Dog Breeding: How to Care for Your Pregnant Pooch
The thought of tiny, four-legged furballs running around the house is exciting. But breeding dogs is no small feat. It’s not a decision to be taken lightly.
Breeding comes with a lot of responsibility. It can be expensive. It can also be stressful, especially for the soon-to-be mamma.
If you’re considering breeding your dog, be sure to arm yourself with all the information you’ll need to keep your pups safe and healthy.
Continue reading to learn:
- How to know when your dog is pregnant
- How long your pup will be pregnant
- When to take your pregnant dog to the vet
- What to feed your pregnant pooch
- How to safely exercise your pregnant dog
- How to help your dog deliver her puppies
- Potential labour complications
Let’s get started …
How can I tell if my dog is pregnant?
During the first few weeks, some signs of pregnancy may appear:
- Mucusy vaginal discharge
- Swollen tummy
- Physical exhaustion on walks
- Larger nipples
- More cuddly
- More withdrawn
- Eating faster
- Weight gain
How long will my dog be pregnant?
A dog’s pregnancy lasts about nine weeks (~ 63 days).
Week 1: By the end of the first week, fertilized eggs will have implanted in the uterine wall.
Week 2: Puppies double in size. From weeks two to five, your dog’s weight shouldn’t change. If, however, her weight drops, she needs to see the vet as soon as possible, as the puppies may be at risk of malnourishment.
Week 3: The pups have doubled in size again! They’re also covered by a protective membrane that supplies them with nutrients.
Week 4: It’s time for your dog’s first ultrasound. This is when you’ll find out how many puppies to expect.
Week 5: The puppies’ organs are now forming, and they’re about to have another growth spurt.
Week 6: Puppies are quickly growing, and they’re developing claws.
Week 7: Pups are taking shape and fur is beginning to grow.
Week 8: The puppies’ bones are now solid, and mamma will start producing milk.
Week 9: Ready or not -- here they come! Any day now, your dog will be ready to give birth.
When should I take my pregnant dog to the vet?
Take your dog to the vet for a checkup roughly two to three weeks after the dogs have mated. Your vet will take a blood sample to test for a hormone called relaxin, which is produced when dogs become pregnant.
During the final two weeks of pregnancy, your vet may want to do one more check-up and an X-ray to find out if the puppies’ heads are small enough to safely pass through the birth canal. He’ll also want to make sure the puppies’ bones are forming properly.
A day or two after your dog gives birth, take her back to the vet to make sure there are no signs of infection of the urinary tract or breast tissue.
Your vet will also check to be sure your pooch has delivered all of her puppies and placentas, and that she has enough calcium after producing milk for her new puppies (more on this in a few minutes).
What should I feed my pregnant dog?
During the first five to six weeks of pregnancy, you may need to increase your dog’s food intake. Up to 10% more than her regular amount of food should be enough - whether you’re feeding a commercial or raw diet.
If you’re feeding a commercial diet, choose one that has at least 29% protein and 17% fat. Calcium and phosphorus are crucial for proper puppy bone formation, so mom’s food should contain 1.0-1.8% calcium and 0.8-1.6% phosphorus.
MYTH: Some people think that because lactating dogs require large amounts of calcium, you should give your dog lots of calcium when she’s pregnant. This is false.
If you give your dog too much calcium (or too much vitamin D, which increases the absorption of calcium), it can cause the parathyroid glands to stop working. Ironically, this can cause dangerously low levels of calcium.
During the final weeks of pregnancy, your pup will typically eat 15-25% more than usual. On the flip side, you may notice her shying away from food toward the end of her pregnancy. That's because her tummy feels full and uncomfortable. To make sure she's getting all her nutrients, try feeding her several smaller meals throughout the day.
How much exercise does my pregnant dog need?
Your pregnant dog does need exercise, but not too much. And nothing too rough. Good forms of exercise for pregnant dogs are calm walks and light play.
Short-distance fetch is ok, but no running and diving off the end of the dock into the lake! And absolutely no rough-housing with other pets.
Brain games are great for pregnant pups. Hide some treats around the house for her to find, or pick up some new puzzle toys.
Around the four or five-week mark, shorten her walks. You want to make sure she’s getting the exercise she needs without becoming too tired.
Carrying a litter is no easy task. She’s going to need the strength and muscle tone to give birth. Pregnancy puts a fair bit of stress on her body, and she likely feels heavy, tired and anxious. This may be especially true if it’s her first pregnancy.
Do your best to help her feel comfortable. That means lots of cuddles and gentle grooming (if she likes that). Speak to her in a calm voice. Make sure she isn’t too hot or cold, and set up a comfortable space where she can feel safe giving birth.
Will my dog need help giving birth?
Many dogs do not need any help when they’re giving birth. Even if it’s her first litter, mom's instincts should guide her through the process. Stay calm and watch her from a distance, just in case she does need some help.
The technical term when your dog goes into labour is whelping. You’ll know it’s time when you see these signs of whelping:
- Not eating
- Licking her vulva
- Mucusy vomit or vaginal discharge
- “Pawing” at her bed (aka nesting)
- Drop in temperature to 36.6°C to 37.2°C (her normal temperature is typically 38.3°C to 39.2°C)
The first puppy should follow a fluid-filled sac. Your dog might break this sac herself, which is fine. If the puppy doesn’t follow within 30 minutes of seeing the sac, call the vet to determine if she needs medical help to deliver the puppies.
Each puppy is born inside a membrane sac resembling plastic wrap. The mother should remove it, which allows the puppy to breathe. If she doesn’t do it right away on her own, you’ll have to intervene. Use a pair of round-tipped scissors to carefully open the sac so the puppy can breathe.
After the membrane sac is removed, mom should lick the puppy to stimulate it to breathe and cry. Again, if mom doesn’t do this, you’ll need to step in. Gently rub the puppy with a clean towel until it begins to breathe.
Mom should also chew through each umbilical cord. If she doesn’t, you’ll need sterilized scissors to do it for her.
After each puppy is born, a placenta should follow. Mom may try to eat them. It’s ok if she does, but she certainly doesn’t have to. In fact, some dogs experience digestive upset if they eat more than one or two, so it’s best to discard them.
Potential labour complications
Several complications may arise when your dog gives birth, and some of them can be life-threatening. Do your research and be prepared.
Eclampsia is a serious medical condition caused by a life-threatening drop in blood calcium levels. Eclampsia tends to occur when the puppies are one to four weeks old, when mom is producing the most milk.
Chihuahuas, Pomeranians, Toy Poodles, Miniature Pinschers, Shih Tzus and other small breeds are at an increased risk.
Signs of eclampsia may include:
- Excessive panting
- Stiff gait
- Muscle spasms
- Difficulty walking
Eclampsia is a medical emergency. If you suspect that your dog has eclampsia, take her to the vet immediately.
Dystocia means difficult or obstructed labour. Sometimes a dog can’t complete a delivery because the head or shoulders of the puppy can’t pass through the birth canal.
Dystocia is a medical emergency.
Bulldogs, boxers and other breeds with large heads are more likely to experience dystocia.
Signs of dystocia in dogs:
- Labour hasn’t started after 70 days
- Labour starts in less than 56 days after conception
- Green or black discharge for several days without delivery
- Strong contractions for more than an hour without delivery
- Longer than 5 hours between delivering puppies
- Extreme lethargy or weakness without delivering any puppies
- Fever higher than 39.5°C
Dystocia is a life-threatening condition. It requires professional veterinary help to correct it. If you suspect your dog has dystocia, it’s critical that you take her to the vet so they can either deliver the puppies or perform an emergency C-section.
A retained placenta occurs when a puppy is born but the placenta remains inside the mother. It can be difficult to tell if there are as many placentas as there are puppies because, after delivery, dogs tend to eat the placentas.
It’s important to watch carefully after each puppy is born to be sure the number of placentas matches the number of puppies. Retained placentas can cause a serious infection.
Signs of a retained placenta include:
- Green vaginal discharge
- Decreased appetite
Symptoms may appear right away, or they may not appear until several days after giving birth.
Retained placentas may disintegrate on their own, but if you notice a green or dark foul-smelling discharge, take your dog to the vet right away, as these are signs of infection.
Healthy mom, healthy puppies
Breeding your dog can be an amazing experience. As long as you’re prepared. Make sure you’ve done your homework and you’re ready for any possible complications.
Feed mamma the right amount of food, add our Development formula to her diet, give her the right kind of exercise, and keep her calm during this wonderful -- albeit stressful -- journey.
Hopefully you’ll wind up with a proud mamma and a healthy litter of puppies!