Spring Lodge Veterinary Group in Essex | 24hr Emergency Service

Canine Pregnancy & Birth

Things to consider:

  • Worming during pregnancy –  On the 42nd day of pregnancy a hormonal surge takes place, causing any roundworm larva within the bitch to move from the placenta to the foetuses.puppy and red toy

    If this occurs, the puppies may be born with a large worm burden, compromising nutritional absorption, potentially proving fatal to the pups.

    To prevent the transfer of roundworms from mother to puppies, worm treatment should commence from day 40 of pregnancy and be given daily until two days post whelping.

    For full information and dosage guidelines please contact the surgery.

  • Feeding during pregnancy
    Less than 30% of foetal growth occurs between the first 5 or 6 weeks of gestation. As a result, there are little or no changes in the bitch’s bodyweight or nutritional need, during this period.

    A pregnant bitch of optimal weight should be fed at maintenance level for these initial weeks. Foetal size rapidly increases during the last 3 – 4 weeks of gestation and as a result, the bodyweight of the bitch should increase by around 15 – 25% by the time of whelping.

    The amount fed should be gradually increased so that the bitch is receiving 15 – 20% more food. During this period, she should be fed twice a day or given a free choice.

    During the last 10 days of gestation, a pregnant bitch carrying a large litter may have such an enlarged abdomen that she may not eat all the food she needs in only two meals per day.

    In this case, give more frequent small meals or give her free choice.

Food of choice: a growth or lactating diet (Royal Canin – Starter)

  • Suitable housing and bedding
    A sturdy whelping box of suitable size should be provided. It should be large enough to house the growing pups until they are weaned.

    Depending on its location, the box may need sides high enough to exclude drafts and be raised off the floor to keep it from becoming cold and damp.

    A railing around the side, about 3” tall and 3” from the sides will help protect the pups from being crushed between the bitch and the sides of the box.

    The whelping box and general environment should be kept very clean. Outside visitors should be discouraged and handling should be restricted until the pups are 2 – 3 weeks old.

Suitable bedding

  • Vet Bed
  • Heavy towels
  • Mattress pads
  • Rubber mats

Avoid deep, loose bedding that can smother the pups or interfere with their breathing.

Signs of impending parturition (labour)

Several days before whelping, the bitch may present a sagging appearance. Her mammary glands enlarge, become pink and her food intake decreases.

Milk may appear in the breasts up to 5 days before whelping. She begins to nest about 24 hours before parturition.

She will probably refuse food about 12 hours before whelping and her rectal temperature may drop by at least 1oC, often to 37oC (98oF), 8 – 12 hours prior to parturition.

Equipment you should have to hand

  • Vets telephone number (01376 513247), and suitable transport if necessary
  • Hot water bottles
  • Suitable whelping box
  • Towels
  • Thermometer
  • Clean rubber gloves
  • Ligating material
  • Umbilical clamps
  • Food and water should be readily available and close to the bitch

Stages of parturition

Parturition is divided into three stages, with the last two stages being repeated for each pup delivered.

First stage 6 – 12 hours (may last up to 36 hours)

  • Rectal temperature remains low
  • Vaginal relaxation and cervical dilation occurs
  • Intermittent uterine contractions, increasing in intensity and frequency towards the end of this stage – no signs of abdominal straining.
  • The bitch appears uncomfortable, restless, panting, tears up bedding and shivers. Occasionally vomiting may occur.

Please contact our vets and nurses at this stage for advice

NOTE: If there is any abdominal straining and contractions are regular but no pup has been produced within 20 minutes, it is very important that the advice of a vet is sought.

Second stage:

  • Rectal temperature rises to normal or slightly above
  • Uterine contractions are accompanied by abdominal straining
  • Some clear fluid may be noted as the membrane surrounding the pup ruptures.
  • The first pup is delivered covered by the amniotic membrane within 4 hours of the onset of second stage labour
  • The bitch should break the membrane, lick the pup intensively and sever the umbilical cord. If she has not achieved this within a few minutes of delivery, assistance will be needed to enable the pup to breathe.

    However, it is best not to interfere unless a pup is in danger. Some bitches resent outside assistance and will not care for the pups if too much help is given.

If the umbilicus begins to bleed, clamp and tie it.

NOTE: If the bitch is strongly and frequently straining, without producing a pup, this indicates the presence of an obstruction and she should not be left more than 20 – 30 minutes before seeking the advice of a vet.

The vet should see the bitch if the following occurs:
– Greenish/red-brownish discharge but no puppy is born within 2 – 4 hours
– Foetal fluid was passed more than 2 – 3 hours ago but nothing has happened
– The bitch has been weakly and irregularly straining for more than 2 – 4 hours.
– The bitch has had strong, regular straining for more than 20 – 30 minutes.
– More than 2 – 4 hours has passed since the birth of the previous pup and more are suspected.

Third Stage:

  • Expulsion of the placenta, within 15 minutes of the delivery of the last puppy
  • Two or three pups may be born before the passage of their placenta
  • The bitch should be discouraged from eating more than 2 of the placentas because she may develop diarrhoea and vomiting.
  • Post partum discharge of foetal fluids and placental remains may be seen for up to 3 weeks, being more profuse in the first week – the discharge is greenish in colour.

NOTE: The vet should examine the bitch post parturition if the following occurs:
– All placentas have not been passed within 4 – 6 hours
– The post partum discharge is foul smelling
– If there is continual genital haemorrhage
– The rectal temperature is higher than 39.5c

Interval between births: Expulsion of the first foetus usually takes the longest. The intervals between births in normal uncomplicated parturition are normally between 5 – 12 minutes.

Completion: Parturition is normally completed within 6 hours after the onset of second stage labour, but it may last up to 12 hours. It should never be allowed to last more than 24 hours.

Make sure that the bitch has expelled all placentas. Retained placentas may result in a uterine infection, which may be fatal if not promptly treated.

A dark brown discharge after whelping usually means all placentas have been expelled.

– A bright red discharge may indicate haemorrhaging
– A discharge of any other colour, particularly brown or greenish coloured that appears after whelping, indicates a retained placenta, retained pup or uterine infection.

A lethargic attitude and a poor appetite for the first few days post-whelping also suggest these problems.


Feeding during lactation

Throughout lactation, feed the bitch enough food to maintain optimal bodyweight. If at optimal weight at whelping, a bitch with an average to large litter generally requires the following amounts of food during lactation:

  • First week: 1.5 x the amount needed for maintenance
  • Second week: twice as much as maintenance
  • Third week to weaning: triple that needed for maintenance or give her free choice

Throughout lactation, be sure to feed a good quality growth/lactation diet (Royal Canin-Starter). Lactation is the phase of the life cycle when the quality of the food is particularly important. Many commercial dog foods do not have sufficient nutrient density to meet the needs of a bitch nursing a large litter of pups.