The period of pregnancy, or gestation period, dogs and cats go through is 59 to 68 days, with the average being 63 days. With dogs, their litter size can vary from a single pup to 17 in some of the largest breeds. With cats, their litters can vary from one to more than 10 kittens at once. Usually, litter sizes are smaller in very young and very old mothers. The largest litters are usually from mothers that are around three or four years old.
If you think your pet may be pregnant, consider these conditions that can be confused with pregnancy; false pregnancy, mastitis (inflammation of mammary glands), pyometra (uterine infection), mammary gland cancer, and swelling of the abdomen caused by fluid buildup or organ enlargement.
- Nesting behavior. They may tear up bedding or papers in an attempt to put together a nesting area.
- Mothering activity. Your pet may begin to protect and mother articles like toys or shoes.
- Weight gain. This usually happens after week 4 of pregnancy.
- Swelling of the abdominal area.
- Swelling of the mammary glands. The mammary glands may even secrete milk or fluid.
- Abnormal behavior. If your pet is showing signs such as a lack of appetite, lethargy, or has excessive vaginal discharge, make an appointment with your veterinarian immediately.
You veterinarian will likely recommend some diagnostics to make sure your pet is healthy and to confirm her pregnancy. These include:
- A comprehensive physical examination and a complete medical history.
- An evaluation of your pet’s behavior, potential mating episodes, and heat cycle.
- Palpation of the abdomen. This is where your veterinarian will use a technique of feeling your pets belly to examine the internal organs. Fetuses can be difficult to feel at any stage, and almost impossible to feel until 26 to 35 days after impregnation.
- Radiographs, or x-rays, of the abdomen. The skeletal structure of a puppy or kitten fetus can be visible on an x-ray 45 days after impregnation. A close estimate of how many newborns you are likely to expect can be told here. Radiographs will also show some abnormalities, like irregular accumulation of fluid or organ enlargement.
- An ultrasound of the abdomen. Ultrasounds are great for the diagnosing pregnancy and checking on the health of the puppies or kittens. You can confirm pregnancy by ultrasound 21 to 24 days after breeding, and estimate litter size as well.
- Tests for feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) and feline leukemia virus (FeLV).
- Depending on the case, your veterinarian may advise other diagnostic tests that are not typically done with a normal pregnancy. These may include:
- Blood work: Complete blood count (CBC) and biochemistry. A biochemistry will evaluate liver and kidney function. Unfortunately there are no practical blood or urine tests to see if your pet is pregnant or not.
- Heartworm check.
- There is no real “treatment” for a normal pregnancy. Just see your veterinarian for regular check-ups when your pet is pregnant. This is to ensure continued good health of your pet and her litter.
- Your pregnant pet needs to be properly cared for during pregnancy.
- If you pet is having a hard pregnancy, a difficult time during the birthing process, or if you don’t want any future litters, you should get her spayed after the puppies are weaned and before her next heat cycle to prevent pregnancies in the future.
- Make an appointment to visit your vet one week before the due date. That way the veterinarian can palpate, possibly to an ultrasound to check heartbeats, and compare puppy/kitten size with the pelvic canal size to anticipate any possible issues with the delivery.
Since good nutrition is very important for healthy mothers and litters, you need to feed your pregnant or nursing pet a high-quality diet especially formulated for them.
- During the first 4 weeks of pregnancy, nutritional needs change very little. However, these needs double during the last 5 weeks of pregnancy. Ask your veterinarian about your pregnant pet’s dietary needs. They may recommend vitamins or a special diet.
- Since her abdomen is full of babies, it’s likely a pregnant animal will not feel like eating as much at one time. Provide an increased amount of food to her diet slowly in many small meals a day instead of all at once. In the last part of gestation, it’s particularly important to feed small meals frequently. Continue feeding your pet her proper, high-quality diet until all the babies have been weaned.
- Pregnancy also increases the fluid needs of animals. Make sure they always have fresh water available.
- Strenuous exercise for a pregnant animal may be harmful, but a moderate amount is recommended. Moderate exercise includes short walks and short periods of gentle play. At 26 to 35 days of the pregnancy, your pet should be exercised a half an hour a day, 5 days a week. Pregnant cats should be kept indoors, especially during the last couple weeks of gestation. This is for the safety of the mother cat and her kittens.
- Check the rectal temperature of the mother twice a day from the 58th day of pregnancy and on if you would like to know when it’s almost time for delivery. Usually within 24 hours of going into labor, an animal’s temperature will drop a full 2 degrees. Their normal temperature is usually around 100.5 to 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit.
WHELPING (BIRTH OF THE PUPPIES)
Once you find out your dog is pregnant, you should start making preparations for her delivery. The more you learn about whelping, the more prepared you’ll be if anything should go awry.
- You need to provide the mother a whelping box that she can get comfortable sleeping and lying in. That way, you can make certain the puppies will be born in a place you’ve chosen. It’s good to choose an area in the home that is familiar yet low traffic, to allow the mother solitude. The size of the box depends on your dog. The width should be about equal to that of your dog, including their tail, and 1 ½ times as long. It’s important to put a 1×4 inch rail about 4 inches higher than the bottom around the inside of the box. This rail provides a space that puppies can slip under so mom doesn’t accidently lay on them and smother them. This box should have sides about 8 inches high to prevent puppies from crawling out, and should be bottomless. Line the bottom with plastic, then paper, then with bedding.
Flannel is the best material to use in a whelping box. Puppies will nurse until they are tired rather than until they are full. A puppy constantly slipping while nursing will become tired faster, which leads to less nursing. Flannel sheeting provides good footing for the puppies while they nurse. This blanket should be stretched tautly and even tacked to the sides of the box. Bedding not stretched will be pawed at by the mother in order to make a nest, causing wrinkles that can cover and suffocate puppies. This blanket should also be washed daily.
- During the first few weeks after the birth, provide a heat source in the whelping box. A trouble light above a corner of the box is usually good enough, but it really depends on the temperature of the room the box is in. Always be aware of the temperature inside the whelping box, which is perfect at 80 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit during the first five days after delivery. It is recommended that you attach a thermometer to the box. After day five, you can decrease the temperature of the box by a degree per day until it is room temperature. This can be done simply by raising the light.
QUEENING (BIRTH OF THE KITTENS)
Begin preparing for the birth of your cats kitten’s immediately after you learn she is pregnant. Learn as much as you can about queening so you are better prepared in case there are any problems with the delivery.
- You need to provide the mother a queening, or kittening, box that she can get comfortable sleeping and lying in. That way, you can do your best to make certain the kittens will be born in a place you’ve chosen. Keep in mind that you know it is ideal that they give birth in their queening box, but that may not always be the place they chose to give birth. Cats need as little disturbances as possible during queening or they may delay labor, so choose an area in the home that is familiar yet low traffic, to allow the mother solitude. They should be able to feel comfortable and protected while giving birth.
A queening box can be made out of a cardboard box, laundry basket, pet carrier, or even a new, covered litter box (never an old, used litter box). Most cats prefer a queening box with some kind of cover or roof. Line the box with newspaper for absorbency and have plenty of soft blankets or towels for comfort. These should be washed daily. Always keep water and a small amount of food next to the queening box. It’s also recommended to keep your cat’s litter box somewhere near, but not too close, to the queening box.