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Pet Health

Updated on January 8, 2017

Pets and their Care

With practically all pets, the proper care of the pregnant mother is the most important single item affecting the early health and life of the offspring. This is particularly true of cats and dogs, domesticated animals highly susceptible to internal parasites.


In dogs and cats the time of gestation is 63 days, though it may vary slightly in either direction. With rabbits the time is 32 days, goats 150, mares 336, and guinea pigs 63. During the first half of this time the pet should be checked by a veterinarian and wormed if necessary. Worms not only weaken the mother, but can infest the puppy or kitten while still in the embryo. Kittens and puppies are sometimes born so heavily infested that it is difficult to save them, even though they are given prompt attention after birth.

When checking for worms, the veterinarian can also determine if the pet's pelvis is normal and the birth likely to be without complications. All pets should have such a check during early pregnancy, particularly in the case of first pregnancy.

During this period the mother should be exercised daily, though the exercise should not be violent. Take the bitch for walks; allow the cat to run about outdoors if there is no danger of dogs, or play with it in the house. Some overly solicitous owners are inclined to avoid exercise for fear of injuring the mother. Actually she needs the exercise to keep her muscles and digestive system in shape.

As the period of pregnancy advances, the mother's need of food will increase. After about one month the bitch may well be given a second, though smaller, feeding daily. Cats will usually make their needs clear, and since they rarely overeat, it is safe to give them all they want. Milk, because of its calcium content, is a particularly good food at this time. Even so, the calcium and vitamins needed, especially vitamin D and A, may be greater than the pet can get in its food, and supplementary amounts of these should be added to the diet.

Diet during pregnancy is particularly important with rabbits, who need increased amounts of proteins and minerals during this time. Improperly fed does are apt to destroy their own young.

Preparation of Nests

Most pets make it quite clear when their birthing time is at hand. Several days before, the mother will begin to prowl restlessly about looking for a spot to prepare her nest and sometimes actually making it. When possible, it is best to let her choose her own place, since this is where, for some instinctive reason, she feels most secure. However, the dog may choose the middle of the guest-room bed, or the cat take the top shelf in the closet, and the owner must alter the decision. This is fairly easy with dogs, but the cat which has borne its kittens in a place not of its own selection may simply move them at the first opportunity. Sometimes it is well to prepare a second and more secluded bed for the cat. Put her in it several times in the days before the kittens are born, leave her there unmolested, and the chances are that when she moves her kittens, she will take them to this bed. There is, however, no guarantee of this.

The cat's nest should be kept, if at all possible, where prowling male cats cannot get at it, since sometimes they will destroy kittens, motivated probably by some little-understood primitive instinct.

Sometimes a female will show every sign of being pregnant and of preparing to bear young— and then nothing happens. This false or pseudo-pregnancy occurs with cats, rabbits, almost all animals, but it is particularly common with dogs. If a bitch is in heat and ovulates, which is normal whether or not she is mated, she may then exhibit practically all the symptoms of pregnancy: her breasts swell, her appetite increases, she may even go so far as to prepare a nest and, apparently, experience all the sensations of labor. She may then show a tendency to mother not only the puppies of some other dog but almost anything available. Newspapers frequently carry stories of dogs that have suddenly started to mother kittens, mice, birds, or other animals; such actions are nearly always the result of false pregnancies. There is nothing wrong with the bitch that does this, and it requires no treatment; it is simply the result or her not being mated while in season, or of the mating's proving sterile. Other animals that exhibit this tendency rarely carry it so far as the dog.

The whelping bed for a pet should be large enough for it to turn around in and lie down comfortably. The bedding should be soft and absorbent; straw, newspapers, old rags are good. Dogs tend to hollow out a nest so that the puppies will roll together. This helps to keep them warm, and it is less likely that they will be injured by the mother. Cats are so precise in their movements that kittens are rarely injured by the mother's lying or stepping on them.

Rabbits do not kindle (give birth) in their burrows, as many persons believe, but build a nest in tall grass, hiding it so artfully that it is practically invisible except to the mother rabbit. The nesting box for a rabbit, therefore, should be spread several inches deep with loose straw and leaves. The doe will hollow out a spot to suit herself, line it with her own hair, and probably cover it over with the leaves.

Birth of Young

The vast majority of pets can deliver and look after their young without difficulty, but the owner can often make it easier for them by intelligent help. Dogs and cats particularly seem to appreciate help during labor and to trust their young with the person who has helped them.

When labor begins, the uterus shortens and pressure pushes the puppy or kitten toward the pelvis. The mother lies flat, and gradually the young is pushed through the pelvis to fall on the floor of the litter box. It may appear head first or tail first—either way is perfectly normal. The membrane covering the baby may be torn in birth or it may be intact; normally the mother will turn and tear it with her teeth and begin immediately to stimulate the baby by licking it, at the same time clearing away the remnants of the membrane. There may be times, however, especially toward the end of a large litter, when the mother will be too weary to work on her new baby, or she may still be busy looking after the preceding one. In this case the attendant should immediately tear the membrane and remove it. This can be done easily with the fingers or a pair of small scissors. The navel cord should be cut about an inch from the puppy's body and tied with thread. The mouth and nostrils should be wiped clean of mucus, and the puppy wrapped in a towel and ruffled vigorously to stimulate the circulation as the mother normally does by licking.

Usually the placenta (the liverlike bit of tissue which during pregnancy is attached to the wall of the uterus, drawing food from the bloodstream and passing it along the navel cord to the fetus) will follow each puppy or kitten. But sometimes the cord attached to it may break, and the placenta will be expelled with the next baby. When such a break occurs, it is better for the attendant to take hold of the cord and pull gently, drawing the placenta free rather than leaving it to be pushed out by the next puppy. Sometimes a puppy or kitten may be only partly expelled; if so, the attendant should help, carefully, to remove it.

Small dogs will usually whelp in about three hours, large dogs in seven or eight, a cat in about two. Even the inexperienced attendant can usually tell, by gently feeling the belly of the mother, the position of the fetus; when the mother continues to strain and the fetus does not move within an hour or so, the mother should be taken to the veterinarian immediately.

It is also well to have the mother checked by a veterinarian after the last baby has been born. Sometimes exhaustion or other complications of birth may cause a fetus to be left unborn, or a placenta unexpelled, and this may cause infection. Unless the attendant is experienced enough to be able to detect this, it is best to have a check by the veterinarian.

If left untended, the mother will normally chew off the navel cord and eat the placenta. This is instinctive and the exact cause of it is unknown, but it probably stems from a primitive need to remove the odor of newborn animals so that other predatory animals will not find them. It also removes matter that would decay and cause possible infection. But it has never been shown that eating the placenta is in any way beneficial to the mother, and modern veterinarians believe it best to remove it without allowing the mother to eat it.

First Three Weeks

When the entire litter has been born, they should be allowed to nurse immediately, and it may be necessary to help some of them find a teat. Exceptionally large litters should be separated into two groups, and the attendant should make sure that each group gets its turn. Otherwise the weaker puppy or kitten may be pushed away unfed.

During the  nursing  period the  mother's  diet should be bland and mildly laxative, with increased feedings. Vitamin and calcium supplements should be continued.

If the litter is large or the mother's milk for some reason insufficient, it may be necessary to supplement it. It is comparatively simple to raise puppies, kittens, or young pets of other kinds by bottle feeding, but owners often make the mistake of feeding the animal the same type of milk that is given to human babies. The milk of dogs and cats more nearly resembles that of the cow than that of the human mother. A good formula for puppies is one half pint of evaporated milk mixed with an equal amount of water. The yolk of one egg and two tablespoonfuls of Karo sirup should then be beaten in. For kittens, straight cow's milk does quite well.

A baby bottle and nipple are probably the best means of feeding a young puppy. A hypodermic needle in the nipple next to the bottle's rim will let air in and keep the nipple from collapsing while the puppy suckles. For kittens, squirrels, and other very small animals, an eye-dropper may be necessary, or a doll's nursing bottle nipple. The milk should be heated to body temperature and given four or five times daily.

If the feedings are merely to supplement the mother's milk, they may be less frequent.

Ample clean padding should be kept in the nest during these first weeks. On a rough wooden or concrete floor the new pet, still in the crawling stage, may rub its navel raw, and infection may set in. If so, it should be treated promptly with tincture of iodine.

If the puppy's tail is to be docked, this is best done during the first week, though it can be done later.

Both puppies and kittens are born with their eyes closed; they open normally after nine to fourteen days. If the eyes have not opened within two weeks, they should be bathed with a warm saturated solution of boracic acid or a mild warm salt solution. If the eye seems to bulge before the lid opens, a veterinarian should be consulted immediately. Such bulging (fortunately rare) is caused by a pus infection of the eye membrane, but prompt treatment can usually save the sight.

Puppies, kittens, and raccoons should be checked for worms when about three weeks old, especially if the mother was not checked early in pregnancy. Worming is not advisable before the fifth week, but in cases of heavy infestation it may be necessary. External parasites are not as dangerous as the internal, but they can be a nuisance and dangerous in extreme cases. Mother and young should therefore be dusted with a good fresh flea powder. Most flea powders lose their effectiveness as they grow old, and when a flea powder is ineffective, it is usually because it is stale.

Later Feeding and Care

When puppies are about three weeks old, the bitch will sometimes vomit partially digested food in front of them and then help them eat it. This means it is time for the pups to start getting solid foods. Some of the prepared baby foods, liver and beef especially, may well be fed to puppies or kittens at this age. A stew of well-cooked meat and vegetables, the pieces cut small, makes a good food for the young. By the fourth week, chopped beef with mineral and vitamin supplement may be fed. Canned dog food, whole wheat bread, and the various dry dog foods can be offered after five or six weeks. Without such supplementary feeding, the growing youngsters may put too heavy a strain on the mother—though a cat will sometimes nurse one litter until she is well on the way to having another. If the feedings are increased gradually, the puppies or kittens will make less and less demand on the mother, and her milk will dry up naturally. There is rarely any need to bind or treat the teats. However, if this should be necessary, they should be rubbed thoroughly with camphorated oil.

A puppy should be weaned by the time it is six weeks old. At this stage it is fed four times daily. At about eight weeks the feedings are dropped to three a day, and this is continued until the pet is about six months old. Then two feedings a day are given to nine months, after which the dog needs to be fed only once a day, though cats can be fed more often if desired.

At about the time the puppy or kitten is weaned, it should be given a temporary distemper inoculation. This gives an immunity for only two or three weeks, but is all the puppy can utilize at this age. Puppies, kittens, raccoons should also be re-examined for worms at this stage and wormed again if necessary.

Many persons believe that the most superficial examination of a dog's stool will reveal whether any worms are present. Actually, microscopic and centrifugal tests are necessary. Different kinds of worms require different treatment, and a great many pets are destroyed each year by indiscriminate and sometimes unnecessary worming.

If the pup's ears are to be cropped, this should be done when it is about eight weeks old.

At nine weeks the puppy distemper treatment should be repeated. At three months the dog or cat should get its permanent immunization. About this age also, the puppy should be inoculated against rabies. Rabies is extremely rare in cats, and consequently they are not often inoculated.

If the dog or cat is to be altered, this should preferably be done between the ages of three and six months. It is commonly believed that the altered pet tends to become fat and sluggish, but there is no scientific proof of this. The altered pet is usually a house pet, and a house pet is apt to receive a minimum of exercise and a maximum of food; it may be that any tendency to fat among them can be traced more directly to this than to the operation.

In fact, the spayed female tends to have better health and to live longer than the one which has not been spayed. In both dogs and cats the incidence of cancer of the teats and of the genital tract decreases sharply among altered animals. With cats particularly, alteration makes a better household pet.


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