rvl pregnancy whelping and care of the bitch

Pregnancy normally lasts about 63 days on average but the length can vary depending on the bitch
and the breed of dog. It may be possible to determine pregnancy from as early as 28 days by
palpation of the abdomen, carried out by the veterinary surgeon. We cannot accurately tell how many
puppies are present.
Ultrasound is a good, more accurate way to determine pregnancy from 4 weeks. An appointment can
be booked for this.
The bitch should be treated as normal for the first 6 weeks. After this time the amount of food should
be gradually increased so she is having about 1 ½ times as much as normal by the time of whelping.
Alternatively a puppy food can be given which contains more energy meaning the feeding amount
can stay the same. A Puppy diet is also a good idea as the pups will receive this via the milk which
can ease the transition from milk to food for the pups, when the time comes. Feeding puppy diet can
also avoid conditions such as hypocalcaemia, a condition whereby the bitch loses too much of her
own calcium in the milk she produces for the pups. Puppy food contains a higher amount of calcium
than normal diets and can ensure the bitches levels are sufficient enough to cope with the loss.
During pregnancy or prior to mating the bitch should be vaccinated, if not already, which will raise
levels of maternal antibodies that she will pass to her puppies in the colostrums, (first milk). She
should also be treated for round worms to prevent the transmission of larvae across the placenta or
milk to the puppies. We use Panacur for this which is started from day 40 and given daily until 2 days
after whelping.
The bitch should be given gentle exercise right up until whelping so she can retain muscle tone
required for a straightforward birth.
About 1 week before whelping is expected the bitch should be moved to her whelping quarters to get
used to the new environment and new smells. Traditionally the whelping box should be wooden with
rails inside about 10cm above the base. Some people choose to use a child’s paddling pool which has
cushioned sides and can be easily cleaned.
Nesting behaviour is shown in the days leading up to birth, including scratching up of bedding as an
attempt to burrow. They may become restless and clingy to one or more people. A sudden drop in
rectal temperature indicates birth is imminent, so rectal temperature should be taken in the days
leading up to whelping. A thermometer can be purchased from the practice if required. Please also
ask for a demonstration on safe and accurate temperature taking.
This is when the cervix will start to dilate. At this point the bitch may refuse food, become restless,
start to pant and even vomit. Externally you may see weak contractions. This can last anywhere from
1 hour to a whole day in some bitches.
The cervix will now be fully dilated and contractions are more obvious. The bitches straining is now
noticeable. It is quite normal for the bitch to shiver at this point. Before the pup is born there is often
a greenish black discharge which indicates parturition is starting with the placenta separating from
the uterus. This timing should be noted and the pup should be born within the next 2 hours. The
pups are born in 2 sacs, although these might not be obvious as separate parts as the first will likely
rupture in the birth canal. The 2nd may not rupture on its own; if not, the bitch will break it to release
the puppy. She will also bite the umbilical cord and lick the puppy vigorously stimulating it to breathe.
You may need to intervene at this stage and open the sac.
The placentas are passed and the bitch may or may not eat them. Normally, each puppy’s placenta is
passed after the puppy and before the next puppy arrives. Do not panic if this is not the case as
sometimes two puppies will arrive followed by two placentas and so on.
Between the 2nd and 3rd stage there is no definite time scale. Some puppies are born minutes from
each other, it is also normal for the bitch to go several hours in between them.
It is very dangerous to let the bitch have continued contractions for a prolonged period without
producing a pup. In this case veterinary assistance should be sought.
This is usually not required as the bitch will correctly resuscitate the puppies. However if she is not
the following steps should be taken.
Clear nose and mouth of any membranes or fluid
Excess fluid should be swabbed from the mouth with a cotton bud or towel edge.
The puppies can be swung if necessary but only as a last resort as this can cause damage to
the brain and spinal cord. This is done by swinging the puppy in a downward path, headfirst
taking care to support the head and body. Ideally you would be shown how to do this by an
experienced person.
Rubbing the puppy’s chest briskly may help to stimulate breathing.
At the end of whelping, the bitch should appear more settled. The puppies will naturally find their
own way to a teat to receive their first milk immediately after birth, and every 2-3 hours after this for
the first few days. During the first 24 hours following birth the milk is rich in antibodies which help
protect against disease for about 12 weeks.
The bitch at this point may need to go out to the toilet which should be encouraged and a meal
offered. Her first meal should be appetizing but not too heavy. Chicken and boiled rice can be
offered. Water should be available at all times before, during and after labour. She should be allowed
to rest at this point and there should be as little interference as possible. She will be very tired and
constantly tending to her pups – time for her to bond with them away from human contact is vital.
Hypothermia is a major cause of puppy mortalities in the early stages and so the environmental
temperature is very important. Temperatures should be kept around 25-30 degrees centigrade for the
first few days and can be reduced to 22 degrees centigrade as long as draughts are avoided.
Please note that bitches may have diarrhoea after the birth. This can simply be due to the act of
whelping but can also be linked with eating of the placenta. If this persists, a bland puppy diet should
be sought and fed. Whilst chicken and rice is fine for the short term interim (i.e. 2-3 days), it is
important to get back to a high calorie diet to ensure milk let down is at its greatest.
It is very important to monitor the well being of the bitch as well as the pups. Again, diet should help
to avoid weight loss or health problems but this does not come with a guarantee. If you should notice
any signs of shaking, panting, stiffness, oblivion or staring episodes from your bitch please contact
the surgery immediately. Weight loss normally does occur to a small extent but if your bitch is
becoming very underweight please contact the surgery for advice.
Bitches tend to be very hungry whilst lactating. This is quite normal and is due to the amount of
calories lost in feeding and caring for pups. Puppy food should help overcome this hunger and your
bitch will probably want to eat a large amount of food. Diets can be fed liberally but it is important to
ensure your bitch does not start to gain weight – some dogs are just greedy and will overeat at this
stage. It is important to get the balance right. Their required food intake may rise up to three times
their normal amount, depending on the demands and size of their litters.
There will be a vaginal discharge, green- black coloured, which will start to change to watery redbrown.
After feeding, puppies should return to sleep. This is a sign that they are full up from their meal. It is
a good idea to record the weight of pups in the early stages to ensure that they are, indeed, growing.
A 5-10% increase in bodyweight daily is ideal. We would expect eyes to open at around 2 weeks
although this can occur nearer to 3 weeks.
They should be wormed against round worms from 2 weeks and 5 and 8 weeks of age and then
monthly until 6 months old. Thereafter, they should be wormed every 3 months of their lives.
They are able to be vaccinated from 7 weeks of age.
Please feel free to call us if you have any further questions.