Diagnosis of Pregnancy
Diagnosis of pregnancy can be performed by abdominal palpation at 3-4 weeks post-mating however problems can be encountered due to certain breeds, fat animals and those dogs that guard their abdomen. Radiography (x-rays) can be used to confirm pregnancy after day 45 when the foetal skeletons will be visible. Ultrasonography can be used to visualise foetal membranes / fluid from day 16-20 and heart beats after day 25.
The average bodyweight gain of a pregnant dog is about 36% with the increase most noticeable in the last trimester. By day 56, a change of body shape can be noted and foetal movements may be seen. The teats will enlarge in the second half of pregnancy.
Duration of Pregnancy
The length of pregnancy in the female dog is regarded as 63 days post-mating although a range from 56-72 days is more likely to be correct. This variation is due to the longevity of the canine spermatozoa as well as breed variation and litter size. Litter sizes of 5 or more pups have a considerably longer gestation period than those carrying less pups. Despite these variations, parturition remains remarkably constant at around 65 days.
During the Pregnancy
The most important factor for a healthy pregnancy and puppies is to provide a good quality commercial dog food such as those formulated by Advance, Hills or Royal Canin. This ensures the proper balance of nutrients and vitamins are provided. During the last trimester of pregnancy and during lactation slowly switch to a puppy food.
Ensuring your pregnant dog and all other dogs in the house are dewormed and deflead is also important. Deworming should be done at mating, before whelping (birthing) and then every 3 months. Frontline® and Advantage® have demonstrated a significant margin of safety for puppies over 8 weeks of age and in breeding, pregnant and lactating bitches.
There are 3 stages to the whelping (birthing) process. The birthing process is finished once the placenta are expelled and the mother relaxes / starts nursing:
STAGE 1 (Preparing for the Birth)
The female dog can start showing signs of restlessness, shivering, panting, vomiting and / or nesting (tearing up the bedding) 2-3 days prior to parturition. She may also lose her appetite 12-24 hours before the birth starts.
The presence or absence of milk is too variable to be a reliable sign of impending parturition. Temperature is also not a reliable sign of impending parturition.
This stage lasts between 4 hours and 3 days - this longer period is more commonly seen in first-time mothers.
NO ACTIVE STRAINING.
STAGE 2 (Production of Puppies)
This stage is characterised by strong uterine contractions and visible straining to expel puppies.
The duration of the second stage of labour is extremely variable between individuals and between puppies, however, no more than 2-3 hours should lapse between puppies before an investigation is carried out.
Puppies will be produced from 5 minutes to ~ 3 hours apart.
STAGE 3 (Passing the Placenta)
This is the stage during which the foetal membranes are expelled.
The placenta of each puppy may be passed between pups or once the entire Stage 2 is finished.
It is normal for the mother to eat the placenta, however it is probably unwise to let her eat every placenta if the litter is large.
It is normal to see a greenish discharge coming from the vulva after the puppies have been born for up to 2-3 weeks.
When Do I Call the Vet Hospital?
If bitch is 2 or more days past her due date and fails to show any signs of impending parturition or fails to progress from the first to second stage of labour.
The green discharge started 1-2 hours ago but no puppies have been produced. This usually indicates the need for caesarean section.
The mother has been straining weakly for more than 2 hours with no results.
The mother has been straining strongly for more than 20-30 minutes with no results.
The first puppy was produced but there has been no more uterine contractions or no further puppies have been produced after 3-4 hours.
If a puppy seems to be stuck in the pelvis or vagina.
Lactation is the most nutritionally demanding stage of a female dog’s life. She should be provided her with a good quality commercial puppy diet which has the right balance of nutrients and energy required during this time. Avoid feeding home-cooked meals or meat only (meat is a poor source of calcium).
It is also important to weigh the puppies daily while they are nursing from the mother to ensure that all are getting enough milk and gaining weight.
What health issues should I watch out for in the mother?
Hypocalcaemia. This condition is most commonly seen in small dogs that have given birth and are now producing milk. It is caused by genetic predisposition and poor diet. Symptoms are shaking, muscle tremors, panting, salivating, collapse and even death. Veterinary assistance is required immediately.
Mastitis. A bacterial infection in the teats which results in swollen mammary tissues, heat and tenderness. Veterinary advice is recommended.
Uterine infection. It is normal for the green discharge from the vulva to persist 2-3 weeks after the birthing process. If the discharge becomes pus-coloured and/or the mother becomes lethargic seek veterinary assistance immediately.
Suckling: Puppies will suckle freely on the mother. Make sure that all puppies can regularly access the teats.
Growth: Bodyweight doubles within 7-10 days after birth and increases 6-10 times by weaning. Puppies will open their eyes about 10-14 days old and generally are walking by 18 days old.
Weaning: Provide the puppies with small quantities of a good quality puppy food from 2.5 weeks of age. It is best to soften these pellets with warm water intially. Increase the range and volume of food as the puppies get use to eating solids. Weaning is usually complete by 4-5 weeks old.
Feeding: The right balance of nutrients (especially calcium and phosphorus) is vital to growing puppies. Providing a commercial diet ensures that the needs of growing puppies are met appropriately. Additional supplements are not required. Large breed puppies benefit further from receiving a specific large breed brand of puppy food.
Vaccination: First vaccination 6-8 weeks of age with a booster vaccination as recommended by your veterinarian. Depending on the breed a third booster may be recommended.
Worming: 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, and 12 weeks of age. Then monthly until 6 months old, then every 3 months for life.
Flea control: While the puppies are suckling treat the mother only. After weaning select an appropriate product that is safe for your puppies.
Photo Credit to Makhosazana Ridgebacks Kendenup WA http://www.makhosazana.net/