Welcoming a new litter of puppies or kittens into the world is an exciting time for pet owners. However, caring for an expecting mother dog or cat is a big responsibility and requires ample preparation to ensure you are ready to care for them in an unexpected emergency. Most pets, especially cats, have no problems during or after pregnancy. However, pregnancy complications can occur in any breed, and at any age. Our Animal Emergency Care team describes common pregnancy complications in pets and the signs that indicate they need immediate care.
What are pregnancy complications in pets?
Pregnant pets are most at risk of problems during labor and immediately after giving birth. Pet owners must understand pregnancy basics so that they recognize any problems. Cats and dogs are pregnant for approximately 63 days, and fetuses are visible on X-ray after 45 days into pregnancy. Your pet will become restless 20 hours before labor and their temperature will decrease to 98 or 99 degrees. The most common complication during labor is dystocia which occurs when a puppy or kitten becomes stuck in the birth canal due to their position or size. Certain dog breeds including French bulldogs, Boston terriers, pugs, and Chihuahuas have an increased dystocia risk because of their size and body conformation.
Mother pets are at risk for other complications during the weeks following giving birth including:
- Metritis — This condition occurs when your pet’s uterus is inflamed because of trauma during birth or a retained placenta.
- Pre-eclampsia and eclampsia — Some mothers cannot manage the calcium demand of their growing fetuses or from nursing puppies or kittens, and develop dangerously low calcium levels. This condition is more common in toy-breed dogs.
- Mastitis — Mastitis is a painful, inflammatory condition of the mammary glands that can occur during and after pregnancy, and is caused by a bacterial infection.
Pregnancy complication signs in pets
Labor can take up to 24 hours and depends on the number of kittens or puppies in the litter. Birth complication signs may include:
- Absence of labor signs more than 24 hours after a mother‘s body temperature has decreased
- Strong contractions for more than 30 minutes that do not result in a birth
- More than four hours between births
- More than 70 days of gestation
- Extreme pain including vocalization and excessive panting
- Excessive vaginal bleeding
Pets will normally experience a fever for 24 to 48 hours after giving birth and may experience vaginal discharge for eight weeks. However, fever for more than 48 hours or foul smelling vaginal discharge,commonly signal metritis. Other postpartum complications may include these signs:
- Decreased appetite
- Lack of interest in their young
- Inability to stand
- Muscle stiffness
- Painful gait
- Difficulty breathing
Pregnancy complication treatments in pets
Immediately bring your pet for a veterinary examination if they are showing pregnancy or postpartum complication signs. Pets who are experiencing a dystocia will likely require a Cesarean section to remove the litter. Your veterinarian may recommend blood tests and imaging such as X-rays prior to surgery to determine the number of fetuses, and the mother’s overall health. Additional treatments may include:
- Intravenous (IV) fluids
- Localized pain control
- Spay surgery following delivery of the litter
- Heart rate and blood pressure monitoring
- Body temperature monitoring and regulation with specialized warming pads
Your veterinarian may recommend additional blood tests to check for an infection or calcium levels if your pet is showing postpartum complication signs. Treatment for postpartum complications may include:
- IV calcium
- IV fluid therapy
Payment options for pregnancy complications in pets
Dystocia surgery and treatment for post-pregnancy complications may require an extended hospital stay in addition to several follow up appointments, and can result in a large veterinary bill. However, pet health insurance like Trupanion will ensure you can cover your pet’s emergency care expenses for pregnancy complications. Trupanion will pay your veterinary clinic directly which eliminates the need to submit paperwork and wait for reimbursements. Other alternative payment options include:
- Care Credit
- Scratch Pay
- Pet health savings account
- Short-term loans
Pregnancy complication prevention for pets
The only guaranteed way to prevent pregnancy complications is sterilization by spaying or neutering your pets. Pregnancy-related complications are always a possibility. Proper care during and after pregnancy is vital to decrease the risk of complications and should include the following:
- A diet that is Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO)-approved for pregnancy, and nursing
- Wellness veterinary examinations to confirm pregnancy
- Veterinary examination and X-rays after 45 days of pregnancy to determine the number of puppies or kittens
- Regular walks but not intense exercise
- Isolation from other pets in the final three weeks to prevent the mother from contracting any infections
Immediately contact your family veterinarian if your pet is experiencing pregnancy complications or bring them to Animal Emergency Care if they need help after hours. #AECprevents