Pregnancy in dogs
Pregnancy lasts 63 days in dogs or between 56-72 days when calculated from the first mating. There are signs that your bitch is about to go into labour:
- Temperature – rectal temperature declines sharply (usually about 1 degree Celsius) about 8-24 hours before labour begins. This is best measured with an electric thermometer with some Vaseline or KY jelly applied to the tip and carefully inserted into her bottom. If you are not comfortable doing this, the nurse at your veterinary surgery should be able to either do it for you or demonstrate the technique if preferred.
- Behavioural changes – the bitch may become restless and show “nesting behaviour” during the first 12 – 24 hours of her pregnancy. During this time she may want to be left alone, or they may become ‘clingy’ and want extra attention. She may also shiver as her body temperature drops.
- In the last days of pregnancy, you may see your dog’s mammary glands producing milk.
Whelping time can also be predicted through blood tests to monitor changes in the bitch’s hormone levels. Ultrasound and X-ray can be used during pregnancy to give an estimation of how far along a bitch is. X-rays are useful to count the number of puppies present. Ultrasound allows the vet to confirm pregnancy and check the foetal heartbeats in late pregnancy.
Labour has three stages.
- First stage lasts 6-36 hours and through uterine contractions begin there is no straining or pushing. In this time, the puppies are moving around to get ready for birth. The bitch may show signs of being restless or agitated, or behave completely normally.
- The second stage is where the puppies are born. It generally lasts 3-12 hours but can be longer. Abdominal straining is seen. Her temperature will rise again to a normal level. Some fluid will be passed. The first puppy should be born within four hours of abdominal straining beginning. Each puppy is usually born in a fluid bag which the bitch will break by licking. She will usually break the umbilical cord for the puppy. The gap between puppies can be between five minutes and two hours or more between puppies.
- Third stage is the delivery of the placenta (the lining of the womb that has supported each puppy). A placenta is typically passed within 15 minutes of each puppy being born. Discourage the bitch from eating more than two placentas as this can cause sickness and diarrhoea.
After the puppies are all born there may be some greenish discharge (lochia). This can last up to three weeks.
SEEK IMMEDIATE VETINARY ADVICE IF ANY OF THE FOLLOWING OCCURS:
- Weak or irregular straining is seen for more than 2-4 hours without producing a puppy.
- Strong regular straining is seen more than 20-30 minutes without producing a puppy.
- More than 2-3 hours have passed since fluid was passed but nothing else happened.
- Greenish discharge is seen but no puppy is born within 2-4 hours.
- Second stage labour longer than 12 hours.
Worming the bitch during pregnancy and young puppies:
- Your vet should advise you on this. Generally, a small animal oral liquid is given to the bitch daily from day 40 of pregnancy until 2 days after giving birth.
- Again, your vet will advise. Puppies generally should be wormed at 2 weeks old, 5 weeks old and again before going to their new homes.
Vaccinations during pregnancy:
- Normal vaccinations and boosters are usually safe to give during pregnancy and during lactation, but your vet will check this at this time for you.
- Herpes vaccination is used specifically in pregnancy to reduce the chance of abortion, still-birth, fading puppy syndrome and neonatal death. It is given in two doses – the first during heat or 7-10 days after the mating date and the second 7-10 days prior to expected whelping date. If a herpes vaccination is desired, then please give the vet as much warning as possible so that they can order it in for you.
It is useful to weigh each puppy daily and make sure all are feeding well. Coloured tape collars help to tell the tiny puppies apart!
It is advised to bring the bitch and puppies in for a health check a few days after she has given birth if you have any concerns.
It is the legal responsibility of the owner if the bitch to microchip all puppies prior to eight weeks of age. The microchips must be registered to the breeder at this time and then transferred to the new owner when the puppy leaves. First vaccinations are usually done around 8 weeks of age.
There are some excellent books available including “The Book of the Bitch” by J. M. Evans and Kay White.