Pet Talk: Caring for your pregnant pet

From College of Veterinary Medicine, Texas A&M University

Pregnancy can be an exhilarating time for both mothers and fathers. Taking special care of the mother-to-be’s nutritional needs, spending extended hours in the doctor’s office and preparing the home for a new arrival can all be a part of the exciting rituals expectant parents are encouraged to follow. Not surprisingly, these same precautions and preparations are also necessary for a pregnant pet.

Similar to a mother monitoring her caloric intake and eliminating unhealthy foods potentially harmful to the fetus, an expecting pet requires a nutritional diet that best supports her changing needs.

“A pregnant animal will require a caloric increase after 35 days of pregnancy, and will need twice as much food as she did before,” says Dr. Crist, a clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. “Unlike our mothers, expecting animals do not need a calcium supplement, as this can cause metabolic imbalances. Balanced diets for pregnant and lactating dogs require no further supplementation.”

Exercise is equally as important as nutrition. Physical activity provides excellent health benefits and will help your four-legged friend maintain a fit lifestyle.

“Exercising regularly during pregnancy is important to maintain good condition. Walking briskly is the safest form of exercise,” notes Dr. Crist. “Pregnant pets carrying large litters late in gestation may need to limit their exercise to short walks. Performance pets, such as agility, herding, field and advanced obedience animals, need to stop heavy training during pregnancy due to the risk of abdominal trauma and the potential stress to fetuses. Cats that are being shown at cat shows and in agility events will need to follow the same care.”

When the time comes for your pet to deliver, there will be several signs alerting you that she will be going into labor.

“The rectal temperature should be monitored when the gestation date arrives. When the temperature drops below 100 degrees Fahrenheit, labor will usually begin within 24 hours,” states Dr. Crist.

There are other ways to tell if your pregnant pet is ready to give birth. Dr. Crist adds, “The pregnant mother may also begin nesting behavior and try to find a quiet place to have the babies.”

There are several things to expect once your pet goes into labor and knowing the process will bring your attention to any difficulties that could arise during delivery.

“During the first stage of labor, the uterus will begin contractions. The pet will begin to pace and be very restless, sometimes panting, digging and shivering,” says Dr. Crist. “During the second stage of labor, the puppy is born. The third stage is the expulsion of the placenta and the afterbirth. Expect one puppy every 45 to 60 minutes. If the mother takes longer than a three-hour break or is straining hard for longer than an hour and has not produced a puppy, consult a veterinarian.”

After the precious newborns have arrived, you must now be prepared to take care of the little fur balls, as well.

“Newborns should spend their time sleeping and nursing during the first week,” notes Dr. Crist. “They should be weighed shortly after birth and gain about 5 percent to 10 percent of their birth weight daily. Those that do not gain weight are having trouble and should be evaluated by a veterinarian.”

In addition to adequate weight gain, Dr. Crist says there are other issues that should be carefully observed and, if necessary, addressed by a veterinarian.

“Puppies or kittens that cry constantly, nurse poorly or do not stay with the rest of the litter should be examined by a veterinarian,” states Dr. Crist. She further comments, “Puppies need to have their first visit with the veterinarian at the age of two weeks. During this visit, the puppies, along with their mother, will have their first de-worming for intestinal parasites with an anthelmintic. This is very important, as an intestinal worm burden can be detrimental to the puppy or kitten.”

Caring for your expecting companion and raising her newborns can be a gratifying experience. With the proper preparation and adequate knowledge, your pet’s pregnancy can be a smooth and easy process for both you and your furry friend.

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the Web at Suggestions for future topics may be directed to

From the Aug. 19-25, 2009 issue

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