Birthing 101

While dogs and cats are usually well-prepared to give birth on their own, there are times when you'll need to don your midwife's hat and lend a hand.

Sometimes, for example, the puppy or kitten will come only halfway out, despite the mother's persistent straining. When that happens, you may need to assist the birth, says Victor M. Shille, D.V.M., Ph.D., professor emeritus of theriogenology at the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine in Gainesville and editor of the veterinary journal Theriogenology.

While someone holds your pet's head to prevent her from lashing out, gently grasp the young one with a clean towel and pull firmly. If it doesn't slide out quickly and easily, stop pulling and call your veterinarian immediately, Dr. Shille says.

Once a puppy or kitten is born, the mother will usually instinctively tear off the amniotic sac (if it's still covering the body), sever the umbilical cord and roughly lick the baby to stimulate its breathing and circulation. But if she hasn't taken action within about 30 seconds, it's probably time for you to step in.

To remove the amniotic sac, start at the baby's mouth and work backward, peeling it off with your fingers. Gently clean the mucus from the mouth with your finger, then rub him vigorously for several seconds with a clean terry towel or washcloth.

At this point you should step back and encourage your pet to lick her baby and sever the umbilical cord. If she doesn't follow through in about a minute, you'll have to cut the cord yourself.

Cut two pieces of sewing thread and wet them in alcohol. Tie them snugly around the cord about 1 1/2 inches from the young one's tummy and 3 or 4 inches from the placenta. Snip the cord between the threads with sharp, sterilized scissors, then dab the end of the cord with iodine to prevent infection.

With the cloth, vigorously rub the puppy or kitten again, holding him head-down to allow secretions in his nose, mouth and ears to run out. Then check his breathing. "If he squeaks, you know he's breathing," says Dr. Shille. "But you can look closely and tell, too," he adds.

Once you're sure the puppy or kitten is in good working order, place him facing his mother's nipples and let her take over.

1. Grasp the emerging pup or kitten with a terrycloth towel or washcloth and gently pull it free.

2. Starting at the mouth, peel away the amniotic sac.

3. Clean the mucus from the mouth with your finger.

4. Rub the newborn vigorously with a clean cloth.

5. Tie two pieces of sterilized thread around the umbilical cord about 1 1/2 inches from the tummy and 3 or 4 inches from the placenta. Using sharp, sterilized scissors, snip the cord between the threads.

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