Few things in life are cuter than a puppy or kitten! If you would like to let your dog or cat have a litter of puppies or kittens there are a number of things you need to know in preparation for the process.
The Heat Period
“Coming into season” or “going on heat”, is the time in a female dog (bitch) or cat’s (queen’s) life when they are receptive to a male animal and can mate to reproduce. Dogs and cats normally come on heat for the first time somewhere between the ages of 5 to 9 months. Smaller dog breeds mature earlier than larger or giant breeds, and will usually come on heat between 5 and 6 months of age. Large and giant dog breeds will usually come on heat after 6 months, sometimes only around 9 months of age. Cats on the other hand may in actually fact come into season as young as 4 months of age and therefore proper “family planning” is very important.
The “on heat” period in dogs range from 10 to 21 days. It is initially characterised by a swelling of the vulva and bleeding from the vulva (typically drops of blood from the vulva). Even though the bitch will be extremely attractive to male dogs in this period because of the high levels of oestrogen, they will not allow male dogs to mate with them and will usually turn around and snap at a male dog trying to mount them, or alternatively, will sit down. A bitch in the first part of heat may also lose her appetite and may not be very playful during this time. The initial phase of the heat cycle usually lasts 5 to 9 days.
After the initial phase of heat, the bleeding will diminish and the discharge usually turns from a pure red drop of blood to a more watery diluted, blood tinged discharge. The swelling in the vulva is also likely to go down a bit. This is the time when the bitch is really fertile and when she ovulates and she will become very receptive to male dogs mating with her, even to the point where she will seek out male dogs to mate with her. She may invite a male dog by pulling her tail to one side when the male dog approaches her. She will allow the advances of a male dog and stand still for him to mate with her. This may happen several times a day over a few days. Once the second phase of heat, which usually lasts between 6 and 12 days, is over, the swelling in the vulva will go down completely and the discharge will stop.
Bitches go on heat every 4 to 8 months. Exceptions to this rule are Basenjis, Tibetan Mastiffs and wolves, which only go on heat once a year. It is advisable not to breed dogs or cats at their first heat, since they will not have finished growing themselves, and could still for all intents in purposes be considered a puppy or kitten. Pregnancy at such a young age may stunt the growth of the mother, and will place undue demands on a still developing body.
Queens differ from bitches in that they do not bleed as overtly as dogs, when on heat. The first time your kitten goes on heat, you may think she is sick because of her peculiar behaviour. Cats on heat can become very vocal, hence the expression “they come calling” used for cats in season. They usually become very affectionate and become very active at night. You will most likely also hear the eerie noise of tom cats vocalising outside your home at night during the time your queen is on heat.
The physical changes are not as pronounced in cats as in dogs. Cats also differ from dogs in that they can go on heat every 3 to 4 weeks until they have been successfully mated and become pregnant. Cats are known as induced ovulators, meaning, they will only ovulate (release egg cells) and come out of the heat cycle, once they have been successfully mated.
A bitch will allow mating when she is ready. A male dog will mount her from behind. When mating is correctly performed, the male and female may become stuck and face in different directions. This lock (the coital tie), can last between 5 and 30 minutes. This is necessary for successful fertilisation. Vet’s often get a panic call from an owner stating that their dogs are stuck after mating, with a request of whether the dogs should be pulled apart. This should never be attempted. The female dog actually “locks in” the male dog, and trying to separate them by pulling them apart forcefully may cause severe damage. This process of “getting stuck” during mating is absolutely normal and nature should be left to run its course as the dogs will eventually come apart naturally.
Queens will allow mating repeatedly, resting around 20 minutes in between mating. The mating period in cats is very short as the tom has barbs on his penis which may cause discomfort for the female. The queen may also swipe at the tom during a mating. It is not unusual for a tomcat to bite into the scruff of the queen’s neck during the mating process.
As the receptive period of both the bitch and queen stretches over a few days and more than one egg is released to be fertilised, it is quite possible for different males to mate with them during this time, and therefore for the puppies or kittens to have different fathers.
It is important to note that dogs and cats should preferably only be mated once they are one year old.
In the next article we will look at Pregnancy, Birth and potential complications of the process and the early days of kittens and puppies’ lives.