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Tuesday: 8:30 a.m.-7 p.m.
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The risks of pets' pregnancy

Aah, springtime, puppies and kittens. Pregnancy, labor and delivery in dogs and cats can be as wonderful as it is for ourselves but complications can also develop which can be serious (sometimes even life-threatening) to both the mother and the unborn puppies or kittens.

If one decides to breed a dog or cat it is important to care for and monitor the mother not only during the pregnancy, but also during labor and delivery. This means being in contact with one's veterinarian to discuss any tips and also to be prepared for any problems. This first article will focus on a brief overview of breeding. The second article will focus on pregnancy, labor/delivery and dystocia.

If you, as a pet owner, do not plan on breeding your dog or cat I would recommend scheduling her spay at your veterinarian's discretion. This will not only avoid unwanted puppies and kittens, but also avoid health problems and veterinary costs later in life. If you plan on breeding then it is important to know when dogs and cats are first able to reproduce and when it is appropriate to actually have them mate.

Males and females are sexually mature (able to reproduce) at about six months of age but are much too young to carry a litter. I have seen some that go into heat sooner or later (this is not a hard and fast rule), however, six months is a good estimate. This is a good time (if you have a female) to track what is called a heat cycle. Males are always ready to go (big surprise), however females go through specific estrous cycles (also known as "heat" or "being in heat") when they can become pregnant.

Dogs usually average two heat cycles per year about five months apart. There are a few breeds of dogs that only cycle once per year but a majority of dogs cycle twice per year. Dogs will have specific signs during a heat cycle where there will be a clear to slightly blood-tinged discharge from the private area and the privates will swell. A cat's heat cycle will vary depending on the ambient (outside) temperature and the photoperiod (the length of daylight hours). During warmer months cats can have a heat cycle every six weeks but when it cools off there can be much longer periods of time between heat cycles.

Unlike dogs, cats do not show physical signs of heat. Instead, they will exhibit a change in behavior such as crying, excessive rubbing, elevating the hindquarters, etc. A dog's heat cycle lasts about seven to 10 days whereas a cat's heat cycle sometimes continues until they either mate or get spayed. I have found it is a good idea to allow your pet to go through two or three heat cycles before breeding to allow the pelvis to mature and ease the labor and delivery.

Once the heat cycle is established it is time to find a mate, and it is good to find one before trouble occurs. A pet in heat is not a reflection of promiscuity rather an instinct to breed. I cannot tell you how many people waited too long to get their pets spayed or neutered and cannot believe that Fluffy would allow herself to, you know, on the first date.

A few times owners have allowed littermates to develop and some hanky-panky occurred. It will happen, so please plan ahead. Either spay and neuter or isolate your female during the heat cycle. For cats, one may need to bring her to the vet's office to help end the heat cycle.

If ready to breed, introduce the couple, and usually nature takes its course. Some people will use a breeder to facilitate the process but most times everything happens on its own. After breeding it is time to concentrate on pregnancy and labor/delivery. My next article will focus on pregnancy, labor/delivery, and dystocia.

Dr. Kearns is a veterinarian with a special interest in emergency and critical care. He has been in practice for eight years. Dr. Kearns is pictured here with his son Matthew and his cat, The One Eyed Guy.

 

Author: 
Matthew Kearns, DVM