Pregnancy in pets

This week I am dedicating the column to pets owners who are interested in breeding their female pets. This topic is very wide, hence I will address this topic with a series of three articles. This week’s article will focus on the pregnancy aspect -breeding and caring for the pregnant mother. Next article will describe the delivery and post partum period. The third article will focus on the care of the puppies/kittens.
Bitches reach puberty at around 9-10 months of age (but it could happen any time between 6-24 months of age) Queens (female cats) usually reach puberty at 6-9 months of age (it might range between 5-12 months of age).
The estrus cycle differs between bitches and queens. In bitches there are two phases. The first phase is called “Proestrus” it usually lasts in average 9 days, where the dog has swelling of her genitalia and a bloody discharge, in this period the bitch attracts other males but will not allow mating. The second phase also lasts in average about 9 days. In this period the bitch will be receptive to males and allow mating. There is usually less blood in the dog’s discharge, but this is not a reliable sign of optimal mating time, the dog receptiveness toward mating is a better sign. If you want to know the optimal timing for mating you should consult your veterinarian. The optimal time for mating is around the ovulation. The most accurate method of checking the dog’s reproductive status is by blood tests, but a simple microscopic exam of a smear from the dog’s genitals can help evaluating the best time for mating based on changes in the vaginal cell’s characterisation. In general it is recommended to start the breeding as soon as the bitch becomes receptive and to breed every other day as long as the behavioral estrus lasts.
In Queens it is a whole different story, Female cats are “ployestrus” it means that they may have estrus cycles continuously throughout the year. Queens also have two phases in their cycle. The first phase- Proestrus is usually characterized by increased affection behavior, vocalization, rubbing, it a short phase that typically lasts 1-2 days. The estrus symptomes are simillar and the queen allows mating. The main difference between queens and bitches is that queens will only ovulate during mating, hence there is no optimal timing for mating.
In general the pregnancy length in both dogs and cats is 63 days (about 9 weeks). In the first 3-4 weeks you will hardly notice any change in your pet. Later on you might notice some weight gain, especially in the belly area and also enlargement of the nipples. Pregnancy can be diagnosed easily by a blood test early into the pregnancy or by ultrasound or x ray in the second half of the pregnancy.
It is very important to maintain the pet on a good quality diet, 2-3 weeks before the due date you can feed your pregnant pet a puppy/kitten food which is richer in nutrients. Supplementation of Calcium is not recommended and might even cause damage.
It is very important to keep the pet current on it’s vaccines before the breeding. The mother passes immunity to the offsprings through her milk. If the mother is vaccinated the better chances that the offsprings will be strong and healthy.  Deworming and flea control is also recommended to be given prior to the pregnancy.
Please consult your veterinarian about more information about pregnancy and which pet products are safe to use while your pet is pregnant.