Stages of Dog Pregnancy

Kelly Roper
Pregnant Bulldog; Copyright Willeecole at Dreamstime.com

If you're considering breeding your bitch, make sure you understand the basics of dog pregnancy so you can provide your pet with good care. Find out what she needs before breeding and during the pregnancy, as well as how to provide proper aftercare.

Dog Pregnancy Basics

It's best to begin the topic of dog pregnancy with a short primer.

  • A bitch is only fertile during her heat cycle.
  • Most mature bitches come into heat every six months or annually.
  • A canine pregnancy lasts approximately 58 to 65 days, or 63 days on average, from the date the breeding occurred.
  • A pregnancy can be diagnosed by feeling (palpating) the uterus, by blood test and by ultrasound.

Before Breeding

There are a few things that need to be taken care of before you actually breed your bitch.

  • Make sure your bitch's vaccinations are current.
  • Have her checked and, if necessary, treated for worms before the pregnancy. If this isn't carried out before the breeding, wait until the pups are born.
  • Check the stud and bitch for canine brucellosis, a sexually transmitted disease that causes spontaneous late term abortions, infection of reproductive organs and eventual sterility in both sexes.

Nutrition During Pregnancy

Pregnant Golden Retriever eating kibble

A pregnant dog requires good nutrition to support the demands growing fetuses will put on her body.

  • Avoid extra supplements unless your vet recommends them because they can upset a balanced diet.
  • Feed your bitch a premium dog food with real meat protein.
  • Allow her to eat as much as she wants so she has extra nutrition to support her litter.

Exercise

Exercise plays an important role before, during and after dog pregnancy.

  • Proper exercise will help ensure your bitch is in top physical condition to undertake a pregnancy.
  • Gentle but consistent exercise during dog pregnancy helps keep a bitch's muscles toned, making delivery of the pups easier. Walking is the best exercise since it's low impact and lessens the chances your bitch could receive an injury or endanger her pups.
  • Although it's best to let your bitch concentrate on her pups after birth, you should resume taking her for a short walk several times a week within about two weeks.

Whelping Time

Preparations

  • Prepare a whelping box for the delivery to take place in.
  • Begin taking your bitch's temperature twice a day, twelve hours apart around 56 days gestation. A normal temperature will range between 100-101 degrees Fahrenheit, but a drop down to 97 degrees that is held for two consecutive readings signals impending labor within the next 24 hours.
  • Have plenty of clean towels on hand for cleaning pups.
  • Clean a pair of scissors with alcohol, and keep them handy in case the bitch doesn't cut cords herself.

Labor

There are three stages to labor.

Stage One: Pre-Labor

This stage can begin a full day before active labor begins. Your bitch will seem restless and will shred the newspapers in her whelping box. She may also refuse to eat.

Stage Two: Active Labor

Chihuahua giving birth

This is the active pushing stage. As a pup begin to emerge, you'll notice a dark bubble at the bitch's vulva. This is the puppy's sac and should not be broken until after the pup is out.

Once the pup is expelled, you will notice a navel cord that should be attached to a bloody sac called the placenta. There is one placenta for each pup, and it may be expelled with the pup or retained until the next set of contractions.

Most bitches will break the sac open immediately on their own, but if this doesn't happen you will need to tear the sac open with your fingernails and wipe the pup's muzzle free of any mucus and liquid.

Next, mom should sever the umbilical cord on her own, but if she doesn't, you'll need to assist by tying the cord off with a thread about an inch away from the pup's body and cutting the cord between the knot and the placenta.

You can now rub the pup quite vigorously with a towel to help it expel any remaining fluid from its lungs.

The bitch may rest about ten minutes before she pushes out the next pup, but sometimes things happen quicker. If she strains for more than an hour without passing the next pup, call your vet for advice.

Stage Three: Post-Partum

When the pups have been delivered, your bitch will settle down and focus on caring for her pups. Allow her a potty break, and offer her some canned food to entice her to eat. This will give her strength and help her to make milk for the pups.

Her vulva will continue to discharge blood for several days after birth, but the amount should lessen each day until it ceases altogether.

After Care

After delivery is complete, it is your bitch's job to care for the pups and your job to monitor her health.

  • Take her to the vet within 24-hours of delivery to make sure all pups and placentas have been expelled. At this time, your vet may give her a shot of pitocin to help her uterus finish contracting to its pre-pregnancy size and an antibiotic shot to prevent infection.
  • Check your bitch's breasts for nursing sores and overly warm hard spots that could be sign of a possible mastitis infection.
  • Watch her temperature. A spike over 102 degrees F may be an indication of a post-partum infection.
  • A significant increase in bloody vaginal discharge and/or a foul smelling green discharge may be signs of a problem and should be addressed by your vet.
  • Continue providing your bitch with plenty of food and fresh water, and help her keep the the whelping box clean.

A Labor of Love

It takes some work to see a bitch through her pregnancy so she can deliver a healthy litter, but it's worth it all when those adorable pups arrive. To learn more about the final phase of dog pregnancy, progress to Delivering Puppies.

Stages of Dog Pregnancy