Pregnancy in the dog lasts for an average of 63 days (9 weeks). This is generally taken from the time of the last mating and can vary in length (i.e.some bitches may go up to 10 weeks)
Confirmation of pregnancy can be achieved by:
- Palpation of the abdomen, an easy, quick and inexpensive method performed by the Veterinarian, but is unreliable in early stages
- Ultrasound of the abdomen is easy and quick which can reliably detect pregnancy 24-28 days after breeding
- X-ray of the abdomen 40-45 days after breeding to determine the number of pups
The bitch’s body temperature will drop by 1.1 – 1.7°C, 6 to 18 hours before giving birth, so measuring the rectal temperature is a reliable way to determine the onset of the labor. Gain a baseline temperature by measuring the temperature 2 to 3 times daily during the last 2 weeks of pregnancy. Behavioural changes will also be a clue that labor is close – panting, nesting and restlessness are the most common.
Stages of labor
- Stage 1 the bitch will exhibit nesting behaviour (looking for somewhere to have her pups), restlessness, shivering and will often go off their food. The most characteristic sign is panting. This stage will last between 6-12 hours
- Stage 2 there is obvious abdominal contractions followed by delivery of the puppy. All the puppies are usually born within 3 to 6 hours
- Stage 3 involves passage of the placenta or membranes. This usually takes between 5-15 minutes after the birth of each puppy. After the birth of each puppy, the bitch should chew through the umbilical cord and lick the puppy clean to remove the membranes. This is an important bonding action between the bitch and the pup. If the bitch doesn’t clean the membranes from the pup’s face, the owner should (but don’t jump in before the bitch has a chance to do it!)
When to be concerned
Illness in a bitch ready to give birth, or after giving birth Bitches that have previously had difficulty giving birth More than 24 hours since rectal temperature drop More than 12 hours of stage 1 behaviour If partially delivered pup present for more than 10-15 min (i.e. stuck) If more than 3 hours of abdominal contraction with no pup More than 1 hour of abdominal contraction between pups Constant, unrelenting, unproductive straining for 20-30min
The puppy’s most important requirement is warmth. The 2nd most important requirement is colostrum from the bitch. Monitor all the puppies to ensure they each find a nipple to nurse. If a puppy doesn’t find the nipple, give the puppy guidance.
Note: During pregnancy and raising puppies, the diet of the bitch is critical, as there will be huge strains on her energy and calcium reserves. Feed the bitch a high quality commercial puppy food, from mid-pregnancy through to weaning the pups.