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Breeding and Caring For Your Pregnant Dog

Ron Hines DVM PhD

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Less than half of the canine pregnancies I see were planned events. When you are fortunate enough to be able to plan ahead, here are some guidelines that you can follow:

First, be sure the mother dog is over one year of age. Many dogs are accidentally bred on their first heat when they are not much more than puppies themselves. I advise my clients to breed their dog on its second or third heat period. By this time, the length of the dog’s estrus cycle will have been established and you can plan for the event. Most dogs cycle every 5-7 months.

Take the mother dog in to for a veterinary examiantion prior to having her bred. Besides a thorough examination you should be certain the dog is free of intestinal parasites and heartworms. A blood test for brucellosis is also a good idea. If the dog is overweight it will be susceptible to more complications than a lean dog. So place the dog on a diet, if it needs one, six month prior to having it bred.

Someone who has experience breeding dogs should oversee the actual mating. You can locate these people in your area through grooming shops and boarding kennels. Some veterinary hospitals also specialize in breeding dogs but I do not recommend that dogs be bred at hospitals because sick dogs are often present there.

Vaccinations :

The amount of immunity the puppies have to infectious disease is directly related to the immunity of their mothers. The mother’s immunity is passed on to the puppies through her first milk or colostrum. So see to it that your dog is current on all its vaccinations before it is bred. Normally, I do not administer vaccinations to pregnant dogs.

Parasite Control :

Dogs that are bred should be negative for heartworms and for intestinal parasites. Bring a sample of their stool by your local veterinarian for a parasite check prior to breeding the dog. If you have your dog on monthly heartworm preventative it should be negative for both types of parasites. If not, it should be wormed at least twice with pyrantel pamoate or fenbendazole before it is bred. Mother dogs that have intestinal worms pass these worms on to their puppies through the womb and through their milk. Some of the dogs that do this are negative on fecal examinations because the parasites are encysted in their muscles. This is particularly true of dogs that live in kennels with many other dogs. When kenneled dogs are involved the puppies should be wormed at six, nine and eleven weeks of age with pyrantel pamoate. Continue to give heartworm preventative to the mother dog during pregnancy.

Flea control is especially important once the puppies are born. Since Frontline, Advantage and Advantix have warning about their use in pregnant animals, I would skip application of these products during pregnancy and resume again when the pups are born. Do not apply these products to the newborn puppies – just pick any fleas off of them with tweezers and place the fleas into a jar of alcohol. During pregnancy rely on methoprene premises sprays to control fleas.

Nutrition :

Late pregnancy and nursing vastly increase the nutritional needs of dogs. Nursing mothers require even more nutrients than growing dogs. The first six weeks of pregnancy the mother dog should not eat more than its usual pre-pregnancy amount. But starting at the sixth week the dog’s weight and appetite should begin to increase. Start to put down twenty-five percent more food. I like to switch the mother over to a diet designed for puppies and growing dogs at this time but she should do well on any high-quality dog chow that is marketed for all life stages. Because the puppies are pressing against her internal organs the mother may not be able to eat as much at one sitting as before her pregnancy. Feed her several small meals instead of one or two large ones. Be sure plenty of clean water is available at all times. There is no need to give a vitamin or mineral supplement. If the dog begins to loose weight despite being offered the added food, supplement her diet with canned dog food such as Alpo or Pedigree. As pregnancy progresses the expectant mother will eat more and more. Give her all that she desires unless she has a tendency to get fat as some Labradors and other large breeds do. You should always be able to make out her ribs and she should not become flattened over her rump or have a dimple at her tail head.

Some dogs experience a lack of appetite and something approaching “morning sickness” three or four weeks into pregnancy. This should resolve after a week or so. If it does not, see your veterinarian. Adding calcium to the bitch’s diet can actually increase the likelihood of eclampsia or milk fever once the puppies are born. Adding a vitamin supplement is also unnecessary and probably unwise.

The time after the puppies are born begins the most nutritionally challenging time in a dog's life: Her food consumption will steadily increase over 20 to 30 days following birth as the puppies grow and nurse more and more. By the time the first month is over, the mother should be eating two or four times the amount of food she ate before she became pregnant Give her all she wants to eat. If she begins to become too thin you can encourage her to eat by moistening the food or supplement it with more flavorful canned dog food.

Examination By A Veterinarian :

When the expectant mother is about thirty days pregnant schedule an appointment with your veterinarian if the dog was not examined prior to becoming pregnant. This will be a “wellness” examination at which time the veterinarian will either palpate and confirm that puppies are present manually or use an ultrasound or progesterone hormone analysis to confirm the fact. By this time the dog’s nipples should begin to swell. Some veterinarians suggest an X-ray of the mother three weeks prior to delivery to count the number of puppies so you will know when labor is over and all the pups are out. I do not feel that exposing the dog to radiation for this procedure is warranted.dog

Exercise :

Regular exercise and walks will help your pregnant dog keep her muscle tone and general health. Working the working breeds, intensive training or taking the dog on a show circuit is not a good idea. Obesity is potential danger in pregnant dogs when delivery time comes so control any tendency to fatness with exercise and careful attention to her revised caloric needs. It is much safer to restrict diet before the dog becomes pregnant than after. During the final three weeks of pregnancy the mother dog should be separated from other dogs in the household as well as dogs from outside the family. This isolation should also protect the mother from exposure to herpesvirus of dogs, which causes innocuous vaginal sores and nasal drainage in the mother but is often fatal to puppies.

Preparing For The Puppies :

Prepare a room for the birth to occur. This room should have an impervious floor that makes cleaning easy. It should not be drafty and should be in a quite area of the home. Prepare a bed for the dog that is lined with towels or unused clothes and get her used to using it. If the mother won’t stay in it, you can encourage her to by petting her and giving her small food snacks. Lead her to the designated nursing area when labor begins. If she has her puppies outside of the pre-assigned area, let her. When she has completed the delivery, move them all into the designated bed. Many dogs become very clingy when labor begins and want you to stay with them at all times. They try to follow you when you leave the room. You will probably need to spend some time with this type of dog to comfort her. After the birth of the first few puppies, the mother usually is preoccupied with her pups and not as dependent on your presence. Other bitches will try to get away from you and hide. Give her the space she needs, but keep checking in on her regularly. It is quite possible that you will miss the birth process entirely. You might wake up one morning or return from work only to find you have a brand new litter of offspring contentedly nursing on their mom. If your nursery room is not warm enough, you can warmer it by wrapping a heating pad in a towel, setting it on "low," and placing it under one half of the nursery bed. This allows the mother and puppies to move away from the heat source if they choose to. Wrap duct tape around the heating pad cord because puppies tend to chew on cords. Read my articles on birthing and caring for newborn puppies: http://www.2ndchance.info/caninelaborstages.htm and http://www.2ndchance.info/orphanpuppy.htm

When labor is eminent the mother’s appetite will disappear. By their third or fourth week the puppies should be starting to eat on their own. Encourage them to eat solids by themselves in order to remove the stress of milk production from the mother. By six to eight weeks the puppies should be fully weaned so the mother’s food can revert back to the amount she ate prior to pregnancy. When you wean the puppies help the mother’s milk supply to dry up. Do this by withholding food and only offering her half the water she normally consumes. The following day, give her only a quarter of her pre-pregnancy food supply and one half the water. From the second day on give her all the water she wants. Slowly increase her food over five days until it is back to her prepregnancy level. If she has lost weight during the pregnancy adjust her food intake upward to make up the lost weight.