First Aid for Pets

bandaged face cat in a bag





Generally bitches and queens manage to give birth with little help from us. This is just a brief overview of problems. For further information see Notes on Whelping.


  • Second stage labour (contractions and the birth of a pup/kitten) doesn't begin within 48 hours of first stage signs (behavioural changes such as nesting, anxiety, panting with a softening of the vulva, possibly a clear discharge and a drop in body temperature to 37.5°C).
  • The pregnancy is more than 63 days.
  • The bitch/queen has been actively straining for more than 2 hours without producing the first puppy/kitten.
  • The membranes, or "water bag", around the pup/kitten have ruptured but no pup/kitten presents within 30 minutes.
  • You can see parts of puppy/kitten, usually a leg protruding through the vulva, for more than 2 minutes.
  • One or some pups/kittens come out normally but no pups/kittens follow after 3 hours and you think more are to come.
  • If the bitch/queen appears unwell at any stage.
  • If the discharge from the vulva appears abnormal, there is a LOT of blood or if it smells.

Puppies/kittens can be born head-first or tail-first and breach births are not a cause for concern like in humans or many other animals.


What if the pup/kitten is half out of the bitch/queen and gets stuck?

This usually occurs because a hip or knee has got caught on the edge of the pelvic bones. It is very painful for the mother and the pup/kitten's umbilical cord is compressed so it is not getting blood supply from the mother. The pup or kitten can die rapidly.

If there is enough puppy or kitten to grasp apply firm steady traction of the baby so that the baby will end up on the mother's teats. Gently rotate a little side to side as this helps free the hips. If the puppy/kitten doesn't come then head to your nearest veterinarian.

What if the bitch/queen does not break the bag surrounding the pup/kitten?

Some first time mums don't know what to do. If the bitch/queen does not clean her pup/kitten then break the membranes away from around the head and mouth. This is usually enough to stimulate breathing. Try to encourage the bitch/queen to help. If mum still isn't interested then remove all the membranes (do not cut the cord) and rub the pup/kitten dry with a towel or cloth. Be thorough and reasonably firm. This helps stimulate activity including breathing.

What if the puppy/kitten isn't breathing?

Check for a heartbeat by placing thumb and forefinger each side of the newborn's chest just behind the elbow. If the heart is beating then clear the pup/kitten's mouth and nose by allow the head to drop down and cleaning them with a cotton bud. (Swinging the newborn is no longer recommended as it causes brain damage.) Rub the pup/kitten vigorously to stimulate breathing. You can also give the newborn mouth to face (where you breath into the mouth and nose) resuscitation but remember this is an extremely small animal and give only tiny buffs of air. Continue to stimulate the pup/kitten until either the heart stops or the newborn begins to breathe on its own.

What if the mother doesn't break the cord?

Wait at least 2 minutes so that the blood in the placenta returns the pup/kitten. The cord may appear to start to shrink. Tie the cord off about half a centimetre from the pup/kitten's body with a piece of thread or fine string. Tie tightly and use a square knot. Cut the ends of the string short (no more than a centimetre long) so they can't tangle around the newborn's legs but not too short or the knot will come undone. Cut the cord about a centimetre away from the knot.

What if the bitch/queen won't allow the pups/kittens to feed?

As long as you believe your pet has finished giving birth and is simply restless then sit with her and try to get her to calm down by stroking her and talking to her. Turn off or lower the lights. Try to get her to lie on her side and leave the pups/kittens to find their own way. Trying to place the pups/kittens on teats doesn't work and you need to let them figure it out for themselves. They are also very dumb about it. If she is still restless try taking her out to urinate. Sometimes just turning off the lights and leaving her to it works but do check her after 15 - 20 minutes. Ongoing restlessness may also be a sign that something is wrong so if she truly won't settle then have a veterinarian check her.

What if the bitch/queen can't or will not feed the puppies/kittens?

You will need to feed the litter. Start by weighing the pups/kittens and marking them in some way so you can tell them apart. Puppies and kittens need to be fed 20 % of their body weight daily divided between all feeds. Newborns should be fed every 2 hours and by weaning meals can be spaced to four times daily. Diluted condensed milk (50:50 with water) can be used in an emergency while human baby under 6 months' formula is even better. You can feed with an eyedropper or a syringe. Long term purchase a milk replacer made for pups or kittens and pet nursing bottles. Keep everything very clean.

If the mother is not taking care of her litter it is also necessary to toilet the pups/kittens otherwise they will not feed. Rub around the pup/kitten's bottom with a warm damp cloth. This stimulates the pup/kitten to urinate and defaecate. If a pup or kitten takes part of its meal then stops stimulate it to empty its bowel and bladder as this might be the reason it is not drinking.

If the bitch/queen abandons the litter?

New born pups or kittens need an ambient (air) temperature of 24 - 27°C to maintain their body temperature without their mother. It is a good idea to place hot water bottles or a big bottle of water in one part of the their box and have an area the pups/kittens can crawl to if they get too hot. The water temperature should not exceed 50°C. A heating light can also be used but again have a cool area in the box as well. Make sure the box is draft free and keep it very clean. You will need to feed and toilet the pups/kittens as above.

What if you find a cold but alive pup/kitten?

Often an abandoned pup/kitten is unwell and will not survive whatever you do. The most important thing here is to warm the pup/kitten. Try to place it back with its mum but if she won't accept it warm it up by placing it against your own skin under your clothing. Once warm (this can take half an hour or more) try to feed it. You can warm the pup or kitten on a hot water bottle but it is easy to overheat them or warm them too fast.


Milk fever is a problem that occurs in many animals and for different reasons. In this case I am referring exclusively to dogs. In the dog it occurs due to lowered blood levels of available calcium prior to parturition (giving birth) and the weeks following when the bitch is feeding the pups. Most commonly it occurs in small dogs with large litters. The bitch produces a lot of milk, which is rich in calcium. She does not obtain enough calcium through her diet or by removing it her own bones to make up the deficiency. Her blood levels drop causing calcium to be pulled into the blood stream from her muscles. This then causes the muscle to contract uncontrollably - causing tremors to full convulsions (it also affects the muscles of the heart). It can be fatal if left untreated.


  • Muscle tremours from mild twitching to full convulsions.
  • Panting.
  • Increased body temperature.
  • Red gums
  • Distress
  • Unwillingness to eat or drink.


  • Give a calcium supplement (not milk) by mouth.
  • See your veterinarian immediately.


  • Feed a good normal diet for adult dogs up to the birth. Do not increase the calcium unless under direction from your veterinarian.
  • After birth give your bitch a calcium supplement as directed for lactating bitches or feed your bitch puppy food.
  • If your bitch has had milk fever do not allow her to nurse pups ever again - in this litter and never allow her to have another litter.


This is where the mammary glands or teats become infected.


  • Hot, swollen teats
  • The teats are painful to touch.
  • The teats may feel lumpy and be discoloured. They may appear red or even bruised.
  • When milk is expressed it may be bloody or look like pus.
  • The skin might die and the teat might abscess.
  • Generally the bitch appears unwell, stops eating, may vomit and will be running a fever.


  • See your veterinarian as your pet will need medical treatment and may even need surgery.
  • Express the purulent milk from the glands or encourage the litter to feed off her if your veterinarian advises it is okay.
  • Hot and cold compresses alternatively help but should only be used after you pet has seen a veterinarian.

Once a bitch/queen has had mastitis it is more prone to it in subsequent litters.


Send mail to Administrator with comments or questions about this site                Fiona Anderson 2001