Caring For A Pregnant Dog

Caring for a pregnant dog can be an exciting time but also a little nerve-racking. What do you need to do as a pet parent to help your canine companion through her pregnancy?

Diet and Nutrition:

First and foremost, a balanced and nutritious diet is of the utmost importance in keeping your pregnant dog in good health, it will prepare her for the next 9 weeks of pregnancy and a further 6 weeks where she will be under enormous pressure while feeding her litter of puppies.

It is recommended to feed your pregnant dog a high-quality diet that has good levels of protein, carbohydrates, fat and an increased level of nutrients including calcium. Premium Puppy or Growth diets are the best foods you can feed your pregnant dog, brands such as Hills Puppy and Royal Canin are recommended. Homemade diets are not typically recommended as it is difficult to get the correct balance of minerals and vitamins, also the diets are not concentrated and large volumes need to be eaten to provide the high-calorie requirements.

During the last 3 weeks of pregnancy and while your dog is nursing her pups she will consume up to 3 times her normal requirement of food. During this time it is important that you canine companion continues to be active. Obesity and poor exercise tolerance can cause your pregnant dog to have birthing difficulties as she will have poor muscle tone and may tire easily during the delivery.

Vaccination and Parasite Control:

Maintaining your dog’s vaccination and parasite control is essential during pregnancy. Changes in hormone levels during pregnancy cause immature roundworms that are sitting in the tissues of the body to become active and even enter the milk supply, these can infect the puppies when they feed from her. Hookworms can also be transferred through the milk.
Your pregnant dog needs to be wormed 10 days prior to giving birth and every 3 weeks while she is feeding her pups. The pups are wormed from 2 weeks of age and wormed every 2 weeks until 12 weeks of age.
If your pregnant dog has not been vaccinated within the last 10-12 months a parvovirus booster is recommended prior to her been mated if you are intending to breed with her. If this is an unexpected pregnancy, vaccinate no later than 6 – 7 weeks into the pregnancy. Parvovirus remains one of the most common causes of puppy deaths, vaccinating the mother prior to giving birth provides good Parvovirus Antibody which she will transfer to her pups.
A check up by the Vet during pregnancy provides an opportunity to check on diet, worming and vaccination status. An ultrasound can be arranged to determine the size of the litter and to confirm false pregnancies. The best time for an examination is at 4 – 4 ½ weeks into the pregnancy.
It is important to never stop any of your dog’s healthcare and preventative treatments such as intestinal worming, heartworm prevention or flea control while she is pregnant. If you’re not sure if any of the products you are using will harm your pregnant dog check with your local Greencross Vet.

Giving Birth:

Parturition or Whelping is the terms used for “giving birth”. Whelping normally occurs 59 – 63 days after the last successful mating. The whelping process is divided into three stages:

Stage 1 (Primary Labour)

This stage lasts anywhere between 12 – 36 hours, this is the time before the first pup is born. A pregnant dog giving birth for the first time will often spend longer at this stage than a dog who has whelped before.

She will start to “nest”, that is seeking a suitable spot to have her pups and then commence to make it comfortable by arranging bedding, tearing up newspaper etc. She will be anxious, sitting down and getting up frequently, perhaps refusing food or she may even vomit. Some dogs prefer to nest away from people in a quiet spot, while others may seek out their owner’s company.

A hormone Oxytocin is released at this stage and causes an increasing pressure in the uterus by steadily increasing the muscle tone in the uterus. Under this influence, a pup begins to press on the still closed cervix.  Her temperature may drop a degree or two while she is in stage 1.

Stage 2 (Secondary Labour)

This stage is when the uterus pressure and a relaxing cervix permits the first pup to be pushed into the birth canal. Her abdomen will bulge and shorten as if she is straining to pass a motion. The contractions gradually increase in strength and frequency for a variable period, until the first pup is propelled from the vagina.
Labour comprises of two activities, active straining and resting; these two will alternate until a pup is born. Together they may occupy a period of up to 3 –4 hours. However, the active straining component should not occupy more than 15-20 minutes of concentrated effort and a pup should appear within this time, more than this is abnormal and may indicate she is having problems. At this time, you should contact your local vet directly for further instruction.
The birth of a pup is usually seen by the appearance of the amniotic sac (water bag) at the vulva. This is a thin shiny membrane filled with dark fluid, which contains the newborn pup. The sack is broken as the mother licks at it to reveal the pup. The mother then will chew through the umbilical cord and she may eat the sack and its contents, this is completely normal. The mother should then proceed to lick and roll her newborn pup; this helps to stimulate breathing.
If the mother doesn’t attend to her pup with a few minutes of giving birth, you as the pet parent should ensure that all the sack and membranes are removed from the pup’s mouth. Gently but briskly rub the pup with a dry towel; ensure the pup’s head is lowered to allow drainage of fluid from the mouth and nose.
It is best for only 1 – 2 people to be present at the birthing process, someone who the dog bonds to and intervene only if necessary.
The resting component varies greatly; up to a few hours is quite normal. The exhausting effects of labour, especially for older, less fit or obese dogs may cause them to tire and stop straining altogether; veterinary attention is needed if this occurs. Low calcium and/or Oxytocin levels can also cause the birthing process to cease. Most deliveries take less than 6 hours, but delivery of a large litter may take up to 24 hours.
If the puppies are being kept away from their mother for any time, they need to be kept in an environment that is a constant 29-32 degrees C.

Stage 3 (Final Stage)

This stage involves the contraction of the uterus to expel the final membranes and fluids. The post-whelping discharge is normally a green-blackish colour for the first 48 hours, becoming a bloody discharge, like port wine, for up to a few weeks afterwards. Some bitches will have a prolonged post-whelping discharge, sometimes lasting well into lactation, providing this is a clear blood strained discharge without odour or in large amounts this is usually completely normal.
A post whelping check is recommended with your veterinarian 24 hours after the birth of the last puppy. This allows your vet to thoroughly examine your dog and check for adequate milk production, retained foetuses and asses her body condition. At the time of the examination, your vet will also examine the newborn puppies, assesses their body condition and look for any physical abnormalities such as a cleft palate.

Caring for a whelping dog:

Once the puppies are born your dog may have a variable appetite for the first few days; she may also have a green-blackish diarrhoea particularly if she has eaten the foetal membranes at whelping.

Provide her with clean bedding; avoid loud noise and disturbing her unnecessarily while she is nursing her pups. While nursing her litter this is the time that she may become excitable, anxious or even become aggressive.
Feed her adlib, have non-perishable food out for her throughout the day, any moist or canned food should be offered & if not eaten taken away after 15 minutes. Have fresh water available which is easily accessible to her.

Problems that may occur:

The first indication that something is wrong is indicated by a restless litter of pups, if the mother is not nursing then adequately or keeping then warm enough the little pups become restless, wander from the mother, cry a lot and feel cold.

Mastitis

This is an infection of the mammary glands, the glands become hot, hard and painful to feel. The milk secretion is thicker than normal and may have white or blood tinged clots in it. Your dog may have an increased body temperature, lose her appetite and her milk production may decline or cease. Do not allow the puppies to feed off an infected gland, as they can become sick from ingesting the infected milk.

Metritis

Is the inflammation of the uterus, which can cause depression, vomiting, diarrhoea, loss of appetite and a foul discharge from the vulva.

Agalactia

Refers to inadequate milk production. It causes the pups to cry frequently and have hollow flanks instead of the more usual distended belly. Poor condition or the cessation of the mother milk supply may indicate she is unwell or debilitated.

Milk fever

This can occur between 14 – 21 days into the lactation. It is often seen in small breed dogs nursing a large litter but any size or breed dog can be at risk developing this condition. Milk Fever is characterised by a sudden onset of excitation, anxious looking or hyperactive behaviour, panting, trembling & even convulsions.  This condition requires emergency treatment by your veterinarian. Milk Fever is related to low calcium levels in the body & requires for the dog to have calcium supplement given intravenously.

Poor Mothering

Not all dogs are naturally good mothers or have the natural maternal instinct. They neglect their pups, often leaving them for long period without adequate nursing. The unfortunate owners end up doing most of the pup rearing, this can be for up to 5 weeks before the pups are weaned. Dogs with poor mothering skills are best to be desexed as they don’t tend to develop the necessary skills as they mature.

Management of Newborn Puppies

Stages of Development

  • Day 2 –3        The umbilical cord drops off
  • Day 10            Pups should have doubled their birth weight
  • Day 10 – 14   Eyes will now be opening
  • Day 13 – 17   Ears will now be opening
  • Day 16 – 18   Begin to stand & walk
  • Day 18            Develop the ability to pass urine & faeces without their mother’s assistance
  • Day 20            Canine (eye) teeth start to show
  • Day 21            Nervous system will now have developed enough to allow learning new skills

Once clean & stimulated by its mother, the newborn pup instinctively crawls to its mother’s belly & there it will soon regain lost body heat & start to suckle.
Puppies lack the means to control their body temperature for the first 3 days of life; their ability to control their temperature will slowly improve over the next few weeks of life. The pups should be protected against draught & cold & the temperature in the environment should be as follows – during the 1st week 29-32 degrees C, 2nd week 26-29 degrees C, 3rd week 23-26 degrees C & the 4th week 23 degrees C.
Pups should suckle within the first 2 hours after birth and should feed up to 15 minutes every few hours after that. The milk produced by the mother for the first 1 – 2 days after whelping is called “Colostrum”. Colostrum is high in vitamins & low in lactose, but even more importantly it contains maternal antibodies which provide protection against a variety of diseases. Failure to provide these antibodies seriously jeopardises the pup’s survival. Pups can only absorb these antibodies during the first 48 hours of life.
If the mother has a large litter or has poor mothering skills artificial feeding maybe required. The only milk substitute supplements that will sustain the pup and allow for it to develop normally are Divetalac, Animalac and Wombaroo Dog Milk. Cow’s milk or human baby milk supplements lack the nutrients to sustain the young pups & often contain lactose, which can cause diarrhoea & death in young pups.
After feeding of hand-reared pups it is necessary to stimulate the pup’s genital area with cotton wool or tissues to stimulate the passing of urine & faeces.
Newborn puppies depend on this stimulation for elimination of their wastes for the first 18 – 21 days of their life.

A few basic guidelines:

Weigh puppies daily from birth. Healthy pups should not lose more than 10% of their birth weight in the first 24 hours of life. Such pups that do lose 10% of their birth weight in the first 24 hours are subject to chilling, oxygen deprivation & undeveloped muscle tone, such pups require careful handling and human intervention to see that they feed okay & are kept warm if they are to survive. Healthy pups should have doubled their birth weight by the 10th day of life.
Puppies can be born with worms or infected shortly after birth. Roundworm are capable of causing death in your newborn pups, the worms can cause pneumonia, bowel obstructions, diarrhoea abd debilitation.
Hookworms rupture small blood vessels in the wall of the small intestine, which lead to blood loss & anaemia leading to death if severe enough. Worm your newborn pups using a product such as Drontal Puppy Suspension, worm from 2 weeks of age, and worm every 2 weeks until 12 weeks of age.
Control of fleas is important, again these parasites feed on the pup’s blood and causes anaemia, even low numbers of fleas can cause anaemia which is severe enough to cause death.  There are flea treatment products that are safe to use from 3 days of age.
Fading Puppy Syndrome describes those pups that fail to thrive; they lose body condition and will die unexpectantly. There are a number of factors involved: temperature stress, birth defects, poor nutrition, parasites and infections.
Weaning normally occurs between 5 ½ – 6 weeks of age. Talk to your local vet about the most suitable foods to wean the puppies with. With weaning, it is a matter of trying your pups from 5 weeks of age with the new foods each day, some pups will be quicker than others to accept the solid foods but the litter should be weaned by 6 – 7 weeks of age.