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Caring for your pregnant dog or cat

Bringing a new puppy or kitten into the world is a fantastic experience – so here are a few useful tips if you’re thinking about it.

You should think carefully before you let your dog or cat fall pregnant. Some people believe it’s necessary, and will calm your pet down to have at least one pregnancy. This isn’t true - there are more health benefits from early neutering than from pregnancy.

Sadly, there are lots of unwanted dogs and cats in the UK. Many of them will spend the rest of their lives in kennels because nobody wants to take them home. So make sure you think about how you’re going to find suitable homes before you allow your pet to fall pregnant.

Breeding your pet can be an expensive business. Things can sometimes go wrong and you might need to fork out for an expensive caesarean section. 

However, bringing a new puppy or kitten into the world is a fantastic experience – so here are a few useful tips if you’re thinking about it.
 

How can I tell if my pet’s pregnant?

The gestation period for cats and dogs is around 9 weeks. Most pets will begin to show signs of pregnancy, including mammary gland development and abdominal digestion, at around 3 weeks. Dogs can sometimes experience false pregnancies, so these symptoms don’t necessarily mean they’re pregnant.

The only way to know for sure is to take them to the vet for an ultrasound scan.
 

Do I need to change their diet?

Puppies and kittens grow pretty slowly for the first 6 weeks of pregnancy. It’s in the last 3 weeks that most development takes place – this is when you should increase your pet’s food.

You should also switch to puppy or kitten food during these final 3 weeks. As long as they’re not overweight, this will provide the extra calories and calcium needed for the babies’ development.

Try feeding your pet little and often. If they have lots of babies, they might not be able to squeeze in two large meals.
 

Can I still walk my dog?

A pregnant dog will let you know when she’s had enough. Generally she’ll be happy to carry on as normal for the first 6 weeks, but later on she may get tired more easily. Let her dictate what she wants to do – don’t force her to go for a walk if she doesn’t want to.
 

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How should I prepare for the birth?

Most pets will benefit from a whelping crate. This doesn’t need to be anything special; an easy-to-clean box or crate where they feel secure will do the trick. It should have fairly high sides so the mother can get in and out but the babies can’t wander off.

Make sure you place the crate somewhere quiet. You’ll need plenty of newspaper, towels, bedding and incontinence pads so you can keep it clean and dry during the birthing process.
 

How can I tell when they’re about to give birth?

Most pets will take themselves off to their crate – or a quiet spot – 24 hours before they give birth. They’ll often scrape at their bedding and make a nest. They may also go off their food - dogs in particular may look uncomfortable and pant excessively.
 

There’s green discharge - what do I do?

The placenta in dogs often has a green tinge, so it can be normal to see green discharge during the birth. However, if no puppies have been born and you see green discharge, the placenta may have detached and the puppies may be at risk. You should contact your vet immediately.
 

When should I intervene?

Most cats and dogs will give birth with no problems. Occasionally, however, things can go wrong. If your pet is straining for more than 20 minutes and nothing has happened, get them checked by a vet. If you see brown or green discharge before any babies have been born, you should contact your vet.

If you know your pet’s due date and they go over 65 days, take them to be checked at the vets.

It’s normal for cats and dogs to rest during the birth – they may even sleep for a few hours before carrying on. As long as they’re not straining, this is nothing to worry about.

It’s also normal for puppies and kittens to be born backwards. These babies have an increased risk of inhaling fluid, so be ready to clean round their mouths if necessary. Usually, the mother will bite the umbilical cord to detach the baby. Sometimes they can be a bit overzealous and bite too close to the baby’s abdomen – be ready to intervene and tie off any cords that are bleeding a lot.

Once the puppies and kittens are born – as long as they’re feeding properly – let the mother bond with them in peace. It’s tempting to interfere, but everyone will benefit from peace and quiet.

Weigh them every day and keep a record, so you know that the babies are putting on weight. This way you’ll notice if one isn’t feeding as well as the others, and needs extra food.

Make sure your give the mother good quality puppy or kitten food – this will give her the calories and calcium she needs for milk production.

 
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