Below are a variety of tips on how to take care of your pregnant dog and keeping them happy during their pregnancy.
Nutrition and Weight
Feed your dog a high quality balanced dog food throughout the pregnancy. Feed her normal daily amount of food for the first six weeks of the pregnancy. During the last two weeks of the pregnancy, slowly increase the volume to 1 ½ times her normal amount of food. Since her enlarged uterus will be pressing on her stomach, divide this amount into numerous smaller meals throughout the day.
Avoid any vitamin or mineral supplementations during the pregnancy. In particular avoid calcium supplements since this can lead to hypocalcemia after the dog gives birth and starts producing milk for her pups.
The weight of a pregnant dog is also an issue during pregnancy. There is an increased risk of pregnancy complications in overweight dogs. This is partially due to the laying down of fat in the pelvic canal. Therefore continuing with regular exercise is important during pregnancy. Avoid starting any new strenuous forms of exercise, as weight loss should not be a goal during pregnancy and strenuous exercise may not be good for either the mother nor the pups. Instead continue with the current level of exercise the dog is used to. Gentle regular walking is the best activity for pregnant dogs.
Monitoring the Pregnancy:
During the pregnancy an ultrasound can be used to detect pregnancy and fetal viability, but is not a good way to determine the number of offspring. This can be done earlier in the pregnancy than an X-ray which is done after 45 days of gestation to determine the number of offspring. In smaller dogs the X-ray should be done the last week of gestation when the size of the fetal skulls can be measured versus the maternal pelvic size. Another way to determine pregnancy is to draw blood 22-27 days post breeding to measure the relaxin level in the bloodstream.
The length of pregnancy in dogs is approximately 63 days. Milk production in the pregnant dog starts 1-7 days before parturition. Milk production can also be present in pseudopregnant dogs.
During pregnancy a mucoid to pink tinged vulvar discharge can be present in normal dogs. Monitor for and report any bloody or yellow-green discharge as these can indicate serious disease. Restrict exposure to unknown dogs for the last three weeks of pregnancy to avoid exposure to infectious diseases.
Start taking a rectal temperature each morning and evening the last 7 days of gestation. Look for the sudden drop in temperature that occurs 24 hours before birth. The normal temperature of dogs is 100.5-102.5 and the usual drop in temperature before parturition is to below 99 degrees.
A safe, quiet, draft-free and traffic-free area of the house should be chosen for the whelping box. The whelping box should be of an easy to clean material. A children’s plastic swimming pool is often used because it is easy to keep clean and the mother dog can step out of the pool but the pups are kept safely inside. A whelping box with a “pig rail” around it can help prevent neonatal crushing by the mother. Washable rugs and blankets can be placed inside to allow puppies to crawl around and develop their muscles. Set up and introduce the expectant dog to the whelping box one week before the whelping date so she becomes familiar and comfortable with the setting.
First stage of labor
The first stage of labor lasts 2-12 hours and involves increased uterine motility and cervical dilation. The dog may show nervousness, shivering, anorexia, and vomiting.
Second stage of labor
The second stage of labor involves stronger uterine contractions and fluid expulsion. The average delivery time per pup is 30-60 minutes. Rest periods between puppies are normal if the mother is resting comfortably and taking care of the already delivered pups. The greenish-black discharge seen along with delivery of pups is a normal product of labor
The mother dog should break the thin whitish membrane surrounding the pup. If she does not do this promptly on her own, remove these membranes especially around the nostrils to avoid suffocation.
Seek Veterinary assistance if: 1) active contractions do not produce a puppy within one hour, 2) rest periods last longer than 4 hours, 3) no puppies are produced within 1 ½ hours after the birthing fluids are discharged, or 4) a thick black vulvar discharge is seen without any signs of labor (this indicates a dead puppy).
Third stage of labor
The third stage of labor involves the passage of placentas. Try to keep count of the placentas as they pass. This can be difficult since the mother often eats them and chews the umbilical cords from the puppy. Retained placentas are rare.
Taking care of the mother
Daily palpate the mammary glands to check for any pain, redness, swelling and check the milk for any abnormal discharge. There will be a normal watery to mucoid vulvar discharge mostly produced in the first two weeks after birth, decreasing with time and lasting another 4-6 weeks. Seek Veterinary assistance if there is any yellow-green discharge or a bloody discharge after the first week. Daily monitor appetite, attitude and care of the puppies and promptly report any abnormalities.
Taking care of the puppies
Check over each puppy for cleft palates or other abnormalities. The puppies should drink within the first 24 hours after birth and continue drinking daily. Weigh the puppies daily. They should gain 5-10% of the body weight daily after a 1-2 day initial lag period. Seek Veterinary assistance if there is weight loss or an inability to gain weight daily after the third day after birth.
Avoid drafts and keep the puppies warm especially the first two weeks of life since neonatal pups are unable to regulate body temperature. Be careful with heat sources used (such as lamps or pads) since use can cause hyperthermia or burns if used incorrectly.