Caring for Your Pregnant Dog
Having puppies may sound easy and fun, but there is actually quite a bit of work that you need to do both before and after your dog gives birth. Proper planning and care can do a lot to minimize complications. Here is some information to help you better understand pregnancy in dogs, and how to care for both the pregnant mom and the puppies.
If you’re considering breeding your dog, there is so much information that you need to familiarize yourself with. You should understand the breed standard and know what specific health tests are recommended for that breed. You should also understand how to raise healthy, well-socialized puppies.
There is a terrible canine overpopulation problem, with an average of 1800 unwanted shelter dogs euthanized every day in the United States (ASPCA Pet Statistics, aspca.org). Please always consider spaying your dog if the litter is unwanted or unplanned.
Dog Pregnancy Facts
A dog is pregnant for 62-64 days. It can be difficult to predict the exact day of delivery, however, because the date of mating is not always the date of conception. The length of pregnancy can also vary a little bit depending on the breed and the size of the litter.
Pregnancy can be diagnosed in dogs after day 28, by ultrasound. There is also a blood test for a hormone called relaxin that your vet can perform at the same time to confirm pregnancy. X-rays can be a very helpful tool in pregnancy diagnosis, but they cannot be performed until day 45. They are the most commonly recommended diagnostic test, however, because x-rays can help to determine litter size, which will, in turn, tell you when your dog is finished delivering.
Signs of Pregnancy in Dogs
- Bigger belly
- Increased appetite
- Increased nipple size and possible color change
- Increased weight
- Decreased activity
- Mucoid discharge from the vulva
- Behavioral changes (such as nesting, increased affection, or irritability)
How to Care for Your Pregnant Dog
A pregnant dog needs a balanced, nutritious, highly digestible diet. Talk to your vet about whether they recommend your dog’s current food or a gradual change to a food approved for growth, such as puppy food or a performance diet. About 3 weeks into pregnancy, it’s common for a pregnant dog to experience some nausea and appetite loss, similar to morning sickness. This should resolve on its own within a week.
Calcium supplementation during pregnancy is discouraged, as this suppresses your dog’s natural calcium-releasing hormones. This can create a dangerous health situation when she is nursing and needs extra calcium. As long as she is on a good quality diet, supplementation is unnecessary.
In the 5th week of pregnancy, you will need to start increasing your dog’s food intake. Make sure that the meals are in smaller, more frequent portions. Your dog will be unable to eat large meals because the growing puppies occupy a lot of space in her abdomen.
Regular exercise helps an expectant mother keep up her strength and discourages obesity. Make sure to only engage in mild exercises, like walking. Although obesity can be a common health problem at this time, pregnancy is not the time for a weight loss program. Intensive running, obedience, and showing are also too stressful.
Make sure to avoid anything strenuous in the last 3 weeks of pregnancy. All contact with other dogs should be avoided in the last 3 weeks, as well, to prevent herpes infection. Canine herpesvirus causes a minor cold in adult dogs but can cause abortion during pregnancy, as well as death in newborn puppies.
A dog should not be vaccinated during pregnancy, as it can harm the developing puppies. But it is very important that your dog has maternal antibodies to pass on when her puppies nurse. For this reason, it is crucial to discuss your dog’s health with your vet prior to mating. Your vet can ensure that your dog is healthy enough for pregnancy, up to date on all vaccines, and free from intestinal parasites that she could pass to her puppies.
How to Prepare a Whelping Box
A whelping box is a safe, warm, easily cleaned location for your dog to have her puppies. It can be a specially purchased whelping box or something that you make at home using items you may already have, such as large Tupperware storage containers or a children’s wading pool.
The whelping box should be easy for the mother to get out of, but keep the puppies contained. It should be placed in a quiet area of the house where your pregnant dog can feel safe and comfortable. Make sure to take some time to get your dog used to the whelping box before her due date. This will also allow you to make changes in bedding or location should she show a preference to “nest” in other spots.
When the time draws near, you will want to start measuring your dog’s temperature every day. Your vet can show you how to properly take your dog’s temperature at a prenatal health visit.
A normal temperature for dogs is 100-102.5 degrees Fahrenheit. A drop in temperature to 99 degrees or lower usually precedes labor by about 8 to 24 hours. If your dog fails to go into labor within 24 hours of her temperature dropping, contact your vet.
Stages of Labor
During the first stage of labor, uterine contractions begin. Your dog may pace, tremble, pant, or even vomit. These are all normal behaviors and do not require any intervention on your part. Just ensure that she has free access to water and be prepared to wait 6-12 hours until the cervix is dilated and birthing begins.
In the second stage of labor, there are stronger uterine contractions and the puppies are born. Expect one puppy every 45-60 minutes, with 10-30 minutes of hard straining. If your dog is straining hard for over an hour with no puppy coming out, contact your vet right away. Do not be alarmed if some of the puppies are born tail first, as this is not an abnormal position for dogs.
Puppies are born in individual membranes that the mother will tear off immediately following the birth by vigorously licking the puppy. Allow her a minute or two to do this. If she doesn’t, you will have to clean the puppy for her because newborn puppies cannot survive more than a few minutes before their supply of oxygen runs out. Simply remove the slippery covering and rub the puppy with a clean towel until you hear him cry.
The mother should also sever the umbilical cord as she cleans her puppies. If she doesn’t, it is up to you to cut the cord and tie it off about one inch from the belly. You can use unwaxed dental floss to tie the cord. Be careful not to pull on the umbilical cord, as this can injure the puppy.
It is normal for a pregnant mom to take a rest part way through delivery, and she may not strain at all for up to 4 hours in between puppies. If she goes longer than 4 hours without straining, and you know that she has not given birth to all of the puppies, contact your vet right away.
The third stage of labor is the passing of the placenta. This may happen after each puppy or occur at the end of labor. The mother may want to eat the placentas, but this is not a good idea as it is commonly followed by vomiting. Be sure to clean up each placenta and dispose of it yourself. Keep track of the number of placentas because a retained placenta can cause problems for the mother.
Immediately Following Birth
All of the puppies should be placed next to the mother’s belly and wrapped in a blanket to keep them warm. Watch them closely to ensure that they are breathing normally and that she is allowing them to nurse within a few hours.
It is normal for a dog who has just given birth to have a mild fever in the first 24-48 hours. This fever should not be accompanied by any clinical signs of illness and does not require treatment. If the mother is listless, not eating, or not showing interest in the puppies, contact your vet right away. These can be symptoms of metritis, or inflammation of the uterus.
It is normal to see some vaginal discharge from the mother for up to 8 weeks. It should be odorless and can be green, dark red-brown, or bloody. Foul-smelling discharge can be another symptom of metritis and should be treated by your vet.
Remember to always consult your vet if your pregnant dog seems sick or if she ceases to care for her young. The more you know about dog pregnancy ahead of time, the better prepared you will be to understand what is normal and when to seek veterinary care. But don’t stress - most dogs are excellent mothers and can give birth without any intervention from you.
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