Dogs and Cats Giving Birth
Most cats and dogs give birth to their young without any problems at all. Left on their own they are usually very successful. Sometimes, however, problems can occur.
Normal length of pregnancy
- Dog: 63 days (range 58-68 days)
- Cat: 63-65 days (Siamese cats can go to 68-70 days)
Pregnancy in dogs and cats
Please ensure that your pet is fully vaccinated before joining, and is up to date with worming and flea treatments.
Vaccination and worming of the mother is imperative as it will reduce the worm burden in the litter as well as provide them with a temporary protection against major viral diseases, such as parvovirus and cat flu.
Preparing for your pet's labor and puppy/kitten care can be both exciting and fun; still, awareness of potential problems is of paramount importance. It is a good idea to keep track of your pet's breeding date so as to know when to expect what.
After about 35 days (7 weeks) of pregnancy, the mother's caloric requirements will begin to increase. In general, she should require about twice as much food as usual whereas, when she begins nursing, she will need three times as much food. The best nutritional plan is to buy a dog food approved for growth (food intended for puppies) and feed according to the package; such diets are balanced and require no supplementation. Calcium supplementation for bitches expecting large litters (especially small dog breeds) may be a good idea to prevent milk fever (see below).
Exercise of pregnant bitches need not be restricted until after the first 4 to 6 weeks of pregnancy.
Some time around the 45th day, your pet should be examined by a veterinarian. At this time, the skeletons of the unborn pups/kittens will have mineralized and are thus visible on a radiograph. Your pet's abdomen should be x-rayed so that you know how many pups to expect. Ultrasound may be used to confirm pregnancy much earlier (after 25 days, the embryonic heart may be seen beating) but it is more difficult to count the number of pups/kittens using this method.
A comfortable area should be set aside for whelping and raising the puppies/kittens. The mother should feel at home here and be able to come and go as she likes while the puppies/kittens must remain confined.
Whelping box for dogs
Whelping boxes should allow the mother to enter and exit the box freely, but contain the pups when the mother is absent. Whelping box should be situated in a warm room and allow enough space for the mother to be able to move around.
Whelping box should have cushioning to reduce risk of injury to puppies. Minimize the hardware projecting from the panels as well as ensure that all edges are rounded to both maximize comfort and minimize the risk of injury to dogs and people.
Allow enough space and use materials that are sturdy enough to withstand a Labrador.
When your pet's due date is approaching, you should begin monitoring her rectal temperature. When her temperature drops below 37.7 C (normal canine temperature is 38.2-38.8C), labor may be expected within 24 hours.
Mothers should be provided with a quiet area that allows them to begin their whelping.
The first stage of labor
During this stage, uterine contractions begin. The bitch/queen will appear very restless and may pace, dig, shiver, pant, or even vomit. This is all normal and all an owner can do is see that she has water available should she want it.
The second and third stages of labor
The second stage is the hard labor stage in which the puppy is expelled. The third stage refers to the expulsion of the placenta and afterbirth. Each pup may not be followed by afterbirth; the mother may pass two pups and then two placentas. This is normal.
Puppies/kittens are born covered in membranes that must be cleaned away or the pup/kitten will suffocate. The mother will bite and lick the membranes away. Allow her a minute or two after birth to do this; if she does not do it, then you must clean the pup/kitten for her. Simply remove the slippery covering and rub the puppy/kitten with a clean towel. Gently rub up and down the chest wall and sternum. The umbilical cord may be tied in a knot about one inch from the pup/kitten and cut with scissors on the far side of the knot.
Expect one pup/kitten every 45 to 60 minutes with 10 to 30 minutes of hard straining. It is normal for bitches to take a rest partway through delivery, and she may not strain at all for up to 4 hours between pups. If she is seen straining hard for over an hour, or if she takes longer than a 4-hour break, consult a veterinarian.
Expect some puppies (probably half of them) to be born tail first. This is not abnormal for dogs.
Call your veterinarian if...
- 30 to 60 minutes of strong contractions occur with no puppy/kitten being produced
- Greater than four hours pass between pups/kittens and you know there are more inside
- She fails to go into labor within 24 hours of her temperature drop
- She is in obvious extreme pain
- Greater than 70 days of gestation have passed
It is normal for the bitch to spike a fever in the 24 to 48 hours following birth. This fever should not be accompanied by clinical signs of illness.
Normal vaginal discharge after parturition should be odorless and may be green, dark red-brown or bloody and may persist in small amounts for up to 8 weeks.
Approximate veterinary fees to expect
If the delivery is in normal hours and there are no problems, the bitch and pups need a checkup that morning which attracts a normal consult fee and cost of an injection to make the uterus contract and expel any left over afterbirths.
- A caesarian during the day Mon-Fri may cost approx. $900-$1,300 depending on the size of the mother and the number of puppies/kittens
- A caesarian during the day Sat-Sun will be more expensive to cover the costs of award wages to the vet and nurses (time and a half) so approx. $1,100-$1,500
- A caesarian out of hours will, depending on the time of night and how many staff are called in, range from $1,300-$2,500 approximately.
- An out of hours house call to deliver the pups at home giving a series of injections to make the uterus contract will depend on how many pups and how long the whole procedure takes. Expect to pay between approx. $1,500-$2,000 if it’s after midnight and the vet is there for 2-3 hours.
Out of hours vets & their nurses are on double time and a half with a min.of 4 hours of wages to be paid, even if it's just 1 hour of work. A fully qualitifed vet is on $300-$450 an hour for their professional services (approx. the same as a solicitor or a lawyer). The costs of calling in a vet & a nurse out of hours are therefore very high. Breeders MUST have these funds set aside before considering to breed. Vets need payment at the time of the procedure so they can pay their staff.
Problems to watch for
Metritis (Inflammation of the Uterus)
Signs of this condition are as follows:
- foul-smelling vaginal discharge
- loss of appetite
- no interest in the puppies
- decreased milk production
If these signs are noted, usually in the first day or two postpartum, a veterinarian should be consulted. Your dog may have retained a placenta or have suffered some trauma during delivery. Animals who have required assistance with delivery are often predisposed to metritis.
Eclampsia (Milk Fever)
This condition results when the bitch has trouble supporting the calcium demand of lactation. Calcium supplementation predisposes a bitch to this condition. Usually affected animals are small dogs. They demonstrate:
- nervousness and restlessness
- no interest in or even aggression towards the pups
- stiff, painful gait
This progresses to:
- muscle spasms
- inability to stand
This condition generally occurs in the first 3 weeks of lactation and a veterinarian should be consulted immediately.
Mastitis (inflammation of the breasts)
Normal nursing glands are soft and enlarged. Diseased glands are red, hard, and painful. In general, the bitch does not act sick; the disease is confined to the mammary tissue. The bitch may be sore and discourage the pups from nursing; however, it is important to keep the pups nursing the affected glands. This is not harmful to the puppies and helps flush out the infected material. Hot packing may be helpful.
Problems with the puppies
Newborn puppies should spend their time feeding and sleeping; they are not very playful or active for the first week. Puppies that nurse poorly, cry constantly, or do not sleep with the rest of the litter are in trouble and should be examined by the veterinarian. Ideally the puppies should be weighed shortly after birth and should be expected to gain 5% to 10% of their birth weight daily. (A small weight loss in the first day of life is normal but this should be less than 10% of their initial weight.) Puppies that do not gain weight properly are in trouble and should be checked by the veterinarian. It is helpful if puppies are weighed at least daily to be sure they are growing properly. Very young puppies have clear or slightly yellow-tinged urine. Obviously yellow urine is a sign of dehydration.
If you think there is a problem with the mother or any of the puppies, contact your veterinarian. Examination may be needed for the mother and entire litter, not just the individual who appears sick.
Most dogs are excellent mothers and problems are few. The basic rule is to seek veterinary care if she seems to feel sick or if she ceases to care for her young. Puppies nurse until they are about 6 weeks old and then may be adopted by new homes.
Worming schedule for puppies
An all-wormer tablet, such as Fenpral or Drontal should be given at 2, 4, 8, and 12 weeks of age according to their weight. After that worming should be done on 3 monthly basis.
Vaccination and microchiping
First vaccination and microchipping of the pups (compulsory by law) should be done at 6 weeks of age, which is followed by 2 boosters once month apart at 12 and 16 weeks of age.