Ron Hines DVM PhD
Less than half of the canine pregnancies that come to my way were planned events. My clients all tell me they had planned to get their teenage dog spayed. They really did. But most are young couples, beginning their careers, caring for small children, on a tight budgets, living in rental houses with bills and rent payments on their mind. They did mean to. But they didn’t.
But when you are fortunate enough to be able to plan ahead for puppies, here are some things I suggest:
Be sure the future mother dog is 2 years of age. Many dogs are accidentally bred on their first heat when they are not much more than puppies themselves. I advise my clients who want puppies to breed their dogs on their third heat period. By that time, the length of the dog’s estrus cycle will have been established and you can plan ahead for the event. Most dogs cycle every 5-8 months. So they will be about 24 month old when they are first bred. Toy and small breeds go into heat more frequently – as often as every 5 month. Giant breeds like St. Bernards are more likely to have a heat cycle every 12 months or so.
Take your mother-to-be dog in for a veterinary examination three month prior to having her bred. Besides a thorough examination, your vet will verify that the dog is free of intestinal parasites and heartworms. A general blood laboratory screening and a blood test for brucellosis for both her and the future stud are also a good idea. The brucella PCR test is the most accurate method. If your dog is overweight it could be susceptible to more pregnancy complications than a trimmer dog. So get your dog on a diet, if it needs one, six month prior to having her bred. Read about weight loss strategies here. If your female dog was ever hit by a car or suffered a pelvic injury, a pelvic exam and/or x-ray would be prudent as well. If yours is a purebred dog, research the genetic diseases her breed is prone to. Genetic screening tests exist for most of them (such as Embark™).
Someone who has experience breeding dogs should oversee the actual mating. You can locate these people in your area through grooming shops, boarding kennels and dog shows. Some veterinary hospitals also specialize in breeding dogs – but I do not recommend a meeting there because dogs are more relaxed and perform better in their familiar home environments.
The amount of immunity the puppies have to infectious disease is directly related to the immunity of their mothers. Some of the mother’s immunity is passed on to the puppies through her first milk or colostrum. Veterinarians are prone to administering far to many vaccinations to adult dogs. Immunity after vaccination lasts for years and years. If your dog received its puppy and one-year booster vaccinations, there is no need for more. Read about that here . I normally do not administer vaccinations to pregnant dogs.
Dogs that are bred should be negative for heartworms and for intestinal parasites. Bring a sample of their stool by your local veterinarian for a parasite check prior to breeding the dog. If you have kept your dog on a monthly heartworm preventative like you should, the pet should be negative for hookworms and roundworms because those monthly medications generally contain products that kill those worms too. If not, it should be wormed at least twice with pyrantel pamoate or fenbendazole before it is bred.
Mother dogs that have intestinal worms can pass these worms on to their puppies through the womb and through their milk. Some of the dogs that do this are negative on fecal examinations because the parasites are encysted in their muscles. This is particularly true of dogs that live in kennels with many other dogs. When kenneled dogs are involved, I suggest that the resulting puppies be wormed at six, nine and eleven weeks of age with pyrantel pamoate. Continue to give monthly heartworm and flea preventatives to your mother dog during pregnancy if the products you are using says its safe to do so. None I know of are known for a fact to be dangerous, but some have been tested in pregnant dogs and some have not. The package should say.
Flea control is also especially important once the puppies are born. That is because fleas take advantage of the nest box (whelping box) environment. In close quarters, fleas are more likely to successfully breed and increase in numbers. Should you see fleas on the puppies, pick them off with tweezers and place the fleas into a jar of alcohol. Left to get out of hand, fleas can cause anemia in puppies. The safest flea control product to use in the nest box environment is probably Frontline spray™. Products containing pyrethrins and pipronyl butoxide are also safe. However fleas have been known to revive after their initial knock-down with these mild agents. I never spay any of these products on the puppies themselves. I remove the pups, pick any fleas off of them one-by-one, and drop the fleas into alcohol. Then I return the puppies to their mother when the odor of the spray has subsided.
Late pregnancy and nursing substantially increase the nutritional requirements of dogs. Nursing mother dogs require even more nutrients than growing dogs do. The first five to six weeks of pregnancy, a mother dog rarely eats more than its usual pre-pregnancy amount. But starting soon after that, your dog’s weight and appetite should begin to increase. By her 8th week of pregnancy, she will probably be consuming ~30-50% more food than she was before she was pregnant. Of course, how many pups are growing inside of her has a big influence on that. When you notice her sniffing about for more food than usual, start to put down twenty-five percent more food. I prefer to add extra meals during the day rather than adding more scoops at her normal mealtimes. That is because the growing puppies limit the capacity of her stomach. I like to switch the mothers over to a diet designed for puppies and growing dogs about this time. But she should do well on any high-quality dog diet that is marketed for all life stages. Be sure plenty of clean water is also available. There is no need to give vitamin or mineral supplements. Over-done or improperly formulated these products can do more harm than good. An 8-9 week of pregnancy, weight gain of about 25-30% is not uncommon. Again, how many pups are inside her is the key factor in that. You do not want your dog to become fat. You should continue to be able to count her ribs and she should not become flattened over her rump or have a dimple at her tail head.
Some dogs experience a lack of appetite and something approaching “morning sickness” with occasional vomiting three or four weeks into pregnancy. Hormonal changes probably account for that. This should resolve after a week at the most. If it does not, if the dog is trembling, apprehensive, running a fever, panting or uncoordinated, see your veterinarian.
The metabolisms of individual dogs, the nutritional demands of puppies, the number of pups in the litter and the nutrient content of diets differ so much that it is impossible for me to tell you how much your dog should eat during the time it is providing milk to its puppies. Generally, food consumption peaks about the same time that milk production peaks (at about 4 weeks). You are the best judge of that. You want your dog to maintain her healthy, pre-pregnancy weight and you want active, steadily-growing puppies.
Examination By Your Veterinarian:
When the expectant mother is about thirty days pregnant, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian. This will be a “wellness” examination at which time the veterinarian will either palpate the dog to confirm that puppies are present or use an ultrasound machine to confirm the fact. By this time the dog’s nipples should have begun to swell. Blood work at this stage in a healthy dog is unnecessary. So are supplements and the like (“wellness” exams are often seen as sales opportunities by corporate veterinary practices).
Regular exercise and walks will help your pregnant dog keep her muscle tone and general health. But working the working breeds, intensive training or taking the dog on a show circuit is probably not a good idea. Obesity is potential danger in pregnant dogs when delivery time comes, so control any tendency to fatness with exercise and careful attention to her revised caloric needs. During the final three weeks of pregnancy the mother dog should be separated from other dogs in the household as well as dogs from outside the family. Isolation might also protect the mother from exposure to herpesvirus of dogs , which causes innocuous vaginal sores and nasal drainage in the mother but is often fatal to puppies.
Preparing For The Puppies:
Prepare a room for the birth to occur. This room should have an impervious floor that makes cleaning easy. It should not be drafty and should be in a quite area of the home. Prepare a bed for the dog that is lined with towels, unneeded used clothes or a whelping mat liner and get her used to using it. She will probably prefer something from the home with familiar scents over a recent purchase. If the mother won’t stay in it, you can encourage her to by petting her and giving her small food snacks now and then. Lead her to the designated nursing area when labor begins. If she begins having her puppies outside of the per-assigned area, let her. When she has completed the delivery, move them all into the designated bed. Many small mother dogs become clingy when labor begins and want you to stay with them at all times. They try to tag along behind you when you leave the room. You will probably need to spend some time with this type of dog to comfort her. After the birth of the first few puppies, these mothers usually are preoccupied with their pups and not as dependent on your presence. Their mothering hormones have begun to flow. Other delivering dogs will try to get away from you and hide. They are apprehensive because they do not understand what is going on. Give them the space they need, but keep checking in on that type of dog regularly. Most get over it. But some were just not destined to be good mothers.
It is quite possible that you might miss the birthing process entirely. You might wake up one morning or return from work only to find you have a brand new litter of puppies contentedly nursing on their mom. If your nursery room is not warm enough, you can warm the nest box by wrapping a heating pad in a towel, setting it on “low,” and placing it under one half of the nursery bed. This allows the mother and puppies to move away from the heat source if they choose to. Heating pads are sold specifically for this. (ref) Read my articles links on birthing and caring for newborn puppies at the top of this page.
When labor is eminent the mother’s appetite will usually decrease or disappear. By their third or fourth week, the puppies should be showing interest in eating on their own. Encourage the puppies to eat solids by themselves as soon as you can in order to remove the stress of milk production from the mother. By six to eight weeks the puppies should be fully weaned. So their mother’s food can revert back to the amount she ate prior to her pregnancy. When you wean the puppies help the mother’s milk supply to dry up. You can do that by withholding food and only offering her half the water she would normally consume that day. The following day, give her only a quarter of her pre-pregnancy food supply and one half the water. From the second day on give her all the water she wants. Slowly increase her food over five days until it is back to her pre-pregnancy level. If she has lost weight during the pregnancy adjust her food intake upward to make up the lost weight.