What to Expect When Your Dog is Expecting
Having a pregnant pet can be an exciting time, but it can also be nerve wracking. If you have a pregnant dog, it is very important to know what the normal course of events is, and when medical intervention might be necessary.
For most dogs, pregnancy lasts about sixty three days. This can vary from one dog to another, and the range of normal is from fifty eight to sixty eight days. Once you know that she is pregnant, you can take certain steps to help prepare you and your pet. About a month after conceiving, the dam will need to start increasing her food intake. At this point, you may want to switch her to a high quality food formulated for growth and reproduction. Typically, this means a canned or dry puppy food. At forty five days or later, fetal skeletons will be visible. Some veterinarians recommend taking a radiograph to count the number of fetuses, so that you will know if all of them have been delivered.
You should also prepare an area where the dam can deliver. This should be somewhere quiet, warm, and contained. Many owners use a “whelping box” which is essentially a pen with sides high enough that puppies cannot get out, but that the dam can easily climb over. You will want your pet to become comfortable in this area prior to delivery.
Additionally, about five days prior to expected labor, many owners began taking temperatures twice a day. A normal canine temperature is about 101 to 102 F. If your dog’s temperature drops to below 1000 F, whelping should begin within about twenty four hours.
After all this preparation, what will whelping actually be like?
For dogs, labor typically occurs in three stages. Stage one labor typically lasts from six to twelve hours. During this time, you may notice that your dog is restless, trembling, or panting, and she may even vomit. Typically, dams will try to go to a secluded area, and will exhibit nesting behavior. Although uterine contractions (inside the body) can be occurring at this time, abdominal contractions will not be visible.
Stage two is the exciting part: delivery of the puppies! At this point, abdominal contractions may be visible.
This stage starts with the rupture of the chorioallantoic sac, also known as her “water breaking.” This can be seen as production of clear or tan vaginal discharge, but is not always observed by owners. After that, you can expect about one puppy every forty five to sixty minutes, preceded by about ten to thirty minutes of visible straining. Especially with larger litters, some females may take a break for a few hours in the middle, with no visible straining or puppies produced for about three to four hours. Puppies can be delivered with tail or head first–either position is completely normal.
Each puppy will be delivered covered in fetal membranes. The dam should thoroughly lick each puppy to remove these, and bite the umbilical cord. If she does not clean the puppy within about one to two minutes, you should intervene to prevent respiratory distress. Simply remove the slippery coating and rub the puppy with a clean towel. Then tie the umbilical cord off about an inch from the pup using dental floss, and cut it on the far side of the knot.
Stage three labor is the delivery of the placentas. The placenta is an organ which delivers nutrients from the mother to the puppies, and there is one placenta per pup. The placenta may be delivered immediately after each puppy, but sometimes two puppies may be delivered, followed by two placentas. Typically, the placenta should pass about fifteen minutes after a puppy is delivered.
Most dogs will be able to deliver their puppies without any assistance. However, if you have a pregnant dog, it is very important to be prepared for a dystocia, or a difficult delivery. Make sure that you know which veterinarian you will be calling if there are issues, and that they accept night time emergencies. You should be financially prepared for a cesarean section if necessary.
The Animal Clinic of Morris Plains takes emergency calls twenty four/seven, and a vet will be able to meet you and your pet at the clinic at any time of the night if needed.
So how do you know if your pet needs veterinary attention during delivery? You should contact a vet if you notice any of the following:
- > 70 days since breeding and no delivery
- > 24 hours since temperature drop and no delivery
- > 4 hours between puppies
- > 30 mins hard straining with no puppies delivery
- Obviously in extreme distress
- Lots of green or black discharge and no puppy within thirty minutes
If everything goes smoothly, there are still some things to be aware of after delivery. Your pet will have lochia (vaginal discharge) for up to eight weeks after giving birth. Normal lochia is dark green or reddish brown, and does not have a noticeable odor. Also, while she is nursing, your pet will need increased food. Continue to feed a puppy or growth diet, and remember that her caloric needs will increase for the first four weeks after birth, and then slowly decrease while the puppies are being weaned. During this time, monitor her for foul smelling vaginal discharge, lethargy, inappetence, hard, painful, or red mammary glands, or decreased interest in the puppies.
Especially for small breed dogs, also watch for restlessness, anxiety, twitching, or seizures, which can be caused by dangerously low calcium levels in lactating dogs. If you notice any of these issues, have your pet seen by a veterinarian as soon as possible.
As far as the puppies, make sure to weigh them at least once a day for the first two weeks. Normal neonates should gain about 5-10% of their body weight a day for the first few days. It is crucial for normal puppy development for them to spend the first period of their life with their siblings and mother. This will help the puppies to learn normal socialization, bite inhibition, and how to interact appropriately with other dogs. Regular handling by you at this point will also help to get them used to human interaction. After all of the preparation and delivery, enjoy spending time with the new puppies!
Burns, G. (n.d.). Dystocia. Veterinary Information Network Canine Associate. Retrieved March 28, 2018, from https://www.vin.com/Members/Associate/Associate.plx?DiseaseId=5615.
Anthony, E. (n.d.). Pregnancy and Whelping in the Canine. Atlantic Coast Veterinary Conference 2007. Retrieved March 28, 2018, from https://www.vin.com/doc/?id=3861578.