Health and Breeding
Raising puppies can be an extremely rewarding experience or it may produce frustration and failure. The following information is provided in order to increase your chances of success.
How often does a female dog come into heat?
The female dog comes into heat (estrus) about every six months, although very large breeds of dogs may cycle every 8-10 months. The heat period lasts about three weeks.
What are the signs of heat?
The most notable sign of heat is vaginal bleeding. This begins about the end of the first week of estrus and lasts for about 10-14 days. Another consistent sign is swelling of the vulva. During estrus male dogs will be attracted to her. The most fertile time is considered the 10th through the 14th days of estrus; however, some dogs will be fertile as early as the 3rd day and as late as the 18th day.
What should I expect during my dog's pregnancy?
Pregnancy, also called the gestation period, ranges from 60 to 67 days, averaging 63 days. Most dogs deliver (whelp) between days 63 and 65. The only way to accurately determine the stage of pregnancy is to count days from the time of breeding. If at all possible, the breeding date(s) should be recorded. The mother should be examined three weeks after breeding to confirm her pregnancy.
A pregnant dog should be fed a puppy formulation of a premium brand of dog food for the duration of the pregnancy and through the nursing period. These diets are generally available through veterinary hospitals or pet stores. Puppy diets provide all the extra nutrition needed for the mother and her litter. If the mother is eating one of these diets , no calcium, vitamin, or mineral supplements are needed. The puppy formulation is necessary to provide the extra nutrients for pregnancy and nursing.
During pregnancy, the mother's food consumption will often reach 1 & half times her level before pregnancy. By the end of the nursing period, it may exceed two times the pre-pregnancy amount. Do not withhold food; increasing the number of feedings per day is helpful in allowing her to eat enough for her needs and those of the puppies.
What should I do to prepare for whelping?
From the time of breeding, many dogs show behavioral changes. Most develop an unusually sweet and loving disposition and demand more affection and attention. Some may become uncharacteristically irritable. Some experience a few days of vomition (morning sickness), followed by the development of a ravenous appetite which persists throughout the pregnancy.
During the latter stages of pregnancy, the expectant mother begins to look for a secure place for delivery. Many become uncomfortable being alone and will cling closely to the guardian. At the onset of labor, many nervously seek a place to make the "nest" or birthing place. If the dog is attached to her guardian, she will not want to be left alone at the time of delivery. If left alone, she may delay delivery until the guardian returns.
Prior to the time of delivery, a whelping box should be selected and placed in a secluded place, such as a closet or a secluded corner. The box should be large enough for the dog to move around freely, but have low enough sides so that she can see out and so you can reach inside to give assistance, if needed. The bottom of the box should be lined with several layers of newspapers. These provide a private hiding place for the expectant and delivering mother and will absorb the birthing fluids. The upper, soiled layers may be removed with minimal interruption to the mother and her newborn puppies.
What happens during labor and delivery?
Most dogs experience delivery without complications; however, first-time mothers should be attended by their guardians until at least one or two puppies are born. If these are born quickly and without assistance, further attendance may not be necessary, although it is desirable. If the guardian elects to leave, care should be taken so that the dog does not try to follow and leave the whelping box.
The signs of impending labor generally include nervousness and panting. The dog will often quit eating during the last 24 hours before labor. She will also usually have a drop in rectal temperature below 100F (37.8C). The temperature drop may occur intermittently for several days prior to delivery, but it will usually be constant for the last 24 hours.
Delivery times will vary. Dogs having slim heads, such as Shelties, Collies, and Dobermans, may complete delivery in one to two hours. Dogs having large, round heads generally require longer delivery times. English Bulldogs, Boston Terriers, and Pekinese puppies tend to have sizable heads that make delivery more difficult. It is not unusual for these breeds to rest an hour or more between each puppy. Rarely, a dog may deliver one or two puppies, then have labor stop for as long as twenty-four hours before the remainder of the litter is born. If labor does not resume within a few hours after the delivery of the first puppies, examination by a veterinarian is advised. If labor is interrupted for twenty-four hours or more, veterinary assistance should definitely be obtained.
Puppies are usually born head first; however, breech presentations, in which the puppy is delivered tail-end first, occur about 40% of the time and are also considered normal. Each puppy is enclosed in a sac that is part of the placenta (afterbirth). The placentas usually pass after the puppies are born. Any that do not pass will disintegrate and pass within 24-48 hours after delivery. It is normal for the mother to eat the placentas. If the delivery proceeds normally, a few contractions will discharge the puppy; it should exit the birth canal within ten minutes of being visible. Following delivery, the mother should lick the newborn's face. She will then proceed to wash it and toss it about. Her tongue is used to tear the sac and expose the mouth and nose. This vigorous washing stimulates circulation, causing the puppy to cry and begin breathing; it also dries the newborn's haircoat. The mother will sever the umbilical cord by chewing it about half to 1 inch (1 & half to 2 cm) from the body. Next, she will eat the placenta.
If the puppy or a fluid-filled bubble is partially visible from the vagina, the owner should assist delivery. A dampened gauze or thin wash cloth can be used to break the bubble and grasp the head or feet. When a contraction occurs, firm traction should be applied in a downward (i.e., toward her rear feet) direction. If reasonable traction is applied without being able to remove the puppy, or if the mother cries intensely during this process, the puppy is probably lodged. A veterinarian's assistance must be sought without delay.
It is normal for the mother to remove the placental sac and clean the puppies. First-time mothers may be bewildered by the experience and hesitate to do so. If the sac is not removed within a few minutes after delivery, the puppy will suffocate, so you should be prepared to intervene. The puppy's face should be wiped with a damp wash cloth or gauze to remove the sac and allow breathing. Vigorous rubbing with a soft, warm towel will stimulate circulation and dry the hair. The umbilical cord should be tied with cord (i.e., sewing thread, dental floss) and cut with clean scissors. The cord should be tied snugly and cut about half inch (1 cm) from the body so it is unlikely to be pulled off as the puppy moves around the whelping box.
Newborn puppies may aspirate fluid into the lungs, as evidenced by a raspy noise during respiration. This fluid can be removed by the following proce dure. First, the puppy should be held in the palm of your hand. The puppy's face should be cradled between the first two fingers. The head should be held firmly with this hand, and the body should be held firmly with the other. Next, a downward swing motion with the hands should make the puppy gasp. Gravity will help the fluid and mucus to flow out of the lungs. This process may be tried several times until the lungs sound clear. The tongue is a reliable indicator of successful respiration. If the puppy is getting adequate oxygen, it will appear pink to red. A bluish colored tongue indicates insufficient oxygen to the lungs, signaling that the swinging procedure should be repeated.
It may be helpful to have a smaller, clean, dry box lined with a warm towel for the newborn puppies. (A towel can be warmed in a microwave oven.) After the puppy is stable and the cord has been tied, he should be placed in the incubator box while the mother is completing delivery. Warmth is essential so a heating pad or hot water bottle may be placed in the box, or a heat lamp may be placed nearby. If a heating pad is used, it should be placed on the low setting and covered with a towel to prevent overheating. A hot water bottle should be covered with a towel. Remember, the newborn puppies may be unable to move away from the heat source. Likewise, caution should also be exercised when using a heat lampOnce delivery is completed, the soiled newspapers should be removed from the whelping box. The box should be lined with soft bedding prior to the puppies' return. The mother should accept the puppies readily and recline for nursing.
The mother and her litter should be examined by a veterinarian within 24 hours after the delivery is completed. This visit is to check the mother for complete delivery and to check the newborn puppies. The mother may receive an injection to contract the uterus and stimulate milk production.
The mother will have a bloody vaginal discharge for 3-7 days following delivery. If it continues for longer than one week, she should be examined by a veterinarian for possible problems.
What happens if my dog has trouble delivering her puppies?
Although most dogs deliver without need for assistance, problems do arise which require the attention of a veterinarian. Professional assistance should be sought if any of the following occur:
- Twenty minutes of intense labor occurs without a puppy being delivered.
- Ten minutes of intense labor occurs when a puppy or a fluid-filled bubble is visible in the birth canal.
- The mother experiences sudden depression or marked lethargy.
- The mother's body temperature exceeds 103F (39.4C) (via a rectal thermometer).
- Fresh blood discharges from the vagina for more than 10 minutes.
Difficulty delivering (dystocia) may be managed with or without surgery. The condition of the mother, size of the litter, and size of the puppies are factors used in making that decision.
Is premature delivery a likely problem?
Occasionally, a mother will deliver a litter several days premature. The puppies may be small, thin, and have little or no hair. It is possible for them to survive, but they require an enormous amount of care, since they are subject to chilling and are frequently very weak and unable to swallow. Some may be able to nurse but are so weak that they must be held next to the mother. Puppies that do not nurse can be fed with a small syringe, bottle, or stomach tube. The equipment and instructions for these procedures are available from a veterinarian. Premature puppies must be kept warm. The mother can provide sufficient radiant heat from her body if she will stay close to them. If she refuses, heat can be provided with a heat lamp, heating pad, or hot water bottle. Excessive heat can be just as harmful as chilling, so any form of artificial heat must be controlled. The temperature in the box should be maintained at 85 to 90 F (29.4C to 32.2C), but the box should be large enough so the puppies can move away from the heat if it becomes uncomfortable.
Is it likely that one or more puppies will be stillborn?
It is not uncommon for one or two puppies in a litter to be stillborn. Sometimes, a stillborn puppy will disrupt labor, resulting in dystocia. At other times, the dead puppy will be born normally. Although there is always a cause for this occurrence, it is often not easily determined without an autopsy that includes cultures and the submission of tissues to a pathologist. This is only recommended in special circumstances.
Abscess: An abscess is very painful & in long - coated breeds may go undetected until it has reached an advanced stage. The abscess should be gently bathed in a solution of hot salt water. This will bring it to a head so that it bursts and the pus content is released and drained. Bathing must continue after the abscess has burst because it must drain completely before the skin heals over. If the abscess does not burst or if more than one abscess appears a vet must be consulted and a course of antibiotics may be prescribed.
Anal Glands: Situated on either side of the anus, these cause discomfort when full, as often observed when the dog scrapes its bottom along the ground. These glands can easily be emptied by your vet, who can show you how to do this yourself for future occasions.
Constipation: Usually caused by diet, constipation can frequently be rectified by altering the feeding programme. Offer soaked biscuits rather than totally dry food, and also lightly cooked green vegetables. A teaspoonful of oil can also help to clear out any blockage.
Dandruff: This may indicate that more fat is needed in the diet. Try adding a little vegetable oil to each meal or give canine oil capsules.
Diarrhoea: Often caused by a change of diet or a slight chill, diarrhoea can usually be rectified by starving a dog for 24 hours, allowing the stomach to empty and settle. Fresh drinking water must always be available. Feed a light diet for the next few days. If it is coupled with vomiting or other symptoms, veterinary advice must be sought at once.
Ear Infections: Build-up of wax and ear mites can give rise to cancer. A dog may scratch at the ear, shake the head or hold it on one side, and often there is foul smelling discharge. Special ear drops will usually rectify the problem but hot, red ears need immediate veterinary attention.
Eye Problems: These are many and varied and some breeds have hereditary problems so must be tested accordingly. At any sign of ulceration or bluish colour in the eye seek veterinary advice without delay to avoid irreparable damage.
Heart Problems: Although it is farely rare to find a dog dying from a heart attack as we know it in humans, dogs can suffer from heart disease, especially when thre is either a gradual or sudden obstruction to the flow of blood to the brain causing them to collapse, becoming limp and unconscious. Frequently they recover within a matter of seconds, at which point they should be given fresh air. In coronary cases, which are caused by poor blood supply to the heart muscle, the type of collapse is different - the limbs usually remain stiff and the dog does not loose consciousness. In either case veterinary attention for the dog must be sought without delay.
Hay fever: Dogs can have an allergy to pollens just as humans do & this is displayed by excessive watering of the eyes & sneezing due to inflammation of the mucous mem-branes within the nose.Finding the best form of relief is rarely easy but a vet or homeopath, often by trial & error,can discover some way of easing the problem.
Heat - Stroke: A dog should always have acces to shade & must never be left in a car,especially in warm or hot weather,even with the windows open.Heat builds up exceptionally quickly & death soon results as body temperature rises.Symptoms of heat stroke include vomiting,diarrhoea & collapse.To reduce body temperature, submerge the dog up to the neck in cool water, even a stream. If water is restricted, pour over whatever is available. Emergency veterinary help must be sought.
Kennel cough: Vaccinations are available to prevent kennel cough, which is highly contagious. In the early stages a dog attempts to clear the throat, later developing a hoarse cough. If this happens, your dog must be isolated and veterinary attention sought. Usually the problem is rectified with medication but young puppies and elderly or infirm dogs risk long term damage and even death.
Kidney failure: Frequent passing of water may indicate a kidney problem, especially if this is coupled with accelerated breathing and premature ageing. Veterinary advice is needed.
Liver diseases: All liver problems are serious so a vet must be contacted at the very first sign of any disorder. A noticeable symptom is jaundiced yellowing of the white of the eye, and of the membranes lining the eye and mouth. You may also notice a yellowing on the underside of the ear flap, less easy to detect in artificial light than the daylight. Other symptoms include sickness, loss of appetite, constipation and infrequent passing of highly coloured urine.
Pyometra: This is a serious problem caused by a bitch's uterus filling with pus, often initially noticed by high temparature and increased thirst. There are two forms of pyometra, one with vaginal discharge and one with out, but both are life threatening and your vet must be consulted at once.