BREEDING DOGS AND REARING PUPPIES
Breeding from your bitch and raising her puppies can be an extremely rewarding
experience or it may produce frustration and failure. Pet bitches are often
torn between their instinctive desire to be with their puppies and the routines
they have acquired with their owners. This can lead to problems and should be
borne in mind before breeding is contemplated. Also raising a litter of puppies
is an extremely time-consuming exercise and one which should not be embarked
upon without due consideration. The following information is provided in order
to increase your chances of success.
How often does a bitch come into heat?
The bitch comes into estrous (heat) about every 6 months, although very large
breeds of dogs may cycle anything up to once in 15 months. In most giant breeds
(Great Danes, Irish Wolfhounds, St Bernards etc.) a yearly heat is normal. Estrous
normally lasts about 3 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 estrous and lasts for about 10-14 days. Another consistent
sign is swelling of the vulva. During estrous male dogs will be attracted to
What should I do to be sure that a mating is accomplished successfully?
Male dogs are more successful when the environment is familiar. Therefore,
it is preferable to take the female to the male's home for breeding. The timing
for mating is critical. The most fertile time is considered the 10th through
the 14th days of estrous However, some dogs will be fertile as early as the
3rd day and as late as the 18th day.
Are there tests to determine when to mate my bitch?
There are two tests that are used for this purpose:
The first is a microscopic examination of vaginal cells to detect changes cell
appearance and numbers. This has been used for many years and is reasonably
reliable. A more recent test determines changes in the progesterone level in
the blood. This test is very sensitive and can often be carried out in-house
by the veterinary practice. It gives a very good indication of when mating is
most likely to be successful. It is used for dogs that have a history of unsuccessful
mating or for very valuable breeders.
What should I expect during my dog's pregnancy?
Pregnancy, also called the gestation period, ranges from 60 to 67 days as normal,
the average being 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 mating. With all planned matings the date should be recorded
and the bitch then examined approximately 3 weeks from the date of mating to
detect the signs of pregnancy. Ultrasound scans can be carried out at around
the 28th day.
It is important that a bitch is in good condition before she is mated, neither
too fat nor too thin. Her food intake should not be altered during the first
two thirds of her pregnancy, i.e. until approximately 6 weeks and if a complete
formula is being fed there is no need to use additional vitamin or mineral supplements.
After the 6th week food intake should be gradually increased and high energy,
low bulk foods are useful in order that the bitch is adequately nourished without
exceeding her capacity. As abdominal pressure increases with the size of the
fetuses, smaller meals fed more often is helpful. During the last three weeks
food intake will often increase by up to one and a half times the normal level
and at the height of lactation, approximately three weeks after whelping, food
intake is often two and a half to three times normal, particularly if she is
feeding a large litter.
What should I do to prepare for whelping?
From the time of mating, many dogs show behavioral changes. Most develop an
unusually sweet and loving disposition and demand more affection and attention.
However, some may become uncharacteristically irritable. Some experience a few
days of vomiting ("morning sickness"), followed by the development of a ravenous
appetite which persists throughout the pregnancy.
During the last week or so of pregnancy, the bitch often starts to look for
a secure place for delivery. Pet bitches often become confused, wanting to be
with their owners and at the same time wanting to prepare for the forthcoming
event. It is therefore a good idea to get the bitch used to the place where
you want her to have her puppies well in advance of whelping but even then some
bitches insist on having their pups in close proximity to the owner and this
is often in the middle of the night. Under these circumstances it is better
to let the bitch have her way and then when she has finished, gently try moving
her to the place that she should have already been introduced to some days or
weeks previously. However some bitches are very determined regarding the place
where they want to nurse their puppies and under these circumstances less trauma
is caused if, within reason, her demands are met or at least some compromise
is achieved, e.g. the bitch that wants to nurse the puppies on your bed is quietly
moved to a whelping box in a corner of the bedroom. Ideally you may prefer her
to use the whelping box you had prepared for her in a quiet corner of the kitchen.
Similarly some bitches need the owner present during the whole time of delivery
and if they are left alone they are likely to endeavor to delay delivery of
the puppies which can create subsequent problems - compromise is the name of
Prior to the time of delivery, a whelping box should be selected and placed
in a secluded place, such as a closet or a dark 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 you can reach inside to give assistance, if needed. The
bottom of the box should be lined with several layers of newspapers. These provide
disposable, absorbent bedding which the bitch can tear up and reorganize according
to her own requirements. At the same time they will absorb the fluids which
are always more copious than you would ever expect at the time of whelping.
If sufficient thickness of newspaper is laid at the outset, the upper, soiled
layers may be removed with minimal interruption to the mother and her newborn
What happens during parturition?
Most dogs experience delivery without complications; however, first-time mothers
should be attended by their owners until at least one or two puppies are born.
If these are born quickly and without assistance, further attendance may not
be necessary, provided the bitch is settled although with a primagravida (a
bitch having puppies for the first time) a careful watch should be kept upon
her until she has finished, just in case any complications develop. If the owner
elects to leave, care should be taken so that the dog does not try to follow
and leave the whelping box.
SIGNS OF IMPENDING WHELPING
These generally include nervousness and panting. The bitch will often stop
eating during the last 24 hours before labor although with some breeds this
does not apply. All the textbooks tell you that rectal temperature will drop
below 100°F (37.8°C)
but this again may only occur an hour or two before she starts producing.
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 Pekingese 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.
However, if the bitch does not start to strain in two hours and you think there
are further puppies veterinary advice should be sought without delay.
The normal birth position
Puppies are usually born head first; with the head and forelegs extended. This
is called anterior presentation. Posterior presentation is also normal in the
bitch. The puppy is born with tail and hindlegs coming first. Breech presentation
in which the hindlegs are forward and the tail and rump is presented is abnormal.
However it does occur and can result in a normal birth although breech presentations
frequently present problems. If a puppy's rump is presented and the bitch is
straining continuously without making any progress, veterinary attention should
be sought without delay. Each puppy is enclosed in a sac that is part of the
placenta ("afterbirth"). These usually pass after the puppies are born. However,
any that do not pass usually disintegrate and are passed within 24-48 hours
after delivery. If 24-48 hours after delivery the bitch has a blood stained,
pussy or smelly discharge consult your veterinary surgeon. Note that it is normal
for the mother to eat the placentae.
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 to 1 inch (1.9 to 2.5 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 piece of dampened gauze or thin face 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
wedged. Veterinary help may be needed.
It is normal for the mother to remove the placental sac and clean the puppies;
however, 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 face cloth or gauze to remove the sac and allow
breathing. Vigorous rubbing with a warm, soft towel will stimulate circulation
and dry the hair. If the puppy does not start to take a breath, gentle blowing
down the throat after gently opening the mouth with the fingers also helps to
assist respiration. The umbilical cord should be tied using sewing thread or
dental floss and cut with clean scissors. The cord should be tied snugly and
cut about half an inch (1.3 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 procedure.
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 is helpful to have a smaller, clean, dry box lined with a warm towel for
the newborn puppies. After the puppy is stable and the cord has been tied, it
should be placed in the incubator box while the mother is completing delivery.
Warmth is essential so a heating pad or hot water bottle should 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 lamp.
Once delivery is completed, the soiled newspapers should be removed from the
whelping box. The box should be lined with soft bedding such as VetBed or other
similar acrylic bedding, prior to the puppies' return. The mother should accept
the puppies readily settle down to feed them.
The mother and her litter should be examined by a veterinary surgeon 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. Sometimes
antibiotics may be prescribed if it is thought there is any infection present.
The mother may 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 veterinary
surgeon 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:
1. Twenty minutes of intense labor occurs without a puppy being delivered.
2. Ten minutes of intense labor occurs when a puppy or a fluid-filled bubble
is visible in the birth canal.
3. The mother experiences sudden depression or marked lethargy.
4. The mother's body temperature exceeds 103°_F
(39.4°_C) (via a rectal thermometer).
5. Fresh blood discharges from the vagina for more than 10 minutes.
6. If a green discharge is seen without any puppies having been born.
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 teat.
Puppies that do not nurse can be fed with a small syringe, bottle, or via stomach
tube. The equipment and instructions for these procedures are available from
your veterinary surgeon. 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
but the box should be large enough so the puppies can move away from the heat
if it becomes uncomfortable. In addition the warmth provided by the mother is
moist warmth: she is licking and cleaning the puppies and they are suckling
therefore if artificial heat is supplied it is essential to ensure there is
sufficient moisture present and a damped towel or wet cotton wool in the whelping
box will provide this essential moisture.
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 a full post mortem examination
of the puppy including bacteriological examination and submission of tissues
to a pathologist. Your veterinary surgeon may in certain circumstances recommend
this procedure and it is worthwhile discussing the cost beforehand since sometimes
it can be considerable. However it may prevent future problems.
What do I do to care for the newborn puppies?
The mother will spend most of her time with the puppies during the next few
days. The puppies need to be kept warm and to nurse frequently; they should
be checked every few hours to make certain that they are warm and well fed.
The mother should be checked to make certain that she is producing adequate
If the mother does not stay in the box, the puppies' temperatures must be monitored.
If the puppies are cold, supplementary heating should be provided. During the
first four days of life, the environment for the puppies should be maintained
at 85°-90° F (29.4°_-
32.2°C). The temperature may gradually be decreased
to 80° F (26.7°_C) by
the seventh to tenth day and to about 72_°F (22.2°C)
by the end of the fourth week. If the litter is large, the temperature need
not be as high. As puppies huddle together, their body heat provides additional
warmth. Their behavior will give a guide to whether they are comfortable. If
they are warm and content they will be quiet and gaining weight.
If the mother feels the puppies are in danger or if there is too much light
she may become anxious. Placing a sheet or cloth over most of the top of the
box to obscure much of the light may resolve the problem. An enclosed box is
also a solution. Some dogs, especially first-time mothers, are more anxious
than others. Such dogs may attempt to hide their young, even from the owner.
If the bitch continues to move her puppies from place to place, some attempt
at confinement may be worthwhile. However if she is still unsettled, veterinary
advice should be sought since the puppies will certainly be endangered if they
are placed in a cold or draughty location. If the bitch becomes too distressed
she could kill her puppies as a means of "protecting" them from danger.
What are the signs that the puppies are not doing well and what should I
Puppies should feed and sleep 90% of the time during the first two weeks. Any
"mewing" type noises may indicate lack of nourishment or an infection, i.e.
they are not thriving. If in doubt consult your veterinary surgeon.
Another good indication of thriving is weight increase. Any available postal
scales will usually suffice for this purpose. Puppies may be identified with
fiber tipped pen on the abdomen and careful weight records kept.
When the milk supply is inadequate, supplemental feeding one to three times
per day is recommended and should be performed on any litter with more than
5 or 6 puppies. There are several very good commercial formulae available. The
directions on the container should be carefully followed before feeding particularly
with regard to temperature. One method of testing the temperature of the feed
is to drop some of the warm formula on to your forearm. It should be about the
same temperature. The commercial products have directions concerning feeding
amounts. If the puppies are still nursing from their mother, the amounts recommended
will be excessive. Generally, 1/3 to 1/2 of the listed amount should be the
daily goal. Supplemental feeding may be continued until the puppies are old
enough to eat puppy food.
If the mother does not produce milk or her milk becomes infected, the puppies
will also cry. If this occurs, the entire litter could die within 24 to 48 hours.
Total replacement feeding, using the mentioned products, or finding a foster
mother is usually necessary. The owner of the stud dog, if a breeder, your local
veterinary surgeon, or other breeders may be able to help with this. If replacement
feeding is chosen, the amounts of listed on the product container should be
fed. Puppies less than 2 weeks of age should be fed every 3-4 hours. Puppies
2-4 weeks of age do well with feedings every 6-8 hours. Weaning in these circumstances,
should begin as early as possible and certainly no later than about 3 weeks
What should I expect during the puppies' first few weeks of life?
For the first month of life, puppies require very little care from the owner
because their mother will feed and care for them. They are born with their eyes
closed, but they will open in 7 to 14 days. If swelling or bulging is noted
under the eyelids, they should be opened gently. Cotton wool dampened with warm
water may be used to assist opening the lids. If the swelling is due to infection,
pus will exit the open eyelids and should be treated as prescribed by a veterinary
surgeon. If the eyes have not opened at 14 -16 days of age, or if there is any
pus or discharge, consult your veterinary surgeon at once.
Puppies should be observed for their rate of growth. They should double their
birth weight in about one week. Use postal scales as described above. The accuracy
of the scales is not important, since it is weight increases that you are looking
At two weeks of age, puppies should be alert and trying to stand. At three
weeks, they generally try to climb out of their box. At four weeks, all of the
puppies should be able to walk, run, and play.
Puppies should begin eating solid food about three and a half to four and a
half weeks of age. As soon as their eyes are open, one of the bitch milk replacers
should be placed in a flat saucer. The puppies' noses can be dipped into this
or their noses and mouths wetted with a finger dipped into the formula. Repeat
this 2 or 3 times per day until they begin to lap; this usually takes 1-3 days.
Next, raw scraped meat can also be smeared around their mouths or alternatively
canned puppy food can be placed in the milk until it is soggy. As the puppies
lap the milk, they will also ingest the food. The amount of milk should be decreased
daily until they are eating the canned food with little or no moisture added;
this should occur by 4 to 6 weeks of age. As soon as they are able to eat it
is worthwhile weaning them on to one of the complete puppy foods of which there
are many today, both dry and canned as well as semi-moist. Most puppies, particularly
those of the toy and smaller breeds prefer the canned varieties. Once the puppy
is happy with a complete formula there is no need to add any vitamin or mineral
I have heard of milk fever. What exactly is it?
Eclampsia, or milk fever, is due to a depletion of calcium in the blood of
the mother due to heavy milk production. It generally occurs when the puppies
are 3-5 weeks old (just before weaning) and most often to mothers with large
litters or with an abundance of milk as some bitches naturally have. Good mothers,
especially attentive of their puppies, always seem to suffer more severely.
The mother has muscle spasms resulting in rigid legs, spastic movements, and
heavy panting. This can be fatal in 30-60 minutes, so a veterinary surgeon should
be consulted immediately. This is a major emergency situation.
Do puppies need a special diet?
Diet is extremely important for a growing puppy. There are many commercial
foods specially formulated for puppies. These foods meet their unique nutritional
requirements and should be fed until 12-18 months of age. Puppy foods are available
in dry and canned formulations. Dry foods are less expensive in the long run
and can be left in the bowl for the puppy to eat at will. Canned foods offer
a change and are just as nutritious.
It is recommend that you buy FOOD FORMULATED FOR PUPPIES. Adult formulations
are not recommended since they do not provide the nutrition required for a puppy.
Advertisements tend to promote taste rather than nutrition, so be careful that
their influence on purchasing habits is not detrimental to your dog. Table food
is not recommended; although often more appealing than dog food, balanced nutrition
is not easily achieved.
It is recommend that you buy food of a reputable brand.
When should vaccinations begin?
Puppies are provided some immunity to canine diseases from their mother before
and shortly after birth. This is particularly true if the dam's vaccinations
are up to date. Some of the mother's antibodies cross the placenta and enter
the puppies' circulation, but most antibodies are provided in the mother's milk,
particularly the first milk or colostrum. These "maternal antibodies" protect
the puppies against the diseases to which the mother is immune. This explains
why it is so important to ensure that any booster inoculations are administered
prior to mating.
Although very protective, maternal antibodies last for only a few weeks; after
this time, the puppy becomes susceptible to disease. The duration of the maternal
antibodies is quite variable depending on several factors. In general, vaccinations
for the puppy should be started at about 6 to 8 weeks of age. Puppies should
be vaccinated against distemper, hepatitis, leptospirosis, parainfluenza virus
and parvovirus Other vaccines are also available for certain situations, and
will be discussed at the time of the first visit for vaccinations, for example,
Bordetella vaccination against Rhinotracheitis (Kennel cough).
Maternal antibodies are passed in the mother's milk only during the first 1-3
days after delivery. If, for any reason, the puppies do not nurse during this
important period of time, their vaccinations should begin about 2 to 4 weeks
earlier depending on likely disease exposure although some maternal antibodies
are transferred throughout the whole of the suckling period via the milk. Your
veterinary surgeon can make specific recommendations for each particular situation.
Do all puppies have worms?
Intestinal parasites ("worms") are common in puppies. Sometimes no signs are
apparent but often poor condition, chronic soft or bloody feces, loss of appetite,
a potbellied appearance, loss of luster of the haircoat, and weight loss are
seen. Some parasites are transmitted from the mother to her offspring and others
are carried by fleas. Some are transmitted through the feces of an infected
dog. Very seldom are these parasites visible in the feces. Their detection depends
on demonstration of their eggs under a microscope. Generally puppies are wormed
from about 2 weeks of age and medication is usually supplied by your veterinary
surgeon at the time of the post natal examination. It is well worth consulting
the veterinary surgeon regarding a deworming program for a litter of puppies
rather than purchasing branded products over the counter although these are
often effective, although sometimes for types of worms that may not be present
in your particular litter.
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