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Though here at Find A Vet we strongly advocate spaying or neutering your pets, we understand that from time to time accidental pregnancies do occur. We have also heard countless stories of rescued animals found pregnant or on the verge of giving birth. For that reason, we wanted to make the necessary information for helping a female dog give birth available to all pet parents. With the proper information, pet parents can avoid any unnecessary complications that could harm both the mother and offspring, and help deliver a healthy litter of puppies.
A dog’s pregnancy from conception until birth lasts about 63 days (about two months, give or take a few days). Determining whether or not your dog is pregnant is a tricky business. If you have some idea of the date of conception, do your best to keep track of that date to help you along. Besides the eventual belly bump, the best way to determine whether or not your dog is pregnant is to take her in to see a veterinarian that can perform an ultrasound around the 25th day of pregnancy.
“After 25 days, the embryonic heart may be seen beating, but it is more difficult to count the number of pups using this method. A general pregnancy blood test can be performed around day 35 just to confirm whether or not she is pregnant but neither this nor ultrasound will tell you how many puppies to expect; only radiographs can do that,” says the Mar Vista Animal Medical Center.
A radiograph can be performed around day 45, at which point “the skeletons of the unborn pups will have mineralized and are thus visible on a radiograph.” With this procedure your veterinarian should be able to tell you how many puppies to expect so that you’re well prepared for the big day.
Halfway through the pregnancy, you’ll see an increase in the mother’s appetite. “She should begin to eat about twice as much as she used to. When the puppies come and she is producing milk, her food consumption should be about three times as much as it was before her pregnancy,” writes Dr. Ron Hines on 2ndchance.info.
The pregnant mother’s exercise regime should continue as normal until about four to six weeks into the pregnancy, at which point more extreme and intense activities/exercise should be restricted to a comfortable level for the mother. Also, though vitamins and supplements are essential parts of any diet for a dog, during pregnancy a dog should be taken off of any vitamins or supplementation (particularly calcium) to avoid harm to the puppies.
As previously explained, your pregnant dog will deliver at or around 63 days. Smaller breeds may deliver as much as a week earlier, while larger breeds may deliver up to a week later, says Dr. Hines. It’s important to isolate your dog from other dogs about three weeks before labor begins and until about three weeks after the delivery of the puppies. Restricting your dog’s access to other dogs will prevent the spread of herpes, a fatal disease for unborn or newborn puppies, though adult dogs may not show symptoms.
You may create a safe space for her that includes a whelping box, lined with towels or newspaper that’s a comfortable area where she can give birth to her puppies.
Determining the big day doesn’t have to be a hazy journey. Your number one tool in determining your dog’s pregnancy is her temperature. Starting at about two weeks prior to what you think her due date may be, begin to take her temperature rectally. Her normal temperature should lie somewhere between 101° and 102.5° Fahrenheit. As soon as the mother-to-be’s temperature drops to below 100°F expect that you’ll have some newborn pups arriving within 24 hours.
The process of giving birth for your dog will come in two stages, with a third stage occurring following the pups’ birth. Although you may find the thought of helping your dog deliver puppies daunting, don’t fret because “Over 98 percent of all dogs deliver their puppies without assistance or complications,” says Dr. Hines.
During stage one of labor, after your dog’s temperature has fallen below 100°F, your dog will start to feel contractions, and like human births, the cervix will begin to dilate. Also, like human labor, the contractions are very painful and extremely uncomfortable for your dog. Contractions can last anywhere from six to eighteen hours until full dilation of the cervix occurs.
During this time you may notice any or all of the following signs of labor, all of which are perfectly normal:
Whining and whimpering
Pacing, panting, or shivering
Lack of appetite
Working instinctually at building a nest
As the pet parent, do your best to make your dog’s environment as comfortable and as calming as possible. Keep her sequestered to a safe space and be supportive and encouraging in your attitude. Though your dog may not understand your words, she will definitely understand your state of mind. If you are frantic it will make things more difficult for her, so try to maintain your cool and keep her calm.
Dr. Hines says it is important to note that if your dog does not go into labor within the 24 hours since the drop in her temperature that she should immediately be taken to the veterinarian. Similarly, if your dog’s pregnancy goes beyond 69 days, something may be wrong and your dog should see a vet. She may need a C-section to help her deliver her puppies.
The vets at Mar Vista refer to the second stage as “hard labor,” which is when the puppies make their way through the birth canal. The contractions will be at their strongest at this point as your dog does her best to push each puppy out.
As Dr. Hines explains, “Placental water sacks break and a straw-colored fluid [passes]. Placentas are expelled after each puppy or sporadically during labor.” Every puppy develops inside of the mother in its own individual amniotic sac. When they are born, the puppies are born still in that sac. It’s important to know that every pup won’t necessarily be followed by afterbirth. It’s possible for the mother dog to expel two puppies, one after the other, and then two placentas.
If you are aware of the number of puppies to be born, you can expect each to come at 45-60 minute intervals, with intercessions of 10-30 minutes of pushing on the mother’s part. Though this is the case, it’s still normal for the mother dog to take a break of up to four hours before resuming the birthing process. But all lengths of time during this process are very precarious. If your dog fails to resume pushing after four hours, or if she strains to push a puppy out for more than an hour, a veterinarian should be consulted without delay.
It’s normal for puppies to be born tail first; in fact, about half may be born in this way. If for some reason you see a puppy’s rear legs sticking out of the mother’s vagina and it’s been more than 15-30 minutes, you may try to help her by “gently pulling the puppy in a downward and rearward arcing motion,” says Dr. Hines. If you do not feel completely comfortable doing this, or if there are complications that seem beyond your capabilities, it’s always best to consult a veterinarian.
When each puppy is born, the mother will break open the amniotic sac, bite off her pup’s umbilical cord, clean the puppy profusely with her tongue to ensure proper breathing and circulation, and may even eat the afterbirth. It’s incredibly important that your dog does this as it’s the way in which a mother dog forms a bond with each puppy. If for some reason your dog refuses to do this after about 10-15 minutes, you should gently break open the amniotic sac, tie the umbilical cord about one inch from the belly in a knot or with dental floss, and cut the cord. You should then rub each puppy vigorously with a warm towel to stimulate breathing and circulation.
After all puppies have been whelped, stage three kicks in. As Dr. Hines explains, the uterus will fully contract and the mother dog will expel all of the remaining placenta, blood and fluid. Expelling all final fluids may last up to eight weeks in small amounts, say the professionals over at Mar Vista Animal Medical Center.
At this stage, the mother should be very attentive to her puppies. She should be bright and alert with a large appetite, which will help with her milk production. “Check the mother’s milk flow. It should flow with only the slightest of finger pressure,” says Dr. Hines.
This is the stage when pet parents should have their eagle eyes open. Complications may arise at this stage. A mother dog can normally run a low fever in the two days after birth, but if that fever reaches heights above 102.8°F then pet parents should be concerned. This, coupled with a lethargic, depressed, or excessively thirsty dog, may be a sign of a retained placenta or puppy. This is one of the reasons why it’s so important to know how many puppies to expect so that you as a pet parent can be ever vigilant.
These complications can also be a sign of a uterine infection, also called metritis. Signs of metritis, as according to the Mar Vista Animal Medical Center, are as follows:
Foul-smelling vaginal discharge
Loss of appetite
No interest in the puppies
Decreased milk production
If your dog required assistance during delivery, then she is more susceptible to metritis, so keep an eye out.
Another common postpartum problem that may occur is eclampsia. Also referred to as “milk fever,” eclampsia is a glandular condition where “the parathyroid gland does not secrete sufficient calcium-releasing hormone,” explains Dr. Hines. The calcium demand of lactation on the mother dog is too much to support. Many times this occurs in mother dogs that have been supplemented with calcium. This condition usually appears within three weeks of giving birth.
Signs of eclampsia, according to Mar Vista Animal Medical Center, are as follows:
Nervousness and restlessness
No interest in the pups
Stiff, painful gait
Inability to stand
This condition should not be taken lightly, as it is life-threatening and generally occurs in smaller breeds, especially those dogs with large litters. Take your dog to the vet immediately if you suspect she’s suffering from eclampsia.
Mother dogs may also suffer from mastitis, or inflammation of the breasts. “Normal nursing glands are soft and enlarged. Diseased glands are red, hard, and painful,” says Mar Vista Animal Medical Center.
The mother dog may not behave as if she’s sick because the disease is contained within the mammary tissue. Because this disease causes pain in the breasts, the mother dog might discourage her pups from nursing. But, Mar Vista Animal Medical Center says that it’s very important that puppies continue to nurse as this helps to “flush out the infected material.” You may also use hot packs on the breasts to relieve the mother dog’s suffering.
Another complication to be aware of is hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar. “The signs [of hypoglycemia] are disorientation, weakness, subnormal temperature and low blood sugar analysis,” says Dr. Hines. He also explains that any of these conditions can also contribute to early milk failure or not enough milk to wean the puppies. Though this can occur in any mother dog, dogs with eclampsia, mastitis or a systemic disease are more susceptible.
Now that your mother dog has gone through the process of giving birth, it’s time to find those puppies some homes! The best you can do as a responsible pet parent is try to find good homes for the puppies via friends, family, co-workers, or online resources such as PetFinder.com. Make sure that the family adopting your precious puppy understands the responsibility of owning a dog and that they know “dumping” an animal at a shelter should be the very last resort, but more so not an option at all.
Make sure they’re aware of a dog’s nutritional, medical, and training needs. Refer them to reputable trainers via the Association of Pet Dog Trainers. Make sure they understand that owning a dog is no cheap venture. Lots of money, time, and patience are involved in raising a puppy, nearly as much as with a human child. Discuss the dog’s nutritional options, refer them to your veterinarian, make them aware of the dog’s vaccination needs, and remind them that if all else fails and the match doesn’t work out that you’re available to help re-home the animal.
If all of that feels like a daunting task, contact a local animal rescue with a good reputation willing to take the puppies in or help you find the puppies some homes. If this does not work out, research the animal shelters in your area and make sure that you leave the puppies in a no-kill or low-kill animal shelter where they’ll have a good chance of finding good homes and a chance at living a full life. But this should be the absolutely last resort, and should be unnecessary if the proper steps are taken to ensure homes for your puppies.
Good luck and congrats to the mother-to-be!
Find A Vet HOW TO articles are intended for informational purposes only. You should always consult with your veterinarian about any health issues affecting your dog.
Have you ever helped your dog give birth? Tell us about it in the comments below!