PREGNANCY, WHELPING AND CARE OF BITCH PREGNANCY 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. ANTENATAL CARE 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. WHELPING (GIVING 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. EARLY SIGNS 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. STAGE 1 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. STAGE 2 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. STAGE 3 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. RESUSCITATION 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. THE END STAGES 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. THE DAYS AND WEEKS FOLLOWING WHELPING 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. PUPPIES 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.