It’s officially spring on the calendar although it hasn’t felt very spring-like so far. And before anybody asks about Puxatawny Phil’s poor prognosticating skills, no, not even us vets know what happened there.
Springtime is the time for renewal, including all the new additions to animal families. We’ve previously addressed wildlife, but this week, we’ll discuss the birth of puppies and kittens.
The process of birth for dogs is called whelping and occurs after approximately 63 days of gestation. A few days beforehand, the mother dog (called a dam) will often start looking for a place to have her puppies. Breeders provide a whelping box which can be as elaborate as a hand-made wooden pen or as simple as a plastic kiddie pool and is lined with bedding such as newspaper. The dam’s temperature often drops from the normal 100.5-102.5 degrees down to below 100.0 before she starts into labor. She will start to actively nest in her area and will start to produce milk. She usually will stop eating become restless and start panting. When contractions commence, the puppies usually start being delivered fairly quickly. Puppies can be born head first or back end first and both of these presentations are considered to be normal. For the vast majority of dogs, instinct takes over and after the puppy is out, the dam will start to clean it, removing the sack and chewing through the umbilical cord. After she delivers the placenta, she will usually eat it — yes it’s disgusting, but in the wild, it probably helps to protect the litter by decreasing the odor of the birth.
Puppies are born deaf and blind, but they are mobile and will squirm their way to the dam’s nipples and begin nursing right away. It is important that they do this because the first milk they receive, the colostrum, is rich in antibodies to help protect the puppy from disease until he can start producing his own.
Litter size varies considerably from two to four in smaller breeds to ten or more in larger breeds. Smaller breeds of dogs are more prone to having difficulty whelping because compared to the size of the dam, the puppies are relatively bigger than in larger breeds. There have been many nights we have been called in to do an emergency cesarean section, but it is very rewarding to hear the squeaky cries of the healthy newborn puppies.
The process of birth in cats, called queening (the mother cat is called a queen) is very similar to that of dogs. The vast majority of cats have no problem at all delivering their kittens. Litters are usually two to five. The interesting thing about cats is that they are reflex ovulators. That means that during their heat cycle, they will ovulate each time they are bred. Because of this, one litter can have more than one sire, hence the difference in the appearance of the kittens.
Some pet owners want their pets to have a litter to give their family the experience of watching a birth. However, breeding is best left to the experienced breeders. There is always a risk that something could do wrong and there are also far too many unwanted pets out there. It is better to have your pet spayed or neutered and watch video of a birth. If you have any other questions about whelping or queening, please contact us or a reputable breeder.