All About Dog Pregnancy
All You Need to Know About Your Dog's Pregnancy (or Almost All)
After your beloved dog has been matched with a handsome stud and successfully bred, the 63-day countdown begins. A mix of emotions pour over you, of course: lots of excitement, but also anxiety, as this is the first time you've owned a dog expecting puppies. It is normal to feel slightly overwhelmed at first, but take a deep breath and rela,x as things will very likely go pretty smoothly and nature will take its course.
There are a few things, though, that as an owner you must be aware of. The information below will help you get through the whole 63 days without worrying excessively.
Has the Countdown Started?
First of all, even though your dog was in heat and was bred various times, there is still a chance she may not be pregnant. And some dogs are prone to "phantom pregnancies."
As you already may know, there are particular fertile days to watch for when scheduling a breeding. If your bitch was bred during her estrus phase, and you witnessed a "tie" where the male stud and your female bitch were connected for some time, chances are pretty high that puppies are on their way.
A Look Into the Heat Cycle
Here is an explanation of the heat cycle, so you can better evaluate if your dog was bred at the right time.
The heat cycle averages about 21 days and is divided into three phases.
The first phase, "pro-estrus," lasts about 7 to 10 days. You will be aware of this phase because it is when vaginal bleeding and vaginal swelling occur. If male dogs are around during this phase, they will be interested in the bitch, but she will be reluctant and refuse to be mounted.
The second phase, the "estrus phase," is the fertile phase, lasting about 4-13 days. This is when the female is fertile. The bleeding stops and is replaced by a yellowish vaginal discharge. During this phase, she will be more tolerant of males, and will keep her tail to the side. She will allow the male to mount. If you witness "a tie" where they are both stuck together for a while, then very likely puppies are on the way.
The third and final phase, "diestrus," is a time when the female will again be reluctant to mate, because she is no longer fertile. The male, though, may still try to mount.
The estrus phase, therefore, is the crucial phase, the time you will be looking for if you want to breed successfully. Although it usually begins between the 7th and 10th day after the bleeding starts, there is really no very exact way to pick the best time to breed. This is why some professional breeders have their dog's hormones checked by a vet to improve their chances of breeding on the most fertile day, although even this is not enough to guarantee a pregnancy.
Early Pregnancy Signs: Third Week
Around the end of the third week and the beginning of the fourth, some bitches will develop typical morning-sickness symptoms (nausea, lack of appetite), just as humans do. This morning sickness may be hardly detectable in some dogs and pronounced in others.
Testing for Pregnancy
You can use a kit to do a test for the hormone relaxin (a substance produced only during pregnancy). This test can detect pregnancy in the first 21-25 days, as early as 20 days after the surge of luteinizing hormone. The kit is especially good for breeders, since there are five tests in the kit, and it's also great for distinguishing real pregnancy from pseudo-pregnancy. Results are fast; it only takes about 10 minutes. The kit may be available online.
The test requires a blood sample from your dog, which can be challenging for some owners, and it requires a centrifuge to separate out the plasma for the test. You can ask a vet to draw the blood and spin it for you, for a small fee, and finish the test yourself. Or you can have the test done totally at the vet's office.
A vet may be able to hear puppies' heartbeats with a stethoscope 25 days after breeding, and may be able to feel embryos by palpating your dog's abdomen 28 days after breeding. However, an ultrasound is a more accurate test and may even determine how many puppies your bitch is expecting. An X-ray can show the puppies' skeletons 45 days after breeding.
Considering Diet Changes
Once your vet has confirmed pregnancy, make sure to mention diet to your vet. Starting about 35 days after breeding, your dog will need to be fed more often and with a more nutritionally balanced diet. Your vet may recommend special diets and supplements.
Early Signs: Five Weeks
Usually, the first outward signs of pregnancy show about five weeks after breeding. They include slightly larger and darker nipples. It is always a good idea to take pictures of the nipples shortly after breeding, so you can compare color and size at five weeks. Also you may notice some slight weight gain, especially if you expect a large litter.
How Many to Expect?
Dogs may have just one pup, or as many as 14. The breed and the size of your dog do narrow down this wide range somewhat; as a general rule, larger breeds have closer to ten puppies, and medium breeds closer to five.
Later Signs: Eight Weeks
Eight weeks after breeding, the nipples are much larger and may start to secrete a whitish fluid. By now, the abdomen will be enlarged as well, and when the bitch is at rest, movement of puppies can sometimes be detected.
Now, you may start shopping for a nice whelping box. A whelping box should be big enough to allow your dog to stretch out easily with her puppies. You may fill the box with newspaper. A heating lamp may be helpful as well to prevent the pups from getting too cold.
Last Signs: Week Nine
Your dog may start exhibiting nesting behavior. She may rip up papers or other material to make her own whelping box. Fortunately, though, you have already thought about this and made her a very comfy one.
Arm yourself with a thermometer, and starting around day 56, start recording her temperature about twice a day. Bitches normally have a rectal temperature of about 100.2-100.8 oF. About 24 hours before birth, this temperature should drop to about 98-99.4 oF.
Keep your veterinarian's contact numbers handy and have your car ready in case of complications. If possible, give your vet a heads-up when your dog's temperature drops.
Check your clock and note down when the first contraction starts. A first-time mom may not be able to tell the difference between giving birth and defecating, so she may want to go outside. You may take her, and, of course, monitor her. Your dog may be panting pretty heavily, shivering, and pacing, but this is normal in the midst of contractions. Sometimes simple movement such as walking around may expedite the birth process, which can turn out pretty lengthy, even up to ten hours!
You should notice that contractions are getting more frequent. Eventually, within thirty minutes of the beginning of straining, the water sac will appear. Shortly afterward, a puppy will follow, and then its placenta. Your dog may want to eat the placenta. Only allow this once, as eating multiple placentas may cause a bout of diarrhea.
Once a pup is born, your dog will clean it and chew off its umbilical cord. Do not be alarmed if some pups are born tail first; this is pretty common in dogs. A vaginal discharge after birth is normal. The discharge may be green or reddish brown, and should be odorless. This discharge may persist up to eight weeks postpartum.
OK, the above scenario looks pretty smooth, but what are the signs that suggest a vet visit?
In general, call your vet when:
- It is past day 69.
- No signs of labor begin within 24 hours of the temperature drop.
- PRIOR to labor, your dog excretes a greenish fluid.
- You suspect your dog has more puppies inside, but no more are born after four hours.
- Your dog strains with strong contractions for more than an hour without producing a pup.
- A puppy appears stuck in the birth canal.
- A placenta is not expelled after each puppy.
- Your dog is exhibiting unusual or extreme pain.
Of course, call when anything happens that worries you or seems out of the norm.
While all this information may seem overwhelming, it can be helpful for the first-time breeder. It is highly recommended to have the bitch and puppies seen within 24 hours to ensure the health of the new family.
If you are still concerned about your dog's wellbeing and the possibility of complications, here's a statistic to give you peace of mind: over 98% of all dogs deliver without assistance or complications. If you are still worried about that mere 2%, learn this article by heart and have your vet's contact number handy, and you should be fine! Best of luck!
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