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Pregnancy, Birthing and Newborn Puppy Care

By: Dr. John Melniczek and Dr. Magi Casal

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Dogs began having puppies long before humans came into their lives, so there's no vital need for intense, day-to-day management of your pregnant dog. It's much more important for owners to understand what's normal during their dog's pregnancy and to intervene when there are signs of trouble.

Assure Your Dog's Health

Have your dog examined by her veterinarian prior to breeding to make sure she doesn't have any health problems that might affect her pregnancy. Make sure she is current on all her recommended vaccinations to maximize the amount of antibodies she will pass on to her puppies. She must have negative tests for intestinal and blood parasites (such as hookworms and heartworm, respectively) and must not be a carrier for Brucella canis bacteria (a simple blood test will show this).

The Pregnant Dog

The average canine pregnancy lasts approximately 64 to 66 days. During the first two-thirds of her pregnancy, your dog will do best if fed her normal maintenance diet. The expectant mother's energy requirements won't change greatly until the third trimester, when her weight may increase by 15 percent to 25 percent.

Pregnancy diagnosis is usually first reliable around 18 to 19 days of gestation, depending on the method employed. Abdominal ultrasound can detect fetuses within 16 to 20 days of gestation; fetal heartbeat can be detected around 23 to 25 days.

Not every veterinarian has an ultrasound machine in the office, so some veterinarians check manually. Through the use of abdominal palpation, trained veterinarians can usually identify individual fetuses in the uterus beginning around 20 days of gestation.

After day 28, the uterus will become too large to allow accurate identification of individual fetuses by hand. The hormone relaxin can be measured in your dog's blood to determine if she's pregnant, but this measurement is only accurate after 30 to 35 days of gestation.

The fetuses will grow most rapidly during the third trimester; this is when the mother needs a higher-calorie diet (calories and nutrients should be 1 ½ times greater than the maintenance diet). Medications must be avoided during pregnancy, unless prescribed by your veterinarian (as with humans, always ask first to be sure).

Canine Birthing

Most dogs whelp (give birth) without any complications. Difficulties in whelping are most common in toy breeds and breeds with short snouts and large heads (such as English bulldogs). Dogs of these breeds may require Cesarean section surgery if pups cannot be delivered vaginally (through the normal birth canal).

Approximately one day before whelping, the level of progesterone in the blood, which has been high throughout pregnancy, falls to a level not seen since the dog first went into heat. Within 14 hours of this progesterone drop, there will be a fall in the dog's rectal temperature (normally around 100 to 102 degrees Fahrenheit; prior to whelping, the temperature may drop below 99 F). This temperature decrease is usually followed by labor within 12 to 24 hours.

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