Pregnancy usually lasts 60 to 65 days but can be four days shorter or longer. By 35 days all of the kitten or pups’ physical characteristics are grossly evident. By 40 days, the eyelids, claws, hair, even skin colour are apparent and a few days later, skeletons are easy to see on x-ray. Good breeders know the signs that birth is imminent. The mother goes off her food and usually becomes restless before settling in the secluded nest the breeder has provided. Just before birth her temperature drops a degree or more.
Once the first pup or kit is produced others follow, usually within 30 to 60 minutes of each other. The entire process is normally over in less than six hours. Around 60 per cent of young come out head first and the remainder tail first. Breech births do occur and are one of the reasons for our intervention. Call us if unproductive labour lasts more than an hour, if a fetus is visible but contractions stop for more than ten minutes, if contractions continue for 20 minutes but the fetus is still not passed or if the number of afterbirths passed is less than the number of young produced.
Nature is more likely to make mistakes when development is rapid and this is certainly true for pets that develop in only two months from eggs and sperm to fully formed animals that can survive outside the womb. The obvious consequence of such rapid development is an increased frequency of developmental mistakes. Some of these ‘mistakes’ don’t survive birth itself while others die shortly after. Left to nature, one out of seven kittens or puppies, often the ‘runt’ of the litter, doesn’t survive. But more often than not, we intervene, by hand feeding them and by getting attention for physical problems such as large umbilical hernias. These “special needs” puppies and kittens need extra human attention to ensure their survival but it’s just as important to ensure they spend ample time with their mothers and littermates so that they not only survive but also develop their natural skills.