What is Breastfeeding?
So the new litter of kittens or puppies has finally arrived, and it doesn’t take long before they are hungry and snuffling around for their first meal. Breast feeding will be the way in which your pet will provide her litter with all their nutritional needs over the next few weeks until they are able to move on to solid foods.
The first meal this litter of newborns will receive is colostrum which is a special type of milk that the mother produces especially for the first couple of days of breast feeding. Colostrum contains antibodies that will help protect the litter form illness and infection until their own immune systems start to function.
Within about 48hrs, colostrum is replaced with mature milk which while lacking immune factors, contains all the appropriate nutrients and calories needed for optimal growth and development. New born puppies and kittens have demanding nutritional needs to support their energy levels and rapid growth rates.
What makes this even more taxing for nursing mothers is that many are not only nursing one offspring, but an entire litter which often range between 2 and 10 puppies or kittens. This means that breast feeding can be quite taxing on a nursing pet and it is quite common for them to lose weight during this time.
What Problems Can Occur During Breastfeeding?
There are few problems that can occur in the production of milk (lactation) as well as during the process of breast feeding. It is therefore important to keep a close watch on the litter and the breast feeding mother so that you can pick up on any problems and take necessary measures.
- Lactation problems – These include lactation failure, where no milk is produced, lactation depression where inadequate amounts of milk are produced, and deficient milk where quality of the milk is poor and lacking in nutrients. Puppies and kittens who are not receiving enough nutrients through breast feeding cry often and may seem frequently agitated. Monitoring weight gains in the litter to determine if they are developing at normal growth rates.
- Eclampsia – Unlike in humans where eclampsia is associated with blood pressure, eclampsia in dogs and cats is related to the levels of calcium present in the blood. In pets with large litters or those with nutritional problems, the majority of the calcium is lost to the milk so that the litter receives their nutritional needs. However, this can have a negative impact on the mother and can result in health problems such as muscle tremors and seizures. I if not treated Eclampsia can be life threatening.
- Mastitis – Mastitis is an inflammation or infection of the mammary glands. This can be a serious problem as the infection can contaminate the milk causing illness in the kittens or puppies. The mother can also become quite ill if the infection is not treated and the litter is likely to suffer due to maternal neglect or malnutrition.
Help for Breastfeeding
The most important thing that you can do for your breast feeding cat or dog is to provide them with a nutritionally rich diet and a constant supply of fresh water. Most breast feeding pets will eat on average between 1.5 and 3 times what they would normally eat in order to meet their own nutritional needs as well as those of their litter.
After about 5-6 weeks of breast feeding, most kittens and puppies will start showing an interest in solid foods and this is usually when the weaning process begins. Once they become more accustomed to solid foods, they will breast feed less, and as a result, the nursing mother should start to eat less. Most litters are completely weaned by 8 weeks.
There are a number of herbal and homeopathic remedies that can assist with the smooth process of breast feeding. Milk Thistle is an example of an herb that helps prompt the production of milk from breast feeding mothers, and because it also supports liver health, it helps to reduce the amount of toxins passed through the milk to the litter.
Another recommenced herb for breast feeding pets is Goat’s Rue which promotes milk production and encourages a steady flow for milk. It is also an effective at guarding against illness and infections and can help prevent infections such as mastitis in nursing pets.
Fennel and Borage are also useful in both the production of milk and the recovery process after birth. Both these herbal ingredients help with digestive functioning and bowel regulation, while Borage has excellent anti-inflammatory properties to assist with recovery.