What is Lactation?
A mother’s milk provides the perfect start for the healthy growth and development of your pet’s newly born puppies or kittens. This lactation or nursing process is when milk is secreted from a mother’s mammary glands to provide nutrition for her young; and anyone who has ever watched a litter of nuzzling puppies or kittens nursing on their mother will know what amazing and beautiful process this is.
Newborn puppies and kittens have demanding nutritional needs as they are growing and developing at such rapid rates. In fact, both puppies and kittens usually double in weight by the time they are 10 days old!
Nursing cats and dogs have to meet these high nutritional demands of an entire litter and so it is no surprise that they require a healthy balanced diet and they should be eating between two and three times more than they would usually eat. Nursing moms also need plenty of fresh water and should drink more than usual during lactation.
The first meal that a new litter receives after birth is Colostrum which is the first milk that is produced by a lactating mother after she has gone through labor. This type of milk is important for young puppies and kittens as it is full of anti-bodies and the mother’s natural immunities which help guard against illness and infection until the puppies and kittens own immune systems start to develop.
It is also the most nutritionally appropriate food for the dietary needs and digestive requirements of newborns. After about 2-3 days, the mother’s milk will change to more mature milk which is richer in calories, but contains none of the same immune factors as the colostrum.
This mature milk will supply the new puppies or kittens with all their dietary requirements for the next 5-6 weeks, after which they will probably become more interested in what mom’s eating. At this stage, soft kitten or puppy food can be introduced to help wean them off mother’s milk. Once they become more accustomed to solid foods, they should start nursing less, and in turn mother should start to eat less.
What Problems Affect Lactation in Pets?
There are three main problems that can occur in lactating mothers, including lactation failure, lactation depression and deficient milk.
- Lactation failure (agalactia) – This occurs when no milk is produced by the mammary glands. When this occurs the puppies or kittens do not receive any nourishment and will cry incessantly and fail to gain weight. Lactation failure is very serious and if measures aren’t taken the litter will die. Bottle feeding is necessary until the problem is resolved, or until the litter can be weaned onto solid foods.
- Lactation depression or (dysgalactia) – this is the most common lactation problem and it often occurs without a known cause. Lactation depression is when the mammary glands are functioning, yet they are unable to produce enough milk to meet the nutritional needs of the litter. Signs that the mother may not be producing enough milk include puppies or kittens pull at the teats or cry more than usual. You may also notice that the litter does not nurse for continuous lengths of time, but that they still seem hungry. By monitoring weight gains in the litter you will be able to see if they are getting enough milk as lactation depression often leads to stunted growth and reduced weight gains.
- Deficient milk – this occurs when milk is produced in sufficient quantity but lacks some of the nutrients required for the litter’s growing needs.
Help for Lactation
Lactation is a natural and beautiful process, but when things go wrong, it helps to know that the natural ingredients of herbal and homeopathic remedies can assist to restore balance and help stimulate the production of milk.
Milk Thistle is an excellent tonic herb that helps prompt the production of milk from nursing mothers while also supporting the liver therefore reducing the amount of toxins passed through the milk to the litter.
Another recommenced herb for lactation is Goat’s Rue which also helps promote milk production as well as the steady flow for milk. It is also an effective at guarding against illness and infections and can help prevent bacterial 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.