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NORMAL GESTATION IN DOGS (Pregnancy)

Gestation is the period when the young are developing in the mother’s uterus.  In dogs, gestation normally lasts 9 weeks (63 days).  However, puppies may be delivered between 58 and 68 days.

Diagnosis of Pregnancy   There are no practical blood or urine tests available to confirm pregnancy in the dog.  The earliest possible time of diagnosis may be 26-35 days after breeding, when the doctor may be able to detect pregnancy (85% accuracy) by feeling the abdomen.  Diagnosis by x-rays is usually possible after 45 days (95% accuracy for determining the number of puppies).

Physical Changes   During the first 5 weeks of pregnancy, there are few noticeable changes.  After the 5th week, you may notice weight gain, especially with large litters.   If only 1 or 2 pups are present, the mother may gain little weight until shortly before birth.  Abdominal enlargement is generally obvious in the last 3 weeks.  The mammary glands may begin to enlarge as early as the 35th day, but usually development is not obvious until 45 days.  Milk may be present as early as 7-9 days before delivery, but usually it is not produced until 1-2 days before delivery.

Behavioral Changes   During pregnancy, the female dog  may show a change in behavior, especially in the last few weeks.  As the uterus enlarges with the developing puppies, your pet may become restless, seek seclusion and in the last few days, soil the house.  She may shred papers, blankets or bedding in an attempt at “nest building” in the last weeks.  During the last 2 weeks, your pet may become irritable and should avoid contact with small children.

Nutrition   Good nutrition is essential for healthy puppies and mothers.  During the first 4 weeks, nutritional needs change little, but feeding small amounts of high protein supplements, such as eggs, lean muscle meats (not pork) or liver is a good practice.  During the last 5 weeks, your dog’s nutritional needs nearly double.  Feed increased amounts of food in several small meals each day.  Fresh water should always be available, since fluid needs are greatly increased.  We recommend feeding puppy food through the end of lactation (nursing).

Exercise   Moderate exercise is the proper approach.  Neither forced rest nor strenuous exercise is a good idea.  Short periods of gentle play and short walks are good.

NORMAL BIRTH IN DOGS (Whelping)

Preparations for whelping   Begin preparations for delivery of puppies before the female gives birth.  A whelping box should be provided for the mother to begin sleeping in to ensure birth of puppies in the area you have chosen.  This box should be relatively small, with sides 6-8 inches high to keep the pups from crawling out of the nest.  Place the box in a secluded yet familiar area of the home, away from the family traffic, to allow the mother solitude.  Newspapers make excellent bedding because they can be changed easily, are absorbent and can be shredded by the mother as she makes her “nest.”  If such materials as old quilts, blankets, rugs or towels are used, they must be washed frequently.  If you want to know more precisely when delivery is near, check the rectal temperature of the mother twice daily from the 58th day of pregnancy until labor begins.  Normal rectal temperature varies between 100.5 and 102F.  Within 24 hours before the onset of labor, the rectal temperature drops nearly 2 degrees.

Labor and Delivery   Labor in the female dog can be divided into 3 stages.  The second and third stages are repeated with the birth of each puppy.

Stage 1:  During the first stage, the mother seems extremely restless and very nervous, and often seeks seclusion.  She may refuse food even if offered her favorite treats.  This stage may last 6-24 hours.  This is a good time to exercise the mother to allow her to urinate and defecate.

Stage 2:  In the second stage, contractions and expulsion of the puppies begin.  Usually a small greenish sac of fluid protrudes first from the vulva.  This is followed by the puppy and its attached placenta.  The normal presentation of the puppy is nose first, stomach down.  About one-third of all puppies, however, are born hindquarters first.  This presentation is considered normal in the dog.  After delivery, the mother opens the sac, cleans off the pup, and severs the umbilical cord.  You may have to perform these functions for the mother (see Obstetric Care below).  Make sure the sac is removed from the puppy immediately if it is unbroken during delivery.

Stage 3:  The third stage of labor is the resting stage, which follows each delivery.  Mild contractions and delivery of the afterbirth occur in this phase.  This stage usually lasts 10-30 minutes, but it may range from a few seconds to a few hours.  Some mothers may deliver two pups close together and then have a prolonged resting stage.

NOTE:  During the stages of labor, the mother dog may need to go outside for urination/defecation.  Be sure to follow her in case she has a puppy delivered while she is outside.  Also, dogs often give birth to puppies while standing, sitting, or laying down.  If everything appears normal, LEAVE THE MOTHER DOG ALONE.  Noise and movements often distract the dog so that she does not concentrate on delivering and/or nursing the pups.

Obstetric Care   After a pup is delivered, remove all membranes covering the puppy, clean the face, and remove mucus from the mouth and nose.  Rub the puppy with a clean towel to dry it and to stimulate respiration and circulation.  After a few minutes of rubbing, the puppy should begin to squirm and cry loudly.  The umbilical cord should be tied about an inch from the puppy’s body with fine thread and then cut on the side of the knot away from the puppy.  Apply a drop of iodine to the cord end after it is cut.

Assisting with the Birth   If a puppy seems to be lodged in the birth canal and the mother cannot expel it, rapid assistance is necessary.  There may not be time to call your veterinarian and drive to the hospital.  Grasp the puppy with a clean towel and exert steady, firm traction.  Do not jerk or pull suddenly.  The direction of the pull should be in a gentle, downward arc.  Traction may be applied for as long as 5 minutes.  If you cannot remove the puppy, call the doctor.

Behavior of the Mother   During whelping and nursing, your pet may not be her usual self.  She may be very nervous and filled with a sense of protectiveness for her new family.  Any aggression she may exhibit usually fades as time passes.

Notify the Doctor if Any of the Following Occur:

  • You cannot remove a puppy lodged in the birth canal.

  • There is strong, persistent labor for 30 minutes up to 2 hours without delivery of a pup.

  • There is weak, intermittent labor for 6 hours without delivery of any puppies.

  • It has been more than 4 hours since the last birth and it is probable that more puppies are still inside.

  • There is a greenish-black discharge and no labor or puppies within 3-4 hours.  The greenish-black color is normal, but such a discharge should be followed very soon by the delivery of the pups. 

  • The pregnancy lasts more than 65 days.

  • If excessive panting or vomiting occurs, or if uncontrollable tremors develop, notify the hospital.

POST NATAL CARE OF THE BITCH (mother dog)

  1. The mother and offspring should be brought to the hospital within 24 hours of delivery for examination by the doctor.  This is to ensure that mother and offspring are healthy, all of the pups have been delivered, and there is enough milk supply.  Usually, a hormone injection is given to help with milk let-down and contraction of the uterus.

  2. Fresh, clean water should be available at all times.  We recommend feeding “puppy food” to dogs for the higher energy and protein level.  Feed the mother dog as much as she can eat.

  3. Try to keep the new family in quiet surroundings and avoid all commotion possible for the first two weeks.  Excitement can cause a lot of the problems that are seen in both the female and the offspring.

  4. Females will often have soft stools for a few days due to diet changes, vaginal discharges, and cleaning the offspring.  A vaginal discharge and the passage of blood clots is to be expected for a few days.  The discharge should not be greenish-yellow or have a bad odor.  Notify the hospital should the discharge persist for more than 7 days.

  5. Palpate the breasts and observe the nipples daily.  Wash with warm water if needed.  Notify the doctor of any discoloration in the skin, tenderness, or severe engorgement that occurs.  Watch for sores on the nipples as the puppies begin to get teeth.  Trim the puppies’ nails if they are scratching the mammary glands.

  6.  Food quantity may be decreased at “weaning” (about 4-5 weeks of age) to help decrease milk flow.

  7. Notify the hospital if the mother dog exhibits a change of disposition, nervousness, tremors, moderate weight loss, lethargy, or lack of appetite.

  8.  If you decide to spay your pet, the best time is after the puppies are weaned and milk production has ceased, but before the next heat period.

  9. Normally the mother dog experiences heavy coat shedding (“blowing her coat”) during the nursing period.  Brush her regularly and call the doctor if any bald spots develop.

  10. Pregnancy should have no effect on the next heat period.  This period should occur within 6 months after the birth of the puppies.

  11. The mother dog needs to stay on heartworm preventive for the duration of pregnancy and lactation.  The heartworm preventive causes ABSOLUTELY NO HARM to the developing or nursing pups.

POST-NATAL CARE OF THE PUPPIES

  • Very little care is required of the owner for the puppies during the first few weeks after birth.  Natural instinct causes the mother to provide for most needs of the offspring.  The best advice is to leave the new family alone as much as possible and simply watch for anything you feel might be abnormal.  Don’t hesitate to call us for advice.

  • Be sure puppies nurse within the first 2-6 hours following birth.  This provides the antibodies which fight disease in the pup for the first 6-8 weeks of life.   These antibodies are ONLY absorbed during the first few hours of birth.

  • Maintain a warm environment.  Room temperature should be maintained at a minimum of 72 degrees F.  Remember that it’s about 10 degrees colder on the floor (since heat rises) than at eye level.  Avoid drafts and keep warm.  Dampness and chilling can be FATAL to young puppies.  Recommend placing a heating pad set on LOW temperature underneath 1/3 to ½ of the nesting box.  Do NOT place heating pad in direct contact with the puppies.

  • A properly nourished pup sleeps most of the time, stays quiet, and has a full stomach.  Pups should sleep, wake up, cry, feed, and go back to sleep.  Extended crying is not normal and may be a sign of problems:  such as no milk available in the breasts, infected milk (mastitis), the mother dog not  letting the pups nurse, or a problem with the puppy being able to nurse properly.

  •  Tail Docking and Dewclaw Removal is routinely done at 3-5 days of age at our hospital.

  • Eyes usually open at 10-14 days of age.  Swollen eyes or discharges should be reported to us when observed.

  • Puppies should be brought to the hospital at 3 weeks of age for routine deworming of intestinal parasites.

  • Begin weaning the puppies at 3-4 weeks of age.  Recommend mixing puppy food with warm water and milk replacer to achieve a watery gruel.  As the puppies begin eating this better, you can slowly make the consistency of the gruel thicker and thicker.  IT IS VERY IMPORTANT that the puppies be allowed to nurse the mother dog until they are eating solid food readily.  They can be allowed to nurse the female until 6-8 weeks of age.

  • The weight and size of the pups should be monitored daily, with all of them gaining approximately the same amount of weight daily.  If one or two pups are much smaller than the others, or are not growing as rapidly, the mother may be pushing them away and refusing to nurse them.  Recommend that you supplement the feedings of these pups with puppy milk replacer.  DO NOT use human milk.

  • Vaccinations and heartworm preventive for the puppies are recommended at 6-8 weeks of age.  The puppies do have some protective antibodies from the mother, but his may not be a strong enough protection against diseases like parvo and distemper.

  • Observe the mother dog and the pups for the presence of fleas.  On very small pups, even 5-6 fleas could potentially cause serious blood loss.  Contact our office for instructions on flea treatment for the mother dog and her offspring.

  • Be sure that the bedding and nesting area are cleaned daily to help prevent infection.

We recommend keeping the puppies with the mother dog until they are 8 weeks of age.