What to Expect When Your Dog Is Expecting
There are few things as exciting as the pitter-patter of little feet, even if they are of the canine variety. Are you ready to take the plunge with your dog?
Each female dog is only fertile twice a year, with each fertile period lasting from 3 – 10 days. You can expect the dog to begin having heat cycles at about four months of age for small breeds and at about twelve months of age for very large breeds. The heat cycle lasts about three weeks, but the actual fertile days will be different for different dogs.
The beginning of a heat cycle is marked by a release of blood from the uterus prior to the fertile period. The dog will begin licking her genitals, and the vulva will harden and swell slightly at the beginning of the heat cycle. When the blood turns from dark red to a salmon color, the area around the dog’s vagina will swell even more and will begin to soften. She will urinate more frequently to tell all the little boy dogs that she is available. During the fertile period, you may notice a yellow vaginal discharge.
Signs of Canine Pregnancy
If your dog has mated during her fertile period, chances are good she will become pregnant. Canine sperm are designed to remain active inside the female dog’s body for two to three days to keep them available if the ovaries haven’t yet released any eggs at the time of mating. Once the eggs are released, the sperm fertilize them and they are implanted in the uterine lining about ten or eleven days after mating has occurred.
If you look very carefully at the mama dog’s nipples you will notice one of the earliest signs of pregnancy about four or five days after the eggs have implanted (14 to 15 days after mating). The nipples will begin to enlarge and turn a darker shade of pink. Over the next several days, the fur around the nipples will thin out to make the nipples more accessible for the puppies.
About three to four weeks after mating, you might notice that your mama dog isn’t as interested in eating as she once was. Although she won’t vomit much, this is the canine version of morning sickness. Your job is to make sure she eats enough to provide the proper nourishment to her growing puppies. She may be able to tolerate several small meals a day, rather than one or two large meals.
By the middle of the third week, you should be able to hear the puppies’ heartbeats if you have a stethoscope, and about a week after that, you will actually be able to feel walnut-sized puppies through the mama dog’s abdominal wall. Her belly will continue to enlarge as the puppies grow.
By about six weeks, the puppies will begin squirming around, and if your dog will let you touch her abdomen, you will feel them kicking, just as a human baby would. Her abdomen will be very stretched and hard, and she may not want to eat because her tummy is so crowded with puppies. Again, make sure she is eating enough to keep the puppies healthy. If nothing else, you can give her equal parts condensed milk and water, with some raw egg yolks for protein.
Doctors Foster and Smith offer some important information about diagnosing pregnancy and caring for a pregnant dog in their Pet Education Center.
Preparing for Whelping
You can expect your dog to deliver her pups about seven to nine weeks after mating, with 62 days being the average. A few days before delivery, if you squeeze the mama dog’s nipples you will see a milky discharge. You may also notice clear discharge from her vagina. About 12 to 24 hours before delivery, her rectal temperature will drop from about 101 to about 98 degrees Fahrenheit.
As her due date gets closer, Mama may begin trying to sniff out a good den for whelping. You can help her out by providing a whelping pen. The pen should have sides high enough that the puppies will not be able to crawl out when they reach about four to six weeks of age, but not so tall that mama can’t get out when she needs a break. Obviously, this ideal wall height will be determined by the breed. Great Danes will need much higher walls than Chihuahuas.
Because your mama dog will be sleeping in the pen with her puppies, you want to provide a safe place where the puppies can sleep without being smothered if the mama happens to roll over in her sleep. A low ledge running around the inside of the walls fulfills this purpose.
Although you can buy or build a whelping pen, a readily available alternative is to use a child’s playpen. Collapsing one side allows the mama to step out easily, and it provides a safe place for the puppies to sleep without fear of mama’s restlessness.
Line the box with newspapers or towels, and allow your mama dog to build her nest in a way that makes her comfortable. Make sure the whelping box is placed in a quiet area of your home where the mama can have a little privacy as she delivers her puppies. Warmth is also an issue as puppies have a hard time controlling their body temperatures. Your whelping box should have a “warm end” and a “cold end” so the puppies can sleep wherever they are most comfortable. You can accomplish this by placing a heating lamp, a heating pad, or a hot water bottle at one end of the pen. If you use a hot water bottle or heating pad, be sure to cover it with several towels and check the cord of the heating pad frequently to make sure the puppies aren’t chewing it.
When your dog goes into labor, you can expect about six to twelve hours of contractions before she begins actively trying to push the puppies out. Active labor lasts for about twenty minutes for each puppy, and if it goes longer than one hour without producing results, you should contact your vet.
After each puppy is born, the placenta to which he is attached will be expelled and should be removed from the whelping pen. Your dog will then likely enter a resting period of about an hour before beginning active labor with each subsequent puppy.
If your dog is healthy, chances are she will be able to deliver her puppies and care for them by herself. However, certain pregnancies are at high risk for problem deliveries, and should probably be attended by a professional or delivered by Caesarian section. In particular, puppies of a relatively small mama and a large papa may have trouble being born naturally. Your vet can advise you during the dog’s pregnancy whether to expect a Caesarian birth.
Learn more about Caesarian births (pictures included) from VetMedicine.About.com.
Sometimes, your dog will encounter unexpected problems during the birthing process, and an emergency C-section will be required. If your dog’s labor stops for longer than four hours when you know there are more puppies inside, or if active labor doesn’t produce a puppy within an hour, your vet should be consulted immediately.
In less drastic cases, you may find that you can help your dog deliver her puppies naturally simply by dislodging the puppy if he gets stuck in the birth canal. Most puppies come out either head first or tail first. If they get stuck, it is usually because the shoulders or hips are not aligned correctly in the birth canal.. You can hook your index fingers behind the shoulders or over the hips and pull gently downward to free the obstruction. Never pull on the legs or ears, as they might just come off if you get carried away!
Caring for Newborn Puppies
Most mama dogs make fine mothers and will do everything that is needed for their puppies. However, if your mama is too tired or decides to reject a pup or two, you may have to step in. Normally, the mama will clean the amniotic sac from the puppy and lick the baby to stimulate breathing. If she doesn’t start this process within two minutes of birth, you must use your fingers to remove the sac from the puppy’s head, clear the mouth and nose of mucus, and massage the puppy gently with a clean towel, particularly around the umbilical cord, to stimulate breathing.
If the mama doesn’t chew through the umbilical cord, tie a strand of dental floss around the cord about an inch away from the puppy’s belly, then tie another strand of floss about a quarter-inch closer to the placenta. Cut the cord between the two strands of floss, and clean the end that is attached to the puppy with betadine or iodine.
Place each puppy near mama’s belly and make sure he or she starts suckling soon. (This will actually help the mama deliver the remaining pups.)
Read more about puppy care from a dog lover writing on Associated Content.
If you’ve ever had a baby, you know just how tired your dog will be after whelping. After she has delivered all of her puppies, you may want to let her outside for a potty break, then try to get her to eat something.
Expect a bright green or reddish-brown discharge from her vagina for the next two months or so, but if you see bright red bloody discharge, contact your vet.
Take the mama’s temperature daily to watch for infection. It is not uncommon for the mammaries to become infected in nursing dog. If that happens, the mammary glands will become inflamed and painful, and your dog’s temperature will rise above 103 degrees.
Allow mama to have free access to a high quality food several times each day. Although she is no longer eating for two (or five), she is providing her puppies with valuable nutrients in her breast milk, which depletes the nutrients which would normally be retained in her own body. Keep the mama’s food and water dishes outside the whelping pen so the puppies don’t get into them.
Just like your human babies, puppies grow up all too fast, so make sure you make the time to enjoy them while they are small.