Pregnancy Information and Resources
If you are relatively inexperienced with the whelping/puppy rearing process, purchasing a book or two on the subject is highly recommended. The best current book is available on Amazon – Canine Reproduction and Neonatology by Dr Marty Greer.
Most bitches need a higher intake of protein and calories during pregnancy and throughout lactation. As mentioned before, using a breeding diet such as Royal Canin HT42 form the start of proestrus until Day 42 of gestation and then switching to a high quality puppy food after day 42 is the best strategy. Frequent smaller meals may be needed toward the end of gestation. If the bitch is fed a high quality food, and has a good appetite, additional supplements during gestation are not necessary.
It is important for the bitch to maintain her normal level of exercise throughout pregnancy. The bitch will usually have an easier time with whelping if she is fit and not too fat! You will have to judge the normal level of exercise, based on the breed and current level of fitness. Certainly, leash-walking is fine as is some swimming. Running after an object (i.e., fetch) may be OK early on, but decrease that activity later—some bitches won’t know when to quit!
Most breeders will set up a whelping box in a designated room of the house. It is important to control the ambient temperature of the box once the pups are born, it should be kept around 80 degrees. You can construct a whelping box with a rail. This prevents a pup from getting crushed between the bitch and the wall. Child’s wading pools work well – no corners and easily disinfected.
If you have done ovulation timing, we will be able to give you a pretty reliable whelping date. Predicting a whelping date based on breeding alone is more difficult, but ranges from 58-65 days from each breeding.
You can monitor the rectal temperature of a bitch prior to whelping. Many bitches will have a significant drop in temperature to below 99 degrees 24 hours prior to whelping. The temp won’t necessarily stay down after the initial drop; it can come back up. Monitor the temp first thing in the am and in the evening daily during the last week of gestation. The temp drop doesn’t occur in all bitches or if there is a singleton.
Getting the Correct Head Count
We often will do a late-gestational X-ray to count fetal skeletons. This information can be very helpful when up all night with a bitch in labor. For large litters and in some cases, X-rays are not 100% reliable. In some situations, we can’t count accurately but can still give a reasonable estimate. We can also learn some important information regarding pup size and if any signs of problems are present.
Labor monitoring service and equipment can be leased through the Whelpwise company (Veterinary Perinatal Specialties; 1-888-281-4867, www.whelpwise.com). This equipment must be reserved well in advance! With this system you can monitor uterine contractions and detect fetal heart-beats. Most people can use this equipment easily, but it is an intensive monitoring system. It is very helpful and reliable for detecting problems before they become serious. We can also dispense pre-drawn syringes of oxytocin and calcium that can be properly administered with this system. These medications can only be prescribed to Whelpwise users and need to be given under direction of the Whelpwise staff or by our doctors.
When to Worry, When to Call
While we can’t list every possible trouble-sign possible, here is a list of some of the more common problems. If any of these situations occur, please call us for assistance:
1. More that 24-48 hours after a significant temperature drop and no signs of labor in a term bitch.
2. Presence of a dark green to black vaginal discharge at any time during gestation, including preceding labor. This discharge is normally passed with the puppy or placenta (it comes from the placental attachment to the uterus), but if seen prior to actual delivery, could represent a problem.
3. Presence of any part of a pup for more than several minutes, without progression to complete delivery of that pup (i.e., a stuck pup). You can try to lubricate around the pup with some K-Y type of lubricant.
4. Active, hard labor with visible contractions or groans from the bitch for more than 15-30 minutes without delivery of a pup.
5. Delivery of a dead pup—especially if it is the first pup after a prolonged effort from the bitch. Sometimes after this, the rest of the pups will deliver easily, but if more than 1-2 hours pass and no further labor, you should call the hospital.
The delivery time between pups is quite variable. Some bitches will go no more than 20-30 minutes between pups, while others can take several hours. The standard rule is no more than 2-4 hours between pups, but this is a wide range and may not be appropriate for all situations. Walking the bitch, getting her to eat a little something or drink water can help. Feeding a small amount of ice cream may help with some calcium input, as can a Tums. A little break here and there in a large litter can be very normal. Some bitches, though, will wear out (termed uterine inertia) and not be able to deliver the remainder of a large litter without veterinary intervention.