Pregnancy and Labour in Dogs

Gestation in Dogs

Gestation (Pregnancy) Period: 63 days but puppies can be born between 58 and 68 days.

Pregnancy Detection: Pregnancy may be detected by your veterinarian at 26-35 days through feeling the abdomen. Radiographs are possible after 45 days and an ultrasound can be done after 21 days.

Physical Changes: In the first 5 weeks, there are few noticeable changes. After the 5th week you may notice weight gain depending on the size of the litter. The mammary glands do not usually enlarge until the 45th day, and milk is not usually produced until a few days before delivery.

Behavioural Changes: Behavioural changes are commonly seen in the last few weeks of pregnancy. Your pet may become restless, seek seclusion and in the last few days of pregnancy may soil the house. In the last couple of weeks she may begin ‘nest building’ by shredding paper, blankets or bedding.

Nutrition: Putting your pet on a premium puppy diet is necessary for the last few weeks of pregnancy and lactation as their nutritional needs nearly double. Bitches should be fed increased amounts over the course of several small meals each day. Fresh water should always be available as fluid needs are also greatly increased. It is not recommended to supplement extra calcium during pregnancy – this can actually predispose the bitch to milk fever (eclampsia).

Exercise: Moderate exercise is okay and is recommended, but should not be pushed if the bitch does not want to. Small walks and play time are generally okay. Avoid long and strenuous exercise. Too much rest can also be detrimental.


Whelping in Dogs

Preparation for Whelping: A whelping box should be provided before the mother gives birth to the puppies to get her used to it. The box or bed should be sized so it is not too large, but has room for the bitch to lie down and so the pups can move around her to access the teats. It should have raised sides so that the puppies cannot crawl out. The box should be placed in a quiet area of the home where the puppies and bitch will not be disturbed. Newspapers are great for bedding as the bitch can shred it up to make her nest. Remember to change the newspaper regularly. If bedding is used it needs to be washed regularly.


Labour: Labour can be divided into three stages:

Stage 1: During the first stage, the bitch will be very restless, nervous and try to seek seclusion. This stage may last 6-24 hours, and is a good time to allow her to urinate and defecate. Often the bitch will not want to eat during this stage.

Stage 2: In this stage contractions begin and the first puppy will be born. A small greenish sac is protruded from the vulva, followed by a puppy and its afterbirth. The normal presentation of a puppy is nose first and stomach down, however a third of puppies are born backwards.

Stage 3: The third stage of labour is the resting stage and this occurs between each puppy. Mild contractions and delivery of afterbirth occur during this stage. It is normal for the bitch to eat the after birth.


Complications: It is important to ring your veterinarian if any of the following occur:

1.      There are contractions and straining occurring but no puppies (or the next puppy) are not delivered within two hours.

2.      Strong persistent labour is occurring but no puppies have been delivered within 30 minutes.

3.      You cannot remove a puppy which has become lodged in the birth canal. If a puppy has become lodged and the mother cannot budge it, use a towel to apply firm pressure which may take up to 5 minutes. If you cannot budge the puppy then contact the veterinarian immediately.

4.      There is greenish/black discharge and no labour or puppies are delivered within 3-4 hours (this discharge is normal, but should be followed closely behind with the delivery of puppies. If not it can indicate a puppy is in distress).

5. The pregnancy lasts more than 65 days.


Care of the Mother and Puppies after Whelping

Care of the Mother after Whelping: When finished whelping the bitch should be relaxed and happy to let the puppies feed. She will just rest.

We recommend continuing to feed a premium puppy food throughout the duration of lactation so that nutritional and calcium demands are met. It is not necessary to give extra calcium if the bitch is eating a good diet. Feed the bitch small amounts of food often, and about twice the amount of what she would normally eat when not pregnant. Gradually reduce the amount and change back to normal food as the puppies wean.

It is normal for bitches to have small amounts of bloody discharge from her vulva for a few days or up to a few weeks. So long as the discharge is mild and does not have an odour it is normal.

The bitch’s faeces may be dark and more smelly than usual for a day or two if she ate the after birth during labour.

Watch for signs of milk fever: these include panting, restlessness, irritability, not letting the puppies feed, muscle twitches or tremors, weakness, lethargy and possibly collapse or coma. If you notice any of these signs, contact the veterinary clinic.

Newborn Care:  After the birth of each puppy the bitch will usually bite the umbilical cord if it is not already broken and being to lick and clear away the membranes from the puppy. This should rapidly stimulate the puppy to breath and start to move and vocalise. If the bitch does not do this or the puppy is not responding you can help by ensuring the membranes are cleared from their face, mouth and nose. Rub the puppy with a towel to clean, and to stimulate respiration and circulation. After a few minutes of rubbing, the puppy should begin to squirm and vocalise. The umbilical cords can be tied with fine thread and cut on the distant end to the knot if they continue to bleed. A drop of betadine can be dabbed onto the end of the cord to prevent any infection.

Newborn puppies should feed from the bitch soon after birth. Their suck reflex should be strong. Happy puppies should be quiet most of the time and sleep for majority of the day during the first 2 weeks. They should feed regularly throughout the day.

Puppies will begin to open their eyes and their ears will open at about 2 weeks of age. They can also be wormed for the first time at this age with a puppy worming syrup. We recommend worming the puppies and the mother every two weeks.

Puppies can be started on solid food from 3 weeks of age and completely weaned at 6 weeks of age. Premium puppy tinned food is a good starting food to transition them onto solids.