Breeding from Dogs and Cats

 

INTRODUCTION

For those with no experience of dogs or cats whelping or kittening, the prospect of having to ‘supervise‘ such an occasion can be daunting, if not plain frightening!  How do you know whether anything is going wrong if you don‘t know what is normal?  Most of the books you can buy do not deal with the problem in depth because of a lack of space or, in some cases, knowledge!

In these few pages we will take you through pregnancy, birth and post-natal care,  pointing out any problems there may be and when you need to take any action.  The thought of reading through all of this may seem almost as daunting as the birth itself, so you can read the three sections independently and at your leisure.

The first thing to remember is that dogs and cats are mammals like us and the stages they go through are the same as that of any pregnant woman - the only difference being the length of each stage, the dissimilar behaviour (although I have heard of pregnant women becoming hooked on Kit-e-Kat sandwiches!), and of course the number of offspring.

Secondly, remember that the vast majority of dogs and cats will go through all these stages without any help or interference from anyone at all - they coped without us for thousands of years and very little has changed.  So relax because all the knowledge you will have by the time you have read this leaflet will probably never be of any practical use, although it will help you to sit back and watch your pet produce a litter, with her doing all the hard work!

Finally, do not believe all that you hear or read (except in this leaflet!).  A lot of old wives‘ tales abound and many experienced people will only know the norm for their particular breed, bitches or queens.

 

PREGNANCY

Pregnancy normally lasts 61 - 63 days in the bitch and 63 - 67 days in the cat and is calculated from the first day that the female would allow itself to be mated.  However, it‘s not uncommon for litters to be born up to 5 days either side of the expected date.  The date of mating can also be very useful in deciding if the litter is overdue, so if you know it, mark it on your calendar immediately. 

The first problem is to decide whether your pet is pregnant or not as false pregnancies occur in both dogs and cats.

False pregnancy (phantom pregnancy) is seen mainly in bitches, and can be very misleading.  Signs are usually seen from a few weeks after she is on heat - they include nest-making, enlargement of the mammary glands and usually milk production.  Her abdomen may swell up so that she looks pregnant, and changes in temperament are occasionally seen.  This happens because her hormones are ‘confused‘ and they ‘think‘ that she is pregnant.  Veterinary treatment may be needed to return things to normal , so if you think your bitch has a problem do make an appointment to be seen.

In cats, false pregnancy is uncommon.  Your cat may start nest-building and crying after a mating has taken place, but she has not conceived.  Milk production is not usually seen.

 

Pregnancy Diagnosis

The four main methods are:

a)         Feeling the womb for unborn pups or kittens This can be done between Day 21 and Day 28 by your vet.  This is not totally reliable, especially in overweight or nervous pets, but can give an indication.

b)         Blood Tests.  This can be done from 21 days after mating in dogs and is now very accurate.

c)         X-rays.  These can be taken after Day 45.  The procedure is relatively expensive, but is very reliable and does not damage the unborn puppies or kittens.

d)         Ultrasonic Scan  This can be done at any stage after 30 days, and gets easier and more accurate as time goes on.

 

Apart from the fact that you will want to prepare yourself for the birth, it is also important to know whether your pet is pregnant from the point of view of feeding, worming and providing a place for her to be with her litter.

Whilst discussing testing we would like to bring to your attention a blood test we can carry out here on bitches in season called PREMATE which tells us the best time to mate her.  Mating at the wrong time has been shown to be the commonest cause of bitches not getting  pregnant.  So, if you are having problems, do discuss the test with us before she comes into season.

 

Feeding

As a rough guide, the following quantities should be given:

            Week 1 to 5 : Normal

            Week 5 to 7 : Increase by an extra 25% compared to normal.

            Week 7 to 9 : Increase by an extra 50% compared to normal.

A complete commercial diet, ie: tinned or dried food together with a good all round multi-vitamin and mineral supplement e.g. Pet Tabs, will provide everything your pet needs.  If you are not feeding this sort of food we would recommend that you get some expert advice to ensure that the diet that you are giving is nutritionally correct. She should enter pregnancy at the correct weight for her breed - if she is too fat or thin there may be serious problems during birth however if you feel that your pet is either over or under weight do not try to correct this during pregnancy without expert advice as it can be very dangerous not only for the mother but also for her young. We usually advise changing to a food designed for lactating bitches 2 - 3 days before the pups are born. If the bitch is being fed on some diets we may advise that a Calcium and Vitamin D supplement e.g. Collocal D, should be added to the feed during the last 2 - 3 days of pregnancy, but don‘t overdo it as an excess can cause more problems in itself.

With many dogs and cats you may need to feed little and often to enable them to take in enough food during the latter stages, as the presence of pups or kittens in their womb may not allow the stomach to expand sufficiently.

If you are uncertain about any of this, it is probably best to pop your pet in to see us to have a check-up and discuss her diet.

 

Worming

Female dogs and cats both have an unusual and fascinating way of ‘storing‘ roundworm young in their tissues, where the young worms are quite inactive.  As birth approaches, these young worms are activated and infect the pups or kittens both in the womb and in the milk after birth.  The best treatment for worms is to give a wormer that will kill these young worms before mating the mother.  If it is too late to do this, there are worming regimes that can be used during pregnancy, but these are much more expensive and probably not so effective.

We would recommend that you contact us before mating the mother in order to find out what would be the best drugs to use and regime to follow in your particular circumstances.

There is no need to worm for tapeworm or hookworm unless you see evidence of these. If you do need to worm for these be very careful what drug you use as many of the easily available drugs are highly toxic to the unborn young.

 

Whelping/Kittening Accommodation

Unfortunately, your pet‘s idea of where she wants to have her pups or kittens will often differ very much from yours!  The best way to get her used to the idea of a new place to sleep is to prepare this and introduce her to it  at least three weeks before the birth is due.  This is often where people go wrong - she can‘t be expected to bring her cherished young into the world in a strange place, any more than we would wish to do so in the next door neighbour‘s house.

For a bitch, a whelping box is ideally made of wood and large enough for her to move around freely, ie: twice her body length square.  Sides should be 4 - 6 inches high with a door of 3 inches high in one place, so that her enlarged ‘undercarriage‘ is not repeatedly knocked whenever she leaves the box!  Bars can be placed 3 inches in from the walls to prevent her from crushing her pups against the sides.  The bottom of the box should be off the floor to prevent colds and draughts.  Heating to provide a temperature of 80-85°F is needed, and an overhead lamp is useful here.  Lots of shredded newspaper provides a very good bedding as it is warm and easily changed and disposed of, so get plenty in.  ‘Vet-bed‘ is also very useful, and can be obtained from pet-shops or ordered through us.  The box should be sited in a fairly quiet, warm, draught-free room, but not so remote that your dog feels torn between her litter and yourself.  Bitches prefer a protected area, so a lowish ceiling and a wall or furniture on two or three sides of the box will make her feel more comfortable. 

Cats prefer even more protection - a high-sided box on all four sides is best and a blanket may be placed over the top as a roof.   A small door off the ground is all that is needed.  A large cardboard box can often be converted and can be placed in any room near the rest of the family.

Despite the most careful planning there will be some dogs or cats who will not concede to your wishes.  There is no point in making them give birth in a strange room, as dogs and cats can stop contractions almost at will if they are not feeling at home in their surroundings, and this may cause complications during the birth.  Overall, the best way is probably to accept defeat and allow your pet to give birth where she wants, whether it‘s your bed, your bath or even your lap and then transfer her to her designated accommodation. However make sure you have a plastic sheet handy as things can get very messy!

One final word about cats who are notorious for moving the whole litter around the house to the most inconvenient place.  If this should happen, you should first suspect that the accommodation you have provided is inadequate in some way.  This will usually be a lack of shelter or maybe a room which is just too busy for her.  If this does not appear to be the case, then do not be afraid to move the litter back to her designated home - you may need to do this several times, but it is better than having a litter of kittens on your bed for the next month! She will usually get the message.

 

BIRTH

Now we arrive at the part you‘re all worried about!  Don‘t panic - during this time your pet is going through a wide variety of changes - both physical and emotional - and she may not seem like the same animal that you know so well.  As long as you keep an eye on the ‘Deadlines‘, all will go well.

The whole process of birth can be divided into 4 obvious stages:

i)   Preparation for labour - especially in the two weeks before birth.

ii)  First stage of labour - the last few hours before birth when the unborn pup or kitten (foetus) is positioning itself.

iii)  Second stage of labour - visible contractions occur, and the young are born.

iv)  Third stage of labour - the afterbirth (placenta) is passed.

So try to look out for all of these stages - one should follow the other and if they don‘t appear to be doing so, this will alert you to check the ‘DEADLINES‘.

 

Preparation for labour

This period is basically the two weeks before the birth.  During this time many changes in behaviour and physical condition may be seen.  Your pet will also be eating a great deal more than usual (see section on feeding during pregnancy).  Unfortunately, the changes seen during this time are very, very, unreliable.  You will come across a lot of people who are very insistent that certain signs are only seen at a set number of hours before birth. I‘m afraid that dogs and cats are far too much like ourselves in that one dog or cat may always show the same signs at a set time, but this does not apply to the rest of the population!  we have set out a number of signs you may see and which are not reliable with regards to timing, and a number which are.  The figures are taken from a survey of 160 bitches whelping.  Unfortunately, there is no such survey of cats kittening, but the signs can be taken as being the same.

 

a) Variable signs - these may or may not be seen.

   -  Nest-building.                              Average 3-4 days; BUT up to 3 weeks.

   -  Vomiting.                                      Average 3-4 days; BUT up to 2 weeks.

   -  Milk in nipples.                            Average 2 days  ; BUT up to 1 week.

   -  Restlessness.                              Average 2 days  ; BUT up to 2 weeks.

   -  Scratching at bedding.               Average 24 hours; BUT up to 1 week.

   -  Reduced appetite.                      Average 24 hours; BUT up to 1 week.

   -  Clear, thick vaginal discharge.  Average 12 hrs; BUT up to 4 weeks!

(N.B. The discharge may be a light green colour, but should not be dark green, nor a thick, pus-like discharge.)

 

b) Reliable signs - these all occur less than 48 hours before birth, although not all of them will be seen.

  -  Production of a LOT of milk.

  -  Persistent shivering.

  -  Faster breathing.

  -  Licking the vagina regularly.

  -  Circling in the nest.

  -  Seeking protection near their owner.

  -  Fall in body temperature to 97 - 99°F - within 24 hours.  This is very reliable but only in dogs.

 

Progesterone testing kits can be used to monitor the end of a pregnancy. The blood test will show a drop in progesterone before parturition commences in the bitch. If the blood progesterone level is still high and ultrasonic examination confirms strong heartbeats, then the  bitch will be re-examined the next day.

 

First stage of labour

”During this stage, the muscles of the cervix and vagina relax to provide a ‘birth canal‘, the womb contracts (you can‘t see this) and the puppy or kitten is pushed towards the birth canal.  This stage ends when the pressure of the head of the foetus on the cervix causes a hormone to be produced which in turn makes the mother have strong contractions and push the foetus out."

Well, that‘s the theory, but what do you see?  This varies between dogs and cats.

In DOGS, the typical signs are RESTLESSNESS, BED-MAKING, PANTING AND SHIVERING, ANOREXIA, occasional VOMITING and VULVAL LICKING.  Some bitches will prefer company, while others will seek solitude;  don‘t take this personally - it‘s all pure instinct.  NO signs of contraction are seen, except maybe a faint ripple of the abdominal wall.  These signs will ALWAYS increase in intensity as time progresses, but over a fairly long period of time.

This stage lasts 6 - 24 hours on average, but will vary from 0 to 36 hours!  The longer times are usually seen in nervous bitches whelping for the first time.

In CATS, 2 days before parturition queens become RESTLESS, may STOP EATING and start searching for a SECLUDED PLACE to give birth. Milk may also be present for up to 7 days before the birth. There may be some PANTING, SHIVERING, turning in CIRCLES and constant LICKING, and you will see occasional CRYING (especially those vocal Siamese!) and she will often make TRIPS to her box to nest-build.  Straining at the litter tray is also often seen.  This stage lasts 6 - 48 hours in cats.

 

DEADLINES - for dogs and cats.

 

            This stage lasting more than 12 hours.

            The signs mentioned above becoming less and less pronounced, ie: the opposite of normal, and no puppies or kittens have been born.

            Dark green vulval discharge seen (dogs); dark brown discharge seen                                     (cats) and no puppies or kittens have been born.

            Any pregnancy lasting longer than the expected time, with no signs of                         first stage labour.

 

IN ALL THE ABOVE CASES, PLEASE PHONE THE SURGERY

 

Second stage of labour

The beginning of this stage is marked by the start of visible straining (contractions) of the abdominal muscles.

The foetus is enclosed in two fluid-filled bags or linings.  When it is in the birth canal, the contractions push it against the pelvic bones, the outer bag bursts and a thin, clear fluid pours from the mother‘s vagina.  This is known as ‘breaking the waters‘ or ‘ breaking the water bag‘.  It will not always be noticed, but when it is, it means that the birth should occur within the next hour.

The newborn pup or kitten is then forced out through the vagina and at this stage will still be within the inner lining.  The mother will usually tear this if it has not already happened to allow the pup or kitten to breathe.  The mother will then lick the newborn vigorously - this being vital for encouraging breathing.  The umbilical cord is usually either broken during birth or the mother may bite through it herself.  At the same time the afterbirth will usually be passed and this is often eaten by the mother (recycling the nutrients!) - see third stage of labour.  The afterbirth is dark green in dogs and dark brown in cats.

During this stage your pet will often appear more relaxed than during the first stage and she will lie on her side most of the time.  Between straining, bitches usually pant a lot, though cats do this much less so.  During the actual expulsion of the pup or kitten, the mother may cry or scream - this is particularly so in cats.  Although this is undoubtedly distressing to all of us, it is all part of the natural process in animals as well as humans and it is best to put on a brave face for your pet, who needs all the calm consolation she can get.  She will often lick her vagina, paddle with her feet and may push herself around with these movements.

Unlike us, dogs and cats have several newborn to deliver and this is usually done in a STOP-START manner, in other words she will deliver several, have a rest and then deliver a few more.

In DOGS, the first pup is usually born less than 30 minutes after straining starts - although this may take up to 2 hours.  Following this there is often a period of rest which usually lasts 15 to 60 minutes, but may be as long as 3-4 hours.  Straining then restarts and one or more newborn are then produced.  At this stage, the birth canal has already been stretched during the first birth and subsequent pups should arrive after less than 1 hour of straining.  Periods of rest and straining will then follow until the whole litter is born.

The whole whelping usually lasts 4 to 12 hours, but may last up to 24 hours,depending on the number of pups and the progression of the birth, so stock up with black coffee!  In most cases, the pup can be left with the mother while she delivers the rest of the litter, but be careful that large bitches don‘t crush their pups.

In CATS, the timing and the manner of the birth is much the same, except that the rest period between births is often much longer.  Several kittens may be born, then there is a period of up to 24 hours rest before several more are born in succession.  This is not always seen and more commonly the cat will have her whole litter in less than 12 hours.

In both dogs and cats, 60% of newborn come headfirst and 40% tail-first.  The latter is not a ‘breech‘ birth, in which the foetal hindlimbs point forwards; in a tail-first birth the hindlimbs point backwards and the mother can deliver the foetus on her own, albeit with a bit more effort.

 

When should you help?

Firstly, check the list of deadlines at the end of this section.  There really shouldn‘t be anything that you need to do, but here are a few things which you can attempt before calling for help.

i) If the newborn arrives in its inner lining and the mother does not remove it immediately, then break it yourself (it‘s very flimsy) and clear any mucus out of the pup or kitten‘s mouth with your finger.  Place the pup or kitten at its mother‘s head to be licked.

ii) If the umbilical cord is not broken at birth, don‘t panic - there is no urgency.  While it is present the newborn are receiving blood from the mother.  Gently tear the cord with your fingers about one inch from the newborn and place him/her at the mother‘s head to be licked.  The cord can be tied with cotton if it bleeds a lot.

iii) If the puppy or kitten appears to be stuck halfway out and hasn‘t moved despite straining by the mother for several minutes, or its tongue starts to look blue, grasp it gently as high up as possible, preferably after wrapping it in a clean facecloth to prevent slipping, and gently pull. This must be done VERY GENTLY and preferably in time with the mother‘s contractions.  Be careful as cats will often bite or scratch if you do this.  IF YOU HAVE NO SUCCESS RING THE VET IMMEDIATELY.

iv) Artificial respiration.  This is useless unless there is a heartbeat - this can be felt just behind the elbows at the bottom of the chest.  First, remove all mucus from the mouth with a dry cloth or cotton  wool.  Then breathe into the pup or kitten‘s mouth in short blows so that the chest can be seen expanding, but do not over fill it with air.  Do not touch the pup or kitten‘s mouth, as some of their germs can cause disease in humans.  On the whole, this is not a useful procedure - pup or kittens that need this will very rarely survive more than a few days.

 

DEADLINES - for dogs and cats.

            30 MINUTES after vigorous straining begins - and no birth.

            1 HOUR after the ‘water bag‘ bursts and no birth.

            1-2 HOURS after weak and/or intermittent straining begins and no birth.

            30-60 MINUTES after the appearance of a dark green (dogs) or dark brown (cats) vaginal discharge and still no birth.

            Pup or kitten visible in the birth canal but seemingly stuck.

            Interval of more than 4 HOURS between pups or kittens when you think there are more to come.

            Bitch or cat is obviously ill - most commonly they cannot stand if forced to, or there may be a constant stream of blood from the vagina (a drip is not unusual), or constant twitching of the muscles (do not confuse this with shivering which stops and starts).

 

IN ALL OF THE ABOVE CASES PLEASE PHONE THE SURGERY.

Third stage of labour

During this stage, the placenta (afterbirth) which feeds the pup or kitten in the womb is passed out of the vagina.  Each foetus has its own placenta.  In dogs, it is a dark green colour; in cats, it is dark brown/red.

This part actually occurs between births and thus is not strictly a third separate stage.  What usually happens is that a pup/kitten is born and its afterbirth follows it straight away.  However, often two foetuses are born and then two afterbirths, or very occasionally the afterbirth can even be passed before the birth (who said it was all straightforward!).  The main point is not to worry about this stage too much.  It is not an URGENT problem if it is not passed within a few days.  However, it helps to know what it is when it‘s produced.

Most mothers will eat some, if not all, of the afterbirth and this helps to recycle all the protein that is found within it.  This may occasionally cause the mother to vomit it up again, but don‘t worry as that‘s not unusual.  It is not vital to the mother so it does no harm to wrap it in newspaper and burn it.  This is probably advisable if it is obviously infected, ie; looks creamy and smells foul, eg; the afterbirth of a dead foetus, as this may make the mother feel very sick, although it is unlikely to do any more harm than that.

Because the mother often eats the afterbirth very quickly after it is produced, it is very difficult to count the afterbirths as they are produced.  The reason for trying to do this is that occasionally they can be retained in the womb and set up an infection there a few days later, in which case veterinary treatment will be necessary.

 

Calling the veterinary surgeon

All veterinary practices are required to provide a 24 hr service, so you can get help at any time of day or night (however please don‘t expect the vet to be sitting in the surgery waiting for your telephone call at 3 a.m. - she will almost certainly be asleep in bed!).  It helps if you know how long each stage has lasted.  You will usually be asked to bring your pet down to the surgery.  This is not being awkward on our part, but merely to provide the best facilities for dealing with any problem quickly.  It will do your pet no harm to have a short ride in the car and it is surprising how often the problem has solved itself during the journey - although we don‘t recommend you try this as a form of treatment.

You are now through the all worrying part of giving birth and it‘s probably taken almost as much out of you as it has your pet, so get some sleep as the next few months will be almost as tiring!

 

P O S T - N A T A L  C A R E

Routine Veterinary Check

We would recommend that all bitches and puppies are checked by us during the next working day after the birth. This allows us to check for all the problems we will be discussing in the next few pages, to give any advice that is necessary and to give the bitch an injection to ensure that the womb contracts properly if necessary.

Now that your puppies or kittens have been born, it is easiest to deal with them separately, so I will go through a few common problems that the mother may have during the next few weeks first.

 

THE MOTHER

After the birth is complete, you will often notice her lie down and fall asleep as if satisfied that a good job has been done and I think you‘ll agree that she deserves a rest.  During the next few weeks, she will often be very possessive of her young and it is best to allow as few people as possible to see them and then only those that she is familiar with.  The young should be handled as little as possible, especially in the first ten days or so.

The next few weeks will be very draining for the mother who has to feed a litter of hungry young and keep herself in a reasonable condition as well, so any health problems must be treated seriously, as all those mouths are totally reliant on her well-being.

 

Health Problems

i)   Retained afterbirth.  If all of the afterbirth is not expelled during the birth, an infection is likely to be set up in the womb within a few days.  Often this will not affect the mother but if she is off her food or dull, or has a smelly vaginal discharge, then call the Vet.

ii)  Bleeding from the vagina.  Some blood stained or dark red discharge is commonly seen for up to two  weeks after the birth.  This should never be more than an occasional drip.  If it is more than this, call the Vet.

iii) Mastitis.  This is seen as a very sore-looking, red, tight-skinned swelling in one or more of the mammary glands.  The pain or infection may cause the mother to be off her food and unwell, in which case the puppies or kittens will usually be unsettled.  There may be an infection, but some bitches can show the same signs merely due to too much milk!  If you're not sure, call the Vet.

iv)   Eclampsia (milk fever).  This is by far the most serious and urgent of problems after birth.  The disease is usually caused by a lack of Calcium in the mother‘s body, because of the drain that milk production makes on it.  This deficiency will cause problems with the muscles, brain and heart and can be fatal if untreated.  Unfortunately, the signs are not clear-cut.  Most commonly one sees a change in behaviour - very restless, often aggressive, unwilling to eat and whining a lot.  This then develops to a state of collapse and twitching of the muscles.

It is usually seen at any stage between birth and 2-3 weeks afterwards and is more common in small, excitable breeds of dog, but can be seen in large dogs or cats, especially those with large litters.

Veterinary advice should be sought URGENTLY - treatment is very successful if caught early on, so treat it as an emergency if you suspect it.  For prevention see section on feeding during pregnancy and post-natally.

 

Feeding

During lactation, the mother needs a huge amount of food to allow her to feed both herself and a litter of hungry pups/kittens.

Plenty of water is needed.  Milk can be given, but a lot of adult bitches and some cats develop diarrhoea if too much is given and this won‘t help her keep her condition. We would recommend using a specially formulated milk replacer, eg RCW Canine/Feline Milk Substitute or, if that is unavailable, Shirley‘s Lactol as a supplement for the mother and the puppies/kittens as a lot of pets are allergic to cow’s milk now.

As far as food goes the mother needs to eat 2-3 times her normal quantity by the middle of the third week of lactation!  One big problem is getting her to eat that much.  High-energy diets specially designed for lactating bitches are by far the best diet, however it is possible to use their normal diet in greater quantities.  3 to 5 meals daily may be necessary to help her eat enough to produce the milk her puppies need.  In cats, the mother will usually take a certain amount from her own body stores and a loss of body weight is usually seen.  This is not a problem as she will make this up after the kittens are weaned, but it can cause difficulties if she becomes pregnant again too quickly after the kittens are weaned.

During lactation, unless you use a high quality diet especially designed for feeding to lactating pets, we will often advise giving a good multi-vitamin/mineral supplement eg: Pet Tabs or Canovel tablets and perhaps also a Calcium and Vitamin D supplement eg: Collocal D or Stress, however do discuss this with us first.  It may also be advised to give sterilised bone flour during lactation in large dogs if you are not feeding a diet especially made for lactating large breed dogs.

You must be especially careful if feeding a home-made diet as many of these are deficient in important vitamins and minerals especially tripe, which contains almost no calcium at all and it is wise to get advice from us about these diets.

The high level of feeding will be necessary for 4-5 weeks after birth, at which time weaning usually starts, and the amount of food can gradually be reduced to normal.

 

Worming

This should be done at the same time as the pups and we would again recommend using a wormer that will kill the young worms as well as the adults. As situations differ we would suggest that you contact us in order to discuss which wormer and what worming regime would suit your particular circumstances best.

There is no need to worm for tapeworm unless there is any sign of such infection.

 

THE NEWBORN PUPS/KITTENS

The new born are very vulnerable and depend on the mother for food, water, heat, waste disposal and a good stock of antibodies against disease.

As mentioned before, they need a room temperature of 80-85F dropping to 75F after the first day and this is usually provided by the mother‘s body heat and snuggling up to the other litter mates.  They cannot shiver to increase their body heat until they are a week old.  If you feel that the young are a bit cold it is usually safest to put an electrical convection heater in the room with the young.  

During the first week, the young will sleep approximately 90% of the time, only waking to feed.  While asleep, they usually twitch a little.  The eyes do not open for 10 - 15 days and ears are closed until they are 2 weeks old so their ability to find a nipple to feed on is quite remarkable.  While very young, they are particularly prone to dehydration and missing only a couple of meals can be very serious.  During their first 12-24 hours, the mother passes a large quantity of antibodies from her bloodstream, into her milk and on to the  young pups or kittens.  This is very rich colostrum, similar to that provided by humans to their young and it is vital for the young to get this straightaway to help them to fight off any mild infections while their own systems are still very underdeveloped.  After 12-24 hours, the young are no longer able to digest the antibodies which they obtain in the milk and instead of reaching their blood stream, these antibodies carry right through and are passed in the stools.  Thus, the mother‘s milk is especially important in the first day or so.

The mother will lick the rear end of the young to stimulate them to pass their yellow stools and any urine and these are then cleaned up by the bitch - don‘t expect to see any ‘waste‘ from the pups or kittens for several weeks.

 

How do I know if there‘s a problem?

The young should have a sleek coat and elastic skin, with a rounded stomach.  They should feel warm to the touch.  They will sleep most of the time and feed about every 2 hours when first born. Crying is usually heard either when they are disturbed or just prior to feeding and should only last a few minutes.  Placing a finger in the mouth should elicit a sucking reflex from the first day.

Any change from the above should alert you to a problem - keep a particular eye on any of the litter which are especially small (the runt).

The main signs of problems are:

            - Excessive crying.

            - Constantly failing to settle at a nipple.

            - Dehydration.  This can be tested by taking a small pinch of skin over the shoulders and letting it go.  It should return to normal immediately - if it takes a few seconds, the pup or kitten is dehydrated.

            - No sucking reflex.

Pups or kittens very quickly go downhill and die, so don‘t hesitate to call the Vet if there‘s any problem.

Congenital Defects

These are deformities which the young are born with.  The three most common are:

            - Deformed legs.

            - Cleft palate.  The bone between the nose and the mouth is missing and the sucking reflex is much less strong.  Any milk that is taken in often comes out of the nose.

            - Umbilical hernia.  This is a small bulge of fat at the site of the umbilical cord, where the muscle under the skin has not come together as it should.  This is not a problem unless very large and will only need corrective surgery if it is still severe when the pup or kitten is fully grown.

Either of the first two problems will not allow the pup or kitten to live a normal life and it is kindest to them to put them to sleep as soon as possible.

 

OTHER THINGS TO THINK ABOUT

 

Worming

All pups and kittens are infected with roundworm in the womb or via the milk, or via the mother‘s stools.  The young should be wormed with a wormer that kills migrating larval stages of round worms as well as the adults.  Please contact us for advice as to what is the best drug and dosage regime to suit your circumstances.  The mother should be wormed at the same time.

This is very important as roundworm infection often causes disease or loss of condition in the pups or kittens and can also be caught by us, by contact with the worm eggs which have been passed in the mother‘s or young‘s stools.  It should be remembered that the eggs are not infectious for two to three weeks after they have been passed, so it is quite safe to clear up the stools, which should be done as soon as possible.  The risk to humans is mainly to young children whose personal hygiene may not be all that would be desired.  The disease in humans can be very serious in a tiny number of cases, causing blindness and epilepsy.  However if you follow the worming regime as above there will be no risk at all, so don‘t worry unduly about this.

There is no need to worm the young for tapeworm, as they will not catch these (if they ever do) until later.

 

Docking and dew claw removal in puppies

The docking of tails is now banned other than in exceptional circumstances, and vets who do it are liable to be disciplined by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons; please do not ask us to do it.

Hind dew claws in some breeds, especially working dogs, often catch on things and get torn and their nails usually grow round in a circle so cutting into the dog‘s flesh, and so we would usually recommend removing them.  In some breeds they don’t often cause problems and are indeed required to be there if you wish to show the dog, and we usually leave these on. Front dew claws do not cause many problems and so opinions differ as to whether these should be removed, however it is our opinion that it is a good idea in working dogs.  If you would like the dew claws removed please make an appointment straight away as it has to be done within 3-5 days of birth.

 

Weaning

This should start at about 3 weeks old.  The young are offered a mixture of freshly made up milk substitute and soaked puppy food or chopped meat/tinned food, egg yolk or baby rusks which is changed 4-5 times daily.  The consistency of this is gradually made thicker.  A bowl of fresh milk substitute or water should also be available at all times.  The quantity of mother‘s milk drops at about 5 weeks old and this is made up by the supplementary food which you provide for the pups or kittens.  During this time the mother may vomit up her food for the young to eat - this is not a sign of illness, but the way they used to do it before they had such things as Chum or Whiskas!

Fleas

Kittens and puppies are very susceptible to fleas, which can cause severe anaemia and death.  There is only one product licensed to use on puppies and kittens from 2 days of age, which is FRONTLINE SPRAY.  This is a spray you put on their coats that kills fleas and ticks but can't harm the pup or kitten.  It works well and lasts for a month from one application.

Vaccination

Pups and kittens receive antibodies from their mother‘s milk, as mentioned earlier.  When these are no longer useful, the young are very susceptible to infection.  Vaccinations are given to give the young immunity to certain common fatal diseases.

We recommend that puppies are vaccinated from 6 to 8 weeks and again at 10 weeks old against Distemper (Hardpad), Infectious Hepatitis, Leptospirosis, Parainfluenza and Parvovirus.  In some areas a third Parvovirus vaccination is given at about 17 weeks old, but we do not find this necessary here with the vaccine we use.  After the initial vaccinations an annual booster is necessary in all cases to keep their immunity high.

The vaccinations are not completely effective until 2 weeks after the second one and all pups should be kept away from the possibility of meeting ill or unvaccinated dogs until then. However we have never yet seen a problem from them meeting well vaccinated dogs and would always recommend that the new puppy is introduced to other puppies and  vaccinated dogs from one week after the first vaccination.

Kittens should be vaccinated at 9 and 12 weeks old against feline enteritis, cat ‘flu and Feline Leukaemia.  Cat ‘flu is not usually fatal, but many cats continue to carry the virus for life and may get recurrent bouts themselves or infect other cats.  Feline Leukaemia is a viral infection that kills approximately 13% of cats nationally. We probably see less cases than that locally, especially in rural areas, but the virus is always about. The vaccine is both safe and efficient. An annual booster is necessary to keep protection up against these diseases.

Socialisation

From about 5 - 15 weeks old, pups and kittens are especially impressionable.  The emotions they associate with types of people, cars, other animals or even vacuum cleaners are often life-long.  Therefore it is important to introduce them to as many different people or things as possible in a relaxed atmosphere, to avoid them carrying certain ‘hang-ups‘ through to their adult life.  Some of the litter will be noticeably more timid than others, so don‘t push these too much.

New Homes

Many breeders have different views on what age a pup should go to its new home and there are many differing factors involved.  We do not feel that it is possible to recommend one age to suit all animals, however they certainly shouldn‘t go to their new home before six weeks of age, and there is probably little advantage in keeping them with their mother after twelve weeks.  In practice, for pet dogs, the best age seems to be 8 weeks and for pedigree kittens the Governing Council of the Cat Fancy insists that they go at 12 weeks, and that they are fully vaccinated before leaving the mother.  It is wise to give them at least their first vaccination before they leave mum and the cost of this can be passed on to the new owner.  This will allow the pups or kittens to go and explore their new world that much sooner and also gives them the best protection against these highly infectious diseases.

We would always recommend that you have the pups checked by us before they go to their new homes to check for any abnormalities and congenital defects, as this can save a lot of heartache and expense later.