Watching a mother dog give birth and raise babies can be a much anticipated and exciting event for the family. Work closely with your veterinarian to know what to expect and what to do if something goes wrong. Below is a guide to help you through this journey.
How to know if a dog is pregnant
If you think your dog may be pregnant, take her to your veterinarian for a physical examination.
Your veterinarian may not be able to feel a pregnancy until very late in gestation, and it may still be difficult to determine, especially in large or overweight dogs.
Radiographs (X-Rays) can detect pregnancy at about 46 days when the fetal bones become visible. It is a good idea to have radiographs performed to know how many puppies to expect so that you know when labor is over.
Ultrasound can detect pregnancy sooner, at about 28 days, and can assess the viability of fetuses.
Blood tests are available to detect pregnancy at about 30 days.
Your veterinarian may recommend a deworming protocol, as well as a vitamin supplement or additional care. A pregnant dog needs to eat a high-quality puppy food during pregnancy until the puppies are weaned.
During pregnancy, her caloric needs will double. During nursing, her caloric needs will triple. A calcium supplement may be recommended, especially for small dogs.
If the pregnancy was not planned, discussed spaying the dog and terminating the pregnancy. It is difficult to find good life-long homes for puppies. The more puppies that are born, the more there are that do not find homes.
Signs of Pregnancy
- Mucoid vaginal discharge
- Increased appetite
- Development of mammary glands and nipples
- Weight gain and increased abdominal size
- More affectionate or clingy behavior
The average gestation of a dog is 63 days (nine weeks).
After ovulation, the body produces progesterone, which wears off after about 70 days if she is not pregnant. If false pregnancy occurs during this time, the female will mimic signs of pregnancy, usually at about six to twelve weeks after the heat cycle.
Symptoms vary and can include:
- Nesting behavior
- Mammary and nipple development
- Mild production
- Abdominal enlargement
- Some dogs may even collect objects, such as stuffed animals, and care for them as though they are puppies
False pregnancy will resolve on its own in about three weeks and is usually not treated. In severe cases, medications can be given to stop milk production and end the false pregnancy.
Dogs that have false pregnancy will likely have it again and should be spayed after the false pregnancy is over.
Information about whelping
When the mother’s rectal temperature drops below 100 degrees Fahrenheit, labor should begin within 24 hours. When labor begins, she will appear anxious, pace, and pant. She will lay down as contractions strengthen.
Provide a birthing area with plenty of clean bedding. Keep her indoors in a quiet, warm place. Keep other pets and children away to avoid stress while she is in labor and taking care of her puppies.
When to be worried during whelping
Contact your veterinarian immediately if any of the following occur:
- Labor has not begun within 24 hours of the mother’s rectal temperature dropping below 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
- There is a puppy that is visible in the birth canal and not passing.
- The mother is in significant pain or distress or is weak.
- It has been more than four hours between puppies.
- The mother is bleeding excessively.
- Contractions for more than 30 minutes have not produced a puppy.
What to do if your dog is having problems during whelping
Difficulty in labor is an emergency. Take your dog to the veterinarian immediately if she is having trouble whelping. If your veterinarian is closed, she needs to go to an emergency clinic.
Your veterinarian may be able to administer medication to increase contractions and allow for a natural birth. Some puppies that are abnormally positioned can be repositioned and passed vaginally.
Sometimes, it is in the best interest of the mother and the puppies to have a caesarian section. This is an excellent time to have the mother spayed so that she does not have to go through an additional surgical procedure to be spayed later.
Spaying at the time of a caesarian section does not prolong recovery. She will be able to produce milk and nurse normally after a caesarian section with or without a spay.
Common causes of difficulty with whelping
Dystocia is a general term for a difficult birth. Common causes include:
- A female that is too young or small, or has a narrow pelvis
- Large puppies, which often occurs if the male dog is larger than the female
- Nutritional deficiencies of the mother
- Mal-positioning of a fetus
- Uterine inertia
Certain breeds of dogs, such as English bulldogs and French bulldogs, are expected to need a caesarian section. This should be scheduled ahead of time and performed before labor begins.
After the puppies are born
Take your dog to the veterinarian to have her, and the puppies examined. Your veterinarian will confirm that no puppies are left inside the birth canal or uterus. This may require a radiograph.
If the mother is not producing adequate milk, bottle supplementation may be needed.
Mastitis is an inflammatory condition of the mammary glands, which usually includes infection. Monitor for mastitis by feeling the breast tissue frequently for any areas that are warm, hard, red, or painful.
Provide a quiet, warm, draft-free nursing area. The area should be enclosed with low enough sides that the mother can jump out easily, but the puppies should not be able to crawl out. She will need to have breaks from her puppies to eat, drink, and eliminate.
The nursing area should be large enough to allow her to lay and stretch out comfortably without crushing the puppies. It should be small enough that the puppies cannot crawl away and get lost or cold.
Puppies should not be handled by small children. Keep pets away from the mother and newborns, as this may be stressful for her. Loud children may upset the mother, even a friendly dog may bite if she feels that her puppies are in danger.
Prevention of Pregnancy
While experiencing the birth of puppies is exciting, remember that there is a pet overpopulation crisis in the US. The ASPCA estimates that 1.5 million homeless pets are euthanized in shelters every year simply because there are more pets than homes.
Families that are wanting children to experience the miracle of birth should consider fostering a pregnant dog through a rescue. This way, they can experience birth and raising puppies without contributing to the pet overpopulation problem.
Spaying is healthier and prolongs the life expectancy of a dog by reducing the risk of breast cancer and pyometra (a life-threatening uterine infection).
Spaying your dog is healthier for her and helps keep homeless dogs from being euthanized.
If your dog is pregnant, learn what to expect and be prepared if something goes wrong. Keep your veterinarian’s phone number on hand, as well as the number for an emergency clinic in case you need help after hours.
The birthing process and raising puppies is a unique experience that takes a lot of work but is quite rewarding.
Consider spaying your dog before she comes into heat to avoid creating additional puppies that add to the overpopulation problem. Rescue groups need fosters to care for pregnant mothers and newborns until their puppies are old enough for adoption.