Welcoming a new litter of pups into the world can be a strange experience, as dog pregnancies are simultaneously a great joy and rather stressful.
However, understanding the basics can help ensure both mother and puppies are as happy and healthy as possible before, during and after whelping.
Newsweek presents everything you need to know about pregnancy in dogs—from diet and gestation to the birth itself.
How To Prepare For Your Dog’s Pregnancy
Miniature schnauzer puppies feeds. Dog breeding is a big responsibility and there is a lot to learn when preparing for pregnancy and delivery
Dog owners should know their breed’s standard and individual breed health test recommendation, as well as the required responsibilities in bringing a healthy and well-socialized litter into the world.
The American Kennel Club’s (AKC) Chief Veterinary Officer Dr. Jerry Klein says the gestation period for dogs is generally considered to be around 63 days, “plus or minus 4-5 days but there is a caveat.”
He tells Newsweek: “Female dogs (bitches) are pregnant 63 days plus or minus 24 hours from ovulation, not necessarily from breeding.
“Interestingly, female dogs ovulate immature eggs – unlike any other species other than other canines.
“The egg goes through a maturation process, and it is ready to fertilize 2-3 days after ovulation. Conception happens three days after ovulation.”
Female dogs often have estrous cycles (when they are receptive to breeding) twice a year, but the interval between cycles can also in reality range dramatically from four to 13 months.
Klein says that breeding a litter of puppies is a “huge responsibility, costly, and a lot of work and should never be done in a frivolous manner.”
He says: “The goal of breeding a litter of dogs should always be to preserve or improve certain inherent traits of that breed for future generations along with breeding for good temperament and health.”
How To Check Whether Your Dog Is Pregnant
A jack russell terrier lying on the table at the reception at the veterinary clinic. While determining whether a dog is carrying a litter can be a little tricky, there are several methods available
Natalia Duryagina/Getty Images
While determining whether a dog is carrying a litter can be a little tricky, there are several methods available.
Pregnancy can be detected by a physical manual examination of the uterus at approximately the 21st day of gestation.
Another option is a blood test to measure a hormone called relaxin, which is capable of confirming pregnancy between days 30 and 35 of gestation.
The developing puppies are usually discernible via x-rays from approximately day 45, while this method can accurately estimate the litter size from the 55th day.
Finally, ultrasonography can reliably detect pregnancy by 25 to 35 days and also confirm to the vet that the puppy fetuses are alive.
How to care For Your Pregnant Dog
Female bernese mountain dog is feeding on her puppies. There are several things owners should do to ensure their beloved pet is in the best possible shape to prepare for her pregnancy
Dr. Klein believes there are several things owners should do to ensure their beloved pet is in the best possible shape to prepare for her pregnancy, from a high-quality diet to a little less stressful exercise regime.
Dr. Klein says: “There is much information online on the husbandry of raising puppies. Ideally, no medications or vaccines should be given to the pregnant bitch.
“One exception is in the use of certain de-wormers to prevent or reduce the presence of roundworms and hookworms. These are usually given near the last week or two of pregnancy and your veterinarian will help guide you to the proper protocol as needed.
“The pregnant bitch should be fed a high-quality pregnancy or performance commercially available diet at a usual amount to maintain weight until the last trimester of pregnancy, where increasing her food intake by about 20 percent is done by feeding smaller but more frequent meals.”
How To Get Ready for Whelping
Amstaff puppies breastfeeding. It is important to get ready for whelping
Find a large box for the expectant mother, line this with plenty of clean blankets and towels and put it in a quiet area of the home.
Please ensure this space is warm as newborn pups are quite susceptible to the cold.
Labor often begins with the mother becoming restless and appearing a little stressed. Contractions should then start and a clear fluid should come from the vulva followed shortly after by the first puppy.
Labor can last from a few minutes to several hours and it is normal for it to take 20-60 minutes between puppies being born.
The AKC advises you or someone else to be ready and willing to get involved with the labor, should the need arise.
Examples when people need to step in include when a puppy’s protective fetal membrane has not been removed by the mother dog shortly after birth.
Also, be aware should the umbilical cord is not cut during birth or by the mother, you need to do so.
However, ensure never to pull on the cord, as this can harm the puppy’s organs.
Dr. Klein added: “In most breeds, puppies are born naturally but in certain breeds, the prior arrangement of C-Section is recommended. This should be done with a veterinarian who is well-versed in the procedure and in plenty of advanced notice to prevent a costly C-Section at an emergency clinic.
“Contact your veterinarian as soon as your dog starts to go into labor to keep them informed but have the phone number of the nearest emergency clinic available in case of questions or concerns if you cannot reach your veterinarian.
“Regular exercise can be continued until nearing the end of term where many bitches become exercise intolerant and exercise should be restricted to walks.”