half of them are euthanized. An unspayed dog can produce up to 67,000 offspring in just six years, according to the Humane Society of the United States. An unspayed cat can produce up to 420,000 offspring in seven years.
Turner says it is irresponsible and unconscionable to allow pets to breed and bear offspring without the means, mind and method to properly care for all of the animals.
Also, it is a myth that a female pet should have a litter of babies first before being spayed. Spaying a female dog before her first heat all but eliminates her risk of getting breast cancer later in life. Turner says she will be just as affectionate, healthy and happy after being spayed. Also, Turner points out, male pets that are neutered will probably never get prostate cancer, and are less aggressive and territorial.
If you do have a pet that is pregnant, there are some ways to make the expectant mom more comfortable and relaxed so that the delivery is smooth and complication-free.
The size of your pet's litter will largely depend on the size, breed, and age of the animal. But generally, cats have four to six kittens per litter. Dogs have six to 10 puppies per litter.
See the vet: Turner says as soon as you think your dog is pregnant, take her to the veterinarian for a physical exam and any specialized instructions. Ask the veterinarian about intestinal parasite control. Roundworms and hookworms are transmissible to the puppies. Your vet can treat the expectant mom while she is pregnant to prevent infection in the puppies. Your vet will help you with flea control, too, if this is a problem.
Turner says you may also want your dog X-rayed (or examined with ultrasound) so you'll know just how many puppies to expect. This should be done after 45 days of pregnancy when the puppies' skeletons begin to calcify. A pregnant dog is known as a "bitch."
It is important, and safe, to keep you dog on heartworm preventative during pregnancy if she was already on it. Turner warns not to start any dog on heartworm preventative without the direction of your veterinarian. A dog who takes a preventative heartworm medication while actually having heartworms can die.
The gestation period (or length of pregnancy) for a healthy dog is 63 days. In the final 2 to 3 weeks of pregnancy, keep your dog away from other dogs.
Nutrition: As the pregnancy progresses, the mother-to-be's appetite will increase. You will notice her eating more to provide the adequate nutrition for the developing pups. While your dog is nursing her pups, she may eat up to four times her normal amount. There is no need to supplement the diet with additional vitamins. Turner says a good quality food will be enough to provide the pet with the adequate vitamins. Do not supplement additional calcium. Also, an overweight dog can suffer devastating complications while pregnant. This is another reason to keep your pet fit and trim.
Moderate exercise is good for a pregnant dog. But avoid strenuous activity and excessively stressful situations, Turner advises.
Birthing: Birthing is known as parturition. In the 8th week of pregnancy, it is time to provide a place for your dog to whelp (give birth). A large container that is clean and lined with soft bedding (towels, blanket, etc) should be provided in a quiet, dark place. This location should not be cold or drafty, and it should be away from noisy, high-traffic areas. Just before birth, your dog's appetite will decrease or disappear. This is a sign that the puppies are coming soon. Labor will last 2 to 12 hours. Your dog will show signs of "nesting," pant, seem nervous or uncomfortable, shiver, maybe even vomit a little.
Mother dogs usually naturally know what do when the puppies arrive, but it is important for her to remove the fetal membranes, especially away from the mouth and nose. It may take up to an hour between the arrival of each puppy.
Turner says contact your veterinarian if no puppies arrive within an hour or so of her "water breaking" (a watery discharge from the vagina indicating that labor should be starting). Also discuss with your veterinarian the color, smell, and consistency of all vaginal discharges. There are some that are normal and others that indicate the puppies are in trouble or that the placentas are being retained. Turner says it is a good idea to know how to reach your veterinarian (or the emergency service the clinic uses) during off-hours. Ask for this information right away, so that you will already have it handy in the unfortunate case that an emergency arises.
Nursing: It is important for the puppies to start nursing right away (certainly within the first 24 hours). They need colostrum, which is the part of the mom's milk that contains valuable antibodies to keep the puppies healthy until they can produce their own antibodies. While the new mom is nursing (lactating), you'll want to give her a diet slightly higher in calories and protein. A good quality "puppy food" would work just fine. Her body is under a big demand from the nursing litter, so let her eat all she wants. You may notice that her coats gets dull and a little rough. This is to be expected. She should stay on the puppy food diet until the puppies are no longer nursing.
See the vet: As soon as you suspect your cat is pregnant, make an appointment for her to see your veterinarian. Gestation (length of pregnancy) for a cat is 59 to 69 days. (on average-63 days) Cats are generally self-sufficient at carrying and giving birth to their kittens. But, it is important to keep an eye on her for abnormal behavior or any signs of difficulty. A pregnant cat is known as a "queen."
Nutrition: While your pregnant cat may have a decreased appetite in the very early stages of pregnancy, soon enough her appetite will dramatically increase. She will start asking for more food close to delivery time. This could be a cue that the kittens will arrive soon. Gradually, convert your cat's diet to a high quality kitten food. This will be high in the calories and protein necessary to sustain her through nursing (lactating) the kittens. She should stay on this diet until the kittens are weaned. While momma cat is pregnant, feed her small frequent meals. Her stomach will not be able to hold large meals.
Birthing: Birthing is known as parturition. It is important to keep your pregnant kitty inside at all times for her and her kittens' protection. You especially want her inside around delivery time. You don't want her to run off and have the kittens in some obscure, unclean location (like a crawl space under a house). Close to delivery time, you will notice your cat investigating places to have her kittens (nesting). She may become very affectionate, or she may choose to sleep a lot. Also, you may notice a milky secretion from her nipples.
Once labor starts, she should have all her kittens about 10 minutes to an hour apart. The birthing process can get quite messy. But your cat should automatically clean the kittens and any other expelled material. The placenta for each kitten should be expelled within 24 hours. If not, contact your veterinarian right away. Unfortunately, stillborn kittens do occur. If this does happen, just remove the dead kitten, so that normal delivery can continue. Turner says it is a good idea to know how to reach your veterinarian (or the emergency service the clinic uses) during off-hours. Ask for this information right away, so that you will already have it handy in the unfortunate case that an emergency arises.
In the final 2 to 3 weeks of pregnancy, it is important to keep you cat away from other animals and small children.
Housing: You should provide a quiet, dark, draft-free place for your cat to give birth. Turner says a box in the back of the closet is a good idea. You'll just want to be able to get to the box if an emergency arises. A clean box with old blanket or towel on the bottom will work fine. If you do not provide a location, your cat will surely find your best outfit that's fallen on the floor in the back of the closet and choose it as a birthing spot. Try putting mama in the box and petting her well before delivery so she will become acclimated to it. Hopefully, she will get the message that this is a good place to give birth.
Nursing: It is important for the kittens to start nursing right away (certainly within the first 24 hours). They need colostrum, which is the part of the mother's milk that contains valuable antibodies to keep the kittens healthy until they can produce their own antibodies. While the new mom is nursing (lactating), you'll want to give her a diet slightly higher in calories and protein. A good quality "kitten food" would work just fine. Her body is under a big demand from the nursing litter, so let her eat all she wants. You may notice that her coats gets dull and a little rough. This is to be expected. She should stay on the kitten food diet until the kittens are no longer nursing.