Caring for your Pregnant Dog or Cat


Information for dog owners

The following information is aimed at ordinary dog owners rather than dog breeders. It is only a summary and we recommend researching the subject more thoroughly so that you are well prepared for all eventualities. ‘The Book of the Bitch’ by J.M. Evans and Kay White is a good place to start and we are more than happy to discuss any aspect of your dog or cat’s pregnancy with you in more detail.


Should your pet be bred?

With thousands of unwanted dogs and cats being cared for in rescue centres across the UK, it is has never been more important to be sure that you can guarantee good homes for your litter.

It is important to consider the safety of your pet. Very young or old pets, pets in poor condition or certain breeds of dog or cat have an increased risk of complications during pregnancy and labour and may have difficulty rearing their young.

It is essential to consider the commitment required in terms of both time and finances. For example, it is not uncommon for an emergency caesarean section to be required and it may even become necessary to hand rear the puppies or kittens.

If you are considering breeding from a pedigree animal then it is important to investigate any inherited conditions. There are several health schemes in operation to assist in the prevention of certain diseases – see links to BVA Health Schemes and Kennel Club websites.

Feeding your pregnant pet

A standard adult pet food won’t provide all the extra nutrients required during pregnancy, therefore, it is best to change your pet’s diet to a commercially produced puppy food for dogs and kitten food for cats.

The new food should be introduced gradually over five days from approximately the fourth week of pregnancy, as the developing foetuses start to place extra demands on the mother-to-be.

The amount that you feed your pet should be based on the manufacturer’s guidelines found on the food packaging and can be adjusted according to her body condition.

The puppy or kitten food should continue to be fed to your pet throughout lactation and gradually reduced as the puppies or kittens start to wean at around four weeks of age.


Preparation of a nesting area for cats –

During the final week or so of pregnancy, cats start to search for a nesting area and should ideally be confined indoors at this point.

Providing a suitable nesting box, such as a cardboard box, in the last two weeks of pregnancy allows time for your cat to become familiar with it. The box should be large enough to allow her to stand up, turn around and lie out flat to feed her kittens.

Cover the top with a towel to provide privacy and use newspaper and towels as bedding. The box should be placed in an area with minimal human traffic and separated from other pets in the home.

Labour in cats

Thankfully, problems during labour are uncommon in the average, healthy “moggy”, although difficulties may occur more frequently in pure bred cats.

Pregnancy generally lasts for 63 to 65 days (approximately nine weeks). An average litter size is four kittens however litter sizes can vary from one to twelve kittens, and first litters are usually smaller.

Whilst it is important to supervise the birth from a distance, it is equally important to leave your cat in peace and quiet and as undisturbed as possible.

Several hours (and perhaps a whole day) of restlessness, grooming, nesting, pacing, panting and crying indicates that labour has begun.

The first stage of labour progresses to the second stage of labour with the initiation of hard contractions with straining and the birth of a kitten. The third stage of labour refers to the passing of the placenta.

The entire litter is usually born within six hours with kittens arriving every 10 to 60 minutes. The new mother usually breaks the membranes, licks the kitten intensively and breaks the umbilical cord before eating the placenta and membranes of the kitten’s sac.

Labour in dogs

Pregnancy lasts on average for 63 days but can vary from 56 to 72 days. Litter sizes can range from one puppy in miniature breeds to over 15 in giant breeds.

Several days before whelping, the bitch’s behaviour may alter. She may become restless, seek seclusion or become more attentive and may refuse food.

During first stage labour, uterine contractions begin. The restless behaviour increases and she may pace, dig, tear up and rearrange bedding, shiver, pant or even vomit. This preparatory stage normally lasts between six and twelve hours before the bitch progresses to the second stage of labour.

In the second stage, the uterine contractions increase in intensity and abdominal straining begins, foetal fluids are passed and a puppy is expelled. The third stage refers to the expulsion of the placenta and afterbirth

Expect one pup on average every 45 to 60 minutes (varies from 5 to 120 minutes) with 10 to 30 minutes of hard straining. It is normal for bitches to take a rest part way through delivery, and she may not strain at all for up to four hours between pups.

Puppies are born covered in membranes that must be cleaned away, or the pup will suffocate. The mother will bite and lick the membranes away. Allow her a minute or two after birth to do this; if she does not do it, then you must clean the pup for her. Simply remove the slippery covering and rub the puppy with a clean towel.

Whelping is usually completed within six hours after the onset of second stage labour, but may last up to 12 hours.


Reasons to call the Veterinary practice

  • There is a greenish vulval discharge indicating placental separation, but no puppy or kitten is born within two to four hours
  • Foetal fluid was passed more than two to three hours ago, but nothing has happened since
  • 20 to 30 minutes of strong, regular straining occurs with no puppy or kitten being produced
  • Greater than two to four hours pass between puppies or kittens and you know there are more inside
  • There is weak, irregular straining for more than two to four hours
  • Your bitch or cat has been in second stage labour for more than 12 hours
  • If a puppy or kitten appears to be stuck in the birth canal and is partially visible
  • Your bitch or cat is in obvious extreme pain
  • If you have any concerns – it is better to contact your Vet for advice sooner rather than later.

Possible complications

Complications can include the retention of foetal membranes, metritis (inflammation / infection of the womb) and mastitis (inflammation / infection of the mammary glands).

If your pet is unwilling to settle, is dull and lethargic, refuses food, seems to have pain, stops drinking or drinks more, or has an abnormally persistent or smelly vaginal discharge (normal discharge is odourless and may be green, dark red-brown or bloody and may persist in small amounts for up to eight weeks), then she should be seen by the Vet.

Lactation tetany or eclampsia is caused by low blood calcium levels due to the huge demand of milk production. Signs include nervousness and restlessness, no interest in or even aggression towards the pups or kittens, incoordination, muscle spasm, collapse and fitting – if you see these signs your pet needs to be seen urgently by a Vet.

Pet Health Information

Find out more

To assist owners in understanding more about a general pet health conditions we have put together a range of information sheets to talk you through some of the more common health concerns seen and treated by our General Practice Vets.