Labor in pets

This is the second article in the series of articles about breeding pets. In the last article I described the estrus cycle and pregnancy in bitches and queens. This week’s article focuses on the actual labor and the post partum care of the new mother. Next article will describe the care for the puppies/kittens.
Pregnancy in pets lasts in average 63 days. Labor and delivery of animals is called “whelping”. It is recommended to prepare a “whelping box” for the mother to deliver in. The box should be padded with blankets. the box sides should be low enough for easy access for the mother, but prevent wondering off of the newborns. In general animals prefer to deliver in private in a dark quiet place. I recommend to let the mother be familiar with the box  few days before the expected delivery.
There are some signs that can help you predict when your pet is going to start the whelping. First sign is the animal body temperature. Normal body temperature is between 99-102.5 F degrees, it typically drops in 2-3 degrees 18-12 hours before the delivery starts. The pet will also show behavioral changes such as restlessness, licking her vulva, discomfort and heavy panting.
Along with the restlessness the animal will show nesting signs by digging and nose borrowing in the whelping area. When the active labor starts the animal will pant heavily and you might notice contractions of her belly. The actual delivery of the puppy/kitten resembles a bowl movement motion. The Puppy/kitten may be delivered while still in the amniotic sac, normally the mother tears the sac and licks the newborn vigorously to trigger breathing. The placenta my be delivered along with the newborn or shortly afterwards. Typically the mother eats the placenta and the amniotic sac, and tears the umbilical cord by herself. The newborns are born with an instinct that guides them to find the nipples and start nursing shortly after the delivery. If the newborn wonders off away from the mother, you should place it closer to the mother’s abdomen to encourage nursing.
Normally whelping is a natural process which does not not require intervention, but sometimes problems may occur, and it is important to know when to intervene.
Here are some points to monitor, if you have a concern with any of the following you should contact your veterinarian as soon as possible:
The mother should have the first newborn within 24 hours from the time the body temperature has dropped below 99F.
The actual delivery of each newborn, which is characterized by strong contractions, should not last more than 30-60 minutes.
The period between each newborn delivery should not excess 4 hours.
Occasionally the mother does not show interest in one or more of the newborn, if the newborn is born in the amniotic sac you should teat the sac immediately and rub the animal vigorously to trigger it’s breathing reflex. You can tie the umbilical cord with a thin string such as dental floss. Clean the puppy and place in near the mother’s nipples.
It is highly recommended to take the mother to be checked by a veterinarian prior to the delivery. Ultrasound exam or x ray can help evaluating the number of newborns expected. Also the position of the babies is important to help foresee problems in the delivery.This important data will help you assess if the mother is in trouble while whelping.
Some breeds are more prone to having problems whelping. Especially animals with wide face and narrow pelvis, for example Boxers, Pugs and Persian cats. In those cases a Cesarean section might be required.
In the first few days after the delivery you should expect a dark greenish blackish discharge from the mother’s genitals. This is normal process and might take 4 weeks to cease. The amount of the discharge should decrease with time. If the amount of the discharge does not decrease and becomes foul smelling there might be a uterine infection. If that is the case take your pet to see your vet.
It is essential to feed the mother good quality of puppy/kitten food so ensure she will get enough nutrients for her and the newborns needs. A common complication is Calcium deficiency,it is typically characterized by neurological symptoms such as twitching, nervousness and convulsions. This condition is life threatening and requires immediate veterinary attention.
Another common possible complication is Mastitis- inflammation of one or more mammary glands. In this condition, the affected gland will be enlarged, warm and very painful. The body temperature will typically be elevated. This condition as well, requires immediate veterinary attention.
This topic is very wide, the article is just a brief review on the delivery process and post partum period care of the mother. Please contact your veterinarian for additional information about this important topic.