Antenatal Care and Whelping
Prior to breeding your bitch you should ensure she is up to date with her vaccinations and is healthy. You should aim to get at least two good matings to ensure a pregnancy occurs (remember to note the date of the mating down somewhere so you know her due date). It is best to take the bitch to the dog to avoid any stress which may affect the performance of the dog. In order to check whether your bitch is pregnant you can have her scanned from about day 20 of the pregnancy. Scanning is easy to perform and although it is not possible to accurately count the number of puppies it can tell us if she is pregnant and if they are alive. We are able to count the number of puppies in a radiograph taken after 42 days of the pregnancy. This is when the bones of the puppies mineralise and can then be seen on an x-ray.
It is important that your bitch stays healthy during her pregnancy. Good nutrition and exercise are important. You should only need to increase her food intake in the last 2-3 weeks of the pregnancy.
The normal gestation in a bitch is 63 days, but this can vary either side by one-two days. In order to predict when she may come in to labour you can take her rectal temperature twice daily during the last week of the pregnancy. The normal temperature of a dog can range between 38-39 degrees C. About 24 hours before she will go into labour this temperature will drop by one degree.
During the first stage of labour the bitch will become restless and may show nesting behaviour. Abdominal contractions are not evident but her uterus and cervix will be preparing for birth. This stage can last for 6-12 hours. The second stage of labour is when the puppies are born. This can be extremely variable between individual dogs with some having their litters quite quickly and others taking much longer!! It is normal for puppies to come backwards and forwards. Once a puppy has been born the mother should turn and vigorously lick it. She will usually clear all the membranes from around the pup and then eat the placenta, chewing off the umbilical cord. Each puppy has a placenta and usually they are passed with the puppy, but not always. The puppy should then seek the nipple and latch on for its first feed.
There can be a huge variation between individual animals so it is important to know when things are not going according to plan and veterinary advice should be sought. As a general guide call for veterinary help if:
- The bitch has been in stage two labour (abdominal contractions) for two hours before the birth of the first pup.
- There has been more than two hours of active labour between births.
- If there has been constant unrelenting straining for more than 20 minutes without a pup being produced.
- If labour appears to have stopped before the entire litter is delivered
Once the whelping is over it is normal for the bitch to have a dark green discharge for a few hours which will then change to a red -brown colour. The amount usually diminishes quite quickly but can continue intermittently for up to 4-6 weeks. The puppies should all suckle fairly soon after being born and then a content puppy will sleep until it needs its next meal. Cold, hungry puppies will generally be quite restless and unsettled.
If you have any concerns at all while your bitch is whelping please don't hesitate to call the clinic.