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Caring for your pregnant bitch

What to look out for and what to do before and after the puppies are born

Duration of pregnancy

The time between ovulation (egg release) and the birth of puppies is between 59 and 65 days (63 days in a large number of cases). The time of mating may not exactly coincide with the time of ovulation and so the time between mating and the birth of the pups can vary much more between 56 and 72 days.

Signs of pregnancy

  • Discharge from the vulva starting about one month after mating.
  • After about five weeks of pregnancy, the bitch’s weight will start to increase. She is likely to gain 15-25% of her original body weight (depending on the number of puppies) during the remainder of the term.
  • During the second half of pregnancy, the bitch’s appetite will increase.
  • From day 40 onwards, the bitch’s teats may become more prominent and the mammary glands will enlarge as they fill with milk.
  • Changes in behaviour
  • Morning sickness/depression
  • Close to delivery your bitch may start to display nesting behaviour (scratching at bedding/restlessness).

The vet can perform an ultrasound scan from day 28. This can tell us if there are puppies there but not give us an accurate number.

Feeding

As the pregnancy progresses the bitch will require increased amounts of food to nourish her and the puppies. We would recommend starting to increase feeding from about the 6th week of pregnancy. A high energy puppy food will provide these additional calories.

Feeding your bitch little and often, especially in the later stages of pregnancy is recommended due to the lack of room in her tummy!

Obesity can be dangerous for the pregnant bitch and may cause problems during the delivery of the puppies so care must be taken to avoid this. Before mating is the best time to take action if your dog is overweight.

Vaccinations

Whilst we are able to vaccinate dogs during pregnancy, it is far better to make sure your dog is up-to-date before mating. Healthy mums pass on their immunity to the puppies in the colostrum (‘first milk’), so it’s good to make sure the antibody levels are at their peak.

Flea and worm control

Roundworm and hookworm can be passed from the bitch to the unborn puppies. We recommend worming your bitch with Milbemax before mating and monthly during her pregnancy and lactation. Alternatively, you can use Panacur Suspension, this is given by mouth (or in the food), once a day, from day 40 of the pregnancy until 2 days after giving birth.

Panacur Suspension should then be used to worm the puppy's every 3 weeks, from 2 weeks old. They should be treated for 3 consecutive days each time.

We recommend treating your bitch for fleas prior to mating. Bravecto is also licenced for use during pregnancy and lactation.

Exercise

Your dog will still need to be walked and kept fit. Short regular walks are better than long strenuous ones.

Signs of whelping (labour)

In the final week of pregnancy begin taking your dog's rectal temperature. The first noticeable sign of labour is a drop in temperature from 38.5 C to 37 C, (this can differ slightly from dog to dog). This usually occurs 12-24 hours before birth.

  • The bitch may go off her food and may feel nauseous.
  • You may notice contractions; she will tense up and then relax as they pass.
  • She may become very restless and unsettled and may pant/shiver.

Discharge from the vagina

This will be clear to start with changing to a pale then dark green. This green discharge is the placentas becoming detached and the puppies are imminent. If no puppies are born within an hour of this green discharge contact the vet for advice.

The puppies are normally delivered 20-60 minutes apart. The bitch may have a rest part way through, not straining and not passing any puppies.

If you notice the bitch straining hard, appearing unsettled and restless for over an hour, or taking more than a 2-hour break contact the vet.

As the puppies are born the bitch will lick and clear the sac away from the face allowing the puppy to breathe. She will also bite through the umbilical cord.

If she is having puppies for the first time, she may need a little help and reassurance. You may need to remove the membrane from around the puppies’ face. Using a towel rub the puppy, this can be done quite vigorously but take care not to hurt the puppy. This rubbing will stimulate the puppy to breath, fluid may be expelled from the puppies' nose so clear this with the towel too.

After the puppies are born

  • encourage the bitch to eat and drink.
  • She may need to be encouraged to visit the garden to go to the toilet.
  • Remove the soiled bedding and replace with clean.

She should be calm, comfortable and relaxed. She should be cleaning the puppies and allowing them to suckle.

In the first few weeks the bitch will provide all the care her puppies need, providing the environment they are kept in is kept clean, warm and dry. The bedding material needs to be easily washed and dried. The bitch will lick the puppy’s bottoms to stimulate urination and defaecation. She will do this until the puppies are approximately 3 weeks old.

Monitoring the pups

It is useful to weigh the puppies every day. They should be gaining weight every day. Keep a written record of each puppy’s weight so that it can be monitored accurately. (As a rough rule they should gain their birth weight every week during the nursing phase).

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