Healthy Pets

Pregnancy and Birth

posted: 05/15/12
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Most reputable breeders spend years learning and studying the best breeding practices.
Corbis

Breeding is not a hobby and can be a complicated science. Most reputable breeders spend years learning and studying the best breeding practices. Not only do breeders strive to bring into the world dogs that meet the American Kennel Club standard, but they also work to improve the breed. By not breeding dogs that have physical or temperamental defects, negative characters are not passed on to the next generation. Indiscriminate or unaware breeder might do more harm than good to a purebred line.

Of course, accidents do happen. In that case, it's important to be prepared to pitter patter of little paws as the delivery date approaches.

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A Bun in the Oven
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If you catch your unspayed dog getting too friendly with the neighborhood stud, you probably have reason to suspect the impending pitter-patter of little paws. Take your dog to the vet as soon as possible. A few options you may have include:

Terminating the pregnancy by a series of injections of female hormone starting within a day or two of the mating.

Spaying

Wait-and-see method in which the vet can detect a pregnancy by performing an ultrasound test as early as 23 days after conception, a simple blood test after about day 27, and, depending on your dog's body fat content and other conditions, a palpation exam after about day 30. A radiograph after about day 45 can confirm the pregnancy and provide a puppy count.

Otherwise, unless you're aware of the changes your dog will undergo, you probably won't be able to detect signs of pregnancy yourself until she's at least five weeks along. With only about eight to nine weeks (57 to 63 days) to prepare for the newborns, there will be no time to spare.

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Your girl's delivery date is imminent, but are you prepared? A whelping box, where she can relax before and after the birth, may be all that you need. Build it, buy it or use a cardboard box scaled to the soon-to-be mother's size. Make sure there's plenty of room for your dog to comfortably stretch out with her litter of growing puppies. If you're using her traveling crate, just throw a blanket over the top so the new mom and her kids can have some privacy.

No matter what you use, sharp edges, toxic paints or substances, and sides so low that the inquisitive puppies can climb out are all no-nos. Place the box in a quiet area, line it with newspaper and keep one of your dog's favorite blankets or toys inside to make her more comfortable.

To provide a warm spot for the puppies, set up a heat lamp over one corner of the box, adjusting it so the area underneath it is about 85 degrees F (29.4 degrees C). This way, you can place the newborns in the warmth, but the mother can move to a cooler area of the box if she desires.

Birthing Checklist

  • Clean cloths and towels
  • A pair of scissors
  • Rubbing alcohol for disinfecting
  • Dental floss or sturdy thread in case you have to tie off any umbilical cords
  • Povidone-iodine
  • Lubricant such as petroleum jelly
  • Baby's nose-suction bulb
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Puppy Timeline
Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

A week away ...

- The mother starts to lie in her whelping box.

- She rearranges the newspaper and blankets almost as if she appears to be making sure everything is in order.

Two to three days away ...

- The mother may eat less and discharge thick, clear mucus from her vagina.

Within a day ...

- The mother's temperature may drop below 99 degrees F (37.2 degrees C). Take her temperature once or twice a day during the last week to catch this subtle sign.

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Stages of Labor
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Stage I

- Cervix dilates.

- Pups begin to move into position for delivery (six to 24 hours).

- Your dog will pant, shiver and act restless.

- She may vomit, and her belly may begin to droop.

- She may be fearful and need your reassurance.

Stage II (The actual birthing process)

- Your dog may lie on her side in her whelping box or other chosen area, or she may remain standing.

- She'll whine or groan as the contractions become more severe and frequent.

- Reassure her with kind words and a gentle hand (but make sure that only one or two people are with her during this time so she won't feel disturbed).

- It is a good idea to have a helper available.

- This process will last anywhere from six to eight hours for a typical litter of four to six puppies, but a larger litter can take much longer.

- The amniotic sac begins to emerge from her vagina

- Her "water" breaks and a straw-colored liquid emerges -- one pup should come out within minutes.

- The mother will tear the protective amniotic wrapping and eat it.

- While she licks her puppy clean and helps to stimulate his breathing and blood flow, she'll chew and eat the umbilical cord.

- The next pup will emerge in the same way, anywhere from 15 minutes to 2 hours later

Stage III (The afterbirth delivery)

- One placenta is expelled after the birth of each puppy, and the new mother will usually eat some or all of it.

- While your dog rests between pups, make sure that the newborns have access to the nutritive and antibody-containing colostrum that her nipples produce at this point.

- While she's giving birth, move the pups to a warm part of the whelping box, or place them in a box heated to 85 degrees F (29.4 degrees C) with a hot water bottle. Hypothermia (low body temperature) or cold temperature shock is a leading cause of death in newborn puppies.

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Delivery
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Dogs have been giving birth, unassisted, for eons, and normally you should merely observe. However, sometimes having their human family members standing watch can be a matter of life or death for the mother, the pups, or both. If you notice that your dog is too busy with one pup to take care of the next one, you should assist her. If your dog shreds the umbilical cord too close to the puppy's navel, clamp or pinch the cord, tie it closed using dental floss or thread, then disinfect it with povidone-iodine. If the canine mother doesn't break the cord herself, tie it off about an inch from the pup's stomach, cut it and disinfect the end. If a puppy isn't breathing or appears very weak, swaddle him in a towel and remove mucus from his nose and mouth with a suction bulb. Gently massage his chest, turning him over periodically to arouse him.

Some circumstances require an immediate call to the vet, if not an urgent visit.

Potential Problems

  • An undelivered placenta or two, which can contribute to a serious postnatal infection for mom.
  • A dog's straining to get her pups out.
  • More than a two-hour delay between pups.
  • Dark green or bloody fluid passed before the first birth instead of afterward.
  • More than 30 minutes between the breaking of the amniotic sac and delivery.
  • A puppy's head emerging during a contraction, then slipping back into the birth canal afterward.

Also, if your dog goes into labor less than 57 days into gestation, the pups may be too immature to survive.

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Orphan Puppies
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The maternal instinct is one of the strongest in nature. Even so, a canine mother may abandon her litter as part of the natural selection process of weeding out sickly puppies, or due to a lack of bonding with her litter. In addition, a spoiled dog insecure about her rank in her human family may abandon her pups. In any of these cases, or if a mother dies during delivery, the pups will need someone to take over their care if they are to have a chance of survival.

Taking on the role of mother entails feeding them, washing them with a damp cloth, stimulating their digestive system by cleaning their belly and anus, and holding them often to socialize them. Keep them in an incubator warmed with a heating pad or bottle to between 85 degrees and 90 degrees F (29.4 degrees and 32.2 degrees C); slowly lower the temperature to 75 degrees F (23.9 degrees C) by the fourth week.

As long as you stay in close contact with your vet for advice, and the puppies receive all the inoculations and medical care they need, your orphaned litter should grow as strong as nature would have intended.

Now What?

Take the new family for a veterinary checkup as soon as you can. In some cases the vet may give the new mom an injection to clear the uterus and stimulate milk production. Stressed or overactive mothers may require extra food every day to keep up with the energy and nutritional demands of nursing; ask your vet about her needs. Also discuss the pups' inoculation schedule with the vet; normally they will need their first vaccinations, as well as another physical checkup, between 6 and 8 weeks of age.

  • 4 to 5 weeks -- Start weaning the young, giving them solid food.
  • 6 weeks -- They should be mostly eating puppy food.
  • 8 1/2 weeks -- Pups are ready to leave their mother.

Unless you have a big house and yard plus plenty of time, you won't possibly be able to care for both your dog and all of her pups. Try to make sure the puppies will be going to permanent homes and not to someone taking a pup on a whim, or as a surprise gift, or just because their kids want one. And now may be the time to ask your vet how soon your dog can be spayed, so this litter will be her last.

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