Pregnancy and Whelping in the Bitch
Breeding dogs can be a very rewarding experience, however it can also be fraught with problems and complexities.
We have compiled the advice and information below to help you decide whether breeding is for you, and to help guide you through the process should you decide to breed. Most of the advice is aimed at the owner of the bitch (female dog), however some of it also applies to people considering studding out their dog (male dog).
Please do not hesitate to contact us to discuss any queries or concerns that you may have – no matter how trivial they may seem.
The first thing to consider is if the bitch or dog you have is a good candidate to be bred from, and if you have the time and resources to dedicate to the process.
Bitches ideally need to be:
Some of the above problems are much more common in certain breeds. If you are wanting to breed pedigree puppies, as opposed to cross breeds, and register them as pedigree with the kennel club, the mother and father should both be tested for certain conditions. These tests may be in the form of genetic tests from cheek swab samples, or medical tests such as x-rays. More information can be found about the breed specific tests here:
If you feel that you have a bitch or a dog that is suitable for breeding, then you need to ensure you have the time and resources yourself to dedicate to breeding.
The pregnancy will last for around 63 days, and you will then need to look after the puppies for a minimum of 8 weeks after they are born. It is illegal for a puppy to leave its mother before 8 weeks of age. If the mother is a good mother then these 8 weeks may not be overly taxing. However, if the mother rejects the puppies, or if she dies during the whelping process, then you may need to hand rear the puppies yourself. When the puppies are very young this generally entails bottle feeding the puppies every 3 hours, day and night, stimulating them to toilet, and keeping them clean and warm.
There can also be significant financial costs involved in breeding, including the stud fee, fees for medications, vaccinations, health tests, fertility tests, microchipping, feeding, bedding, emergency treatments such as a caesarian section, and potentially having to take time off from work in order to look after the mother and puppies.
A Normal Pregnancy: Mating to Whelpin
Once you have decided to breed from your bitch, and she has undergone any relevant health tests, you need to find a suitable stud dog, and arrange the appropriate time for the mating to happen.
Bitches are generally fertile for a few days every 6 months, the fertile period is part way through their season, the time during which they bleed from their vulva. The exact time when they are most fertile can vary from bitch to bitch. Owners will often arrange for them to be mated twice a day or two days apart. Alternatively at Longridge Vets, we offer fertility blood tests, which measure the hormone levels and can then tell when the most fertile time is.
It is worth noting that even with multiple matings and blood tests, there are no guarantees that your bitch will become pregnant, but it is likely that you will still be expected to pay for the mating. We recommend that you vaccinate your bitch for Canine Herpes Virus (more information about this is below), at around the time of the mating.
Pregnancy in the bitch lasts on average 63 days, but it is not unusual for this to vary by a day or two either side of the expected “due date”.
Definite signs of pregnancy vary between individuals. The first visible evidence is usually an increase in the size of the abdomen. From about 6 weeks into the pregnancy, the teats and mammary glands may also increase in size.
Our Vets can offer an ultrasound scan to confirm the pregnancy, and to check on the health of the puppies. Scans can be performed from 3-4 weeks into the pregnancy, however they become much more accurate from week 6 of the pregnancy.
As the bitch enters the last couple of weeks of her pregnancy, her appetite may become unpredictable, and she will perhaps be less inclined to play and exercise vigorously. It is often easier for her to eat smaller, more frequent meals, rather than large quantities of food at one time. More specific information regarding the nutritional requirements of a pregnant bitch, from mating right the way through to the puppies being weaned, can be found below.
From day 40 of the pregnancy, until 2 days after the whelping, the bitch needs to be wormed daily for roundworms. More information regarding this can be found below.
Most bitches like to give birth in a nest-like enclosed environment, most people supply this by buying or building a whelping box. The whelping box should be made available to the bitch at least a week before the expected due date so that she can get used to sleeping in it and feel comfortable spending time in it. Whelping boxes are readily available from online retailers if you don’t want to make your own.
About 24 – 48 hours before the start of labour the bitch’s temperature usually drops, by up to two degrees below normal. It is helpful if you begin taking her temperature 2 or 3 times a day from around day 58 of pregnancy, this can easily be done at home with a digital thermometer used rectally (ordinary digital thermometers from a chemist are suitable for this). She may become restless and uneasy, and may refuse food, or vomit after eating. The external genitalia become more prominent and a few hours before labour commences a sticky discharge may be seen.
If such signs are present, and labour does not start, or if after some slight straining the bitch settles down again veterinary advice should be sought.
Contact us without delay on 01772783327
The process of labour can be divided into two main stages:
The first stage may last for a few hours, or even all day, and the bitch may seem a little uncomfortable or mildly distressed. (During this stage the womb will be starting mild contractions which will be positioning the puppies ready for delivery and helping the birth canal to relax.)
If during this stage a dark green or black discharge is seen in the absence of any obvious progress contact us for veterinary advice on 01772783327
The second stage follows from the first, and contractions now become much stronger and more obvious. The bitch often lies on her side and strains with each contraction, often panting and shivering at the same time. As the muscles of the womb relax again between contractions, so will she. This process continues until the pup is delivered, and may take some time, particularly for the first pup, or with a first litter.
If the bitch has been experiencing strong contractions for 20 minutes to half an hour with no visible progress, contact us for veterinary advice without delay on 01772783327
Most puppies are born head-first, but it is also quite normal for some to be born hind feet first. It is quite normal to see greenish black or bloodstained fluid expelled from each pup.
If the membranes have not ruptured naturally by the time the puppy is born, and if the bitch does not immediately tear them herself, it is important to free the pup’s head without delay – until this is done the pup cannot breathe.
Once freed, the pup should start to breathe straight away. If signs of life are not obvious, then rubbing the puppy gently but firmly in a towel will often stimulate breathing; an experienced bitch will do this with vigorous licking as each pup is born.
One afterbirth should be delivered after each pup, and is usually eaten by the bitch, severing the umbilical cord. If there is a retained placenta, a womb infection may occur. If a placenta isn’t delivered with each pup, seek veterinary advice. This is not an emergency.
The interval between puppies again varies, averaging 15 – 30 minutes, but it is sometimes much longer or shorter.
If the interval is of 3 hours or more, and the bitch is unsettled and uncomfortable, seek veterinary advice without delay by calling us on 0177278332.
It takes a little time for the womb to return to normal after giving birth, and for a week or two afterwards it is quite usual to see a greenish or bloodstained discharge.
If this discharge is continuous or excessive, or if it is foul smelling, particularly if the bitch is also off-colour, contact us for veterinary advice.
It is also quite normal for the bitch to pass very dark or even black motions for the first few days, particularly if she has eaten the afterbirths and membranes.
If the bitch is unable to give birth to the puppies naturally, she may require a caesarian section.
Caesarian sections are generally classed as an emergency procedure and are performed under a full general anaesthetic.
A cut is made in the abdomen and the womb in order to remove the puppies from the mother. The procedure generally takes around an hour, but this is very variable. Once the procedure is finished, the bitch normally takes around an hour to recover from the anaesthetic, enough to be sent home with her puppies. Every effort is made to return the bitch and her puppies to their home environment as quickly as possible, as this reduces the emotional stress on the bitch and will help her to bond with the puppies sooner.
Around 3-7 days after the caesarian, the bitch will normally need a check up with the vet to ensure that the surgical wound is healing well. Depending on the techniques used by the surgeon, stitches may need to be removed from the bitch 10 – 14 days after the operation.
The operation comes with all the inherent risks of any general anaesthetic and major abdominal surgery including:
The price of a caesarian section can vary greatly depending on the particulars of the procedure, including what time of day or night it is performed, the size of dog (larger dogs need higher doses of medications), how long it takes and whether any complications are encountered during the procedure. The price will generally be between £600 to £3000. Very few insurance policies will cover anything to do with, or arising from, a pregnancy, as such medical costs arising from pregnancy and whelping will be expected to be payed in full at the time of the procedure.
Policies specifically to cover breeding are available from some companies.
Feeding for Gestation and Lactation
A bitch should start her pregnancy and finish her lactation weighing the same: her optimum adult body weight. The bitch should be fed good quality adult dried dog food. Feed the suggested quantity, realising that the adjustment upward or downward may be needed to maintain optimum weight. No supplements are required and she should have access to clean water.
Gestation – weeks 1 – 4
The bitch should be continued to be fed good quality adult dog food. No increase in food level is generally required. Most foetal growth occurs later in pregnancy; therefore the weight of the bitch should not change significantly at this time. No supplements are required and she should have access to clean water.
Gestation – week 5
Through the week the bitch should be gradually introduced to a good quality dried puppy food. By the end of the week, she should get the same quantity of food as in weeks 1 to 4 but it should now be all puppy food. We always stock good quality puppy food. We have a couple of different options. Call in to the practice to discuss with the nurses.
Gestation – weeks 6 – 9
The bitch’s daily intake of dried puppy food should gradually be increased so that at the time of whelping the quantity of food has been increased by 15-25% over that fed in week 5.
During the last 10 days of gestation a heavily pregnant bitch may require several smaller meals throughout the day in order to consume all she requires. At whelping time, the bitch’s weight should increase 15-25% from her pre-breeding weight. No supplements are required and excessive calcium during this period can be harmful.
The lactating bitch should be allowed to feed as required. Dried, good quality, puppy food should always be available. Food should be restricted only if the bitch is becoming obese. No supplements are to be given and it is very important that clean water always be available. Food should be restricted at the time of weaning and the bitch should be gradually changed back on to good-quality dried adult food, at the quantity recommended for her optimum body weight.
Hypocalaemia is a condition where the bitch has low blood calcium. This occurs due to high demands from puppy growth and milk production. It is more common in large litters in small breeds and poor diet (i.e. not good quality puppy food). This can also occur during pregnancy though is less common than during lactation.
Hypocalaemia can lead to death. If your bitch has spams, is weak or collapsed, or panting, you must urgently contact us to see a vet. Call us immediately on 01772783327.
Worming Pregnant Bitches and Newborn Pups
Dogs and bitches all carry Roundworms, which at times of stress such as pregnancy and whelping, migrate through the bitch’s body and are then passed across to the unborn puppies via the bloodstream and placenta. After the puppies are born, the roundworms are also passed through the milk to the puppies when they are suckling.
Roundworms deprive the puppies of nutrients, causing failure to thrive and a pot bellied appearance. In very severe cases, roundworms can be fatal.
It is our recommendation that pregnant bitches be wormed with daily from day 40 of pregnancy to two days after the puppies are born. Please contact us to discuss a suitable wormer.
Worming will reduce the amount of worms present in the bitch, therefore reducing the amount passed on to the newborn pups. This will ensure that they receive all the nutrition from their mothers’ milk giving them the best possible start in life.
Puppies should also be wormed at two weeks of age, and then at two-weekly intervals until 12 weeks of age. Again, we can organise the appropriate wormer.
Canine Herpes Virus
Canine Herpes Virus is a virus that has largely been ignored for many years, but it has become increasingly clear that the virus causes many more problems than was first thought. Like all herpes viruses, Canine Herpes Virus (CHV) is highly infectious, and a recent study showed that more than 80% of dogs in England have been exposed to the virus at some time in their lives.
For most dogs, the virus is not thought to cause any significant problems. However it is now clear that CHV can be a significant cause of death in young puppies, and also causes smaller litter sizes and reduced weights of puppies.
Canine Herpes Virus attacks the placenta of the mother, starving the foetus of vital nutrients. This can lead to abortion, stillbirths, or re-absorption of the foetuses. This is often mistaken for infertility when breeding dogs.
Puppies that become infected before birth and survive, may be underweight and have a compromised immune system, causing them to be more vulnerable to infection. If the puppy is infected after birth, CHV is also known to be one of the factors in “fading puppy syndrome”. This is when a pup does not suckle, loses weight and dies in spite of continual care.
As the infection is a virus, there is no cure for it. Infection is probably for life and can flare up repeatedly especially during periods of stress, such as pregnancy and whelping.
A vaccine is now available which although cannot prevent infection can significantly improve fertility rates and reduce early puppy deaths.
First injection: From heat to 7-10 days after the presumed date of mating
Second injection: 1 to 2 weeks before the expected date of whelping