Preparing for birth
A female dog’s pregnancy lasts an average of 63 days. Gestations of 57-72 days are completely normal and are not a reason to worry, as long as the animal’s general condition is good. If this is the case, it should not interfere with the natural process of pregnancy and birth. After all, dogs are much more instinctive than people. The dog feels exactly when things start to get serious and know very well what to do. This can be seen very well during the preparatory stage before delivery. During this period, the dog begins to get nervous, panting more, and nesting.
Establish a farrowing box
To support the dog in the nesting process, you should offer her a farrowing box before the date of delivery (at least two weeks). Please put it in a quiet and warm place that is not too bright. The optimal temperature is about 75 degrees. Also, it is recommended to place an infrared radiant heater as an additional heat source so that the newborn puppies can snuggle at 95 degrees. As a base, old sheets, towels, washable blankets, or, in an emergency, newspapers are ideal. Make sure the base stays clean and dry. Even during childbirth, it is important to change stained clothes and blankets for clean towels whenever necessary (possibly after each puppy.
The correct feeding before the birth
Correct feeding of the dog has a decisive influence on the health of the puppies that are to be born. Until the fifth week, the dog can still eat the usual feed. Of course, as with all dogs, this must be balanced and of good quality. The composition of the nutrients must be adapted to the individual needs of the dog, which can vary according to breed, size, age, weight, and degree of activity.
A large amount of high-quality protein (especially meat), sufficient vitamins and minerals from fruits and vegetables, as well as plenty of freshwaters are crucial for the proper development of puppies. From the sixth week, the dog’s need for energy increases. Therefore, every week until delivery, energy intake should be increased by 15%. Aim for higher protein content and calcium to phosphorus ratio of around 1.4: 1.
Do not try in any way to balance increased energy with increased servings. Adiposis has negative consequences for the health of the mother and the young. But, most female dogs can no longer ingest such large amounts of food, as the growth of the puppies greatly influences the volume of their stomach. Instead, choose a food that has a very high energy density relative to quantity (for example, puppy food), and that is easy to digest. Divide the daily servings into three or four servings. In this way, they are easier to digest than a large meal.
Prepartum veterinary visits
To prepare for the delivery in the best way, in addition to an adapted diet and preparations at home, it is necessary to make frequent visits to the veterinarian. In addition to the mandatory vaccinations against the most important canine diseases, a vaccine against canine herpesvirus is recommended, responsible for the death of many puppies. Also, the pregnant female must be dewormed between days 40 and 55 of gestation.
From day 50, it is recommended to take an X-ray to find out the number of puppies. After all, multiple births of 15 or more puppies are not at all rare in dogs. You will know the exact number of pups exactly on the day of delivery. An X-ray is also helpful to better prepare for potential labor difficulties that large puppies can cause.
Signs that labor
The following signs indicate that labor is approaching:
- Nest building, restlessness, panting, shaking
- Rejection of food (approx. 24 hours before delivery)
- The nipples increase, they may even begin to secrete milk
- Swelling of the vulva
- Slightly mucous vaginal discharge
- Body temperature drops below 98.6° F
- Occasional diarrhea or vomiting
- Low blood pressure
The surest way to determine impending birth is to check the dog’s temperature frequently. One week before the estimated due date, you should measure the dog’s rectal temperature 2-4 times daily (the best is always at the same time of day). In a drop of 100.4 to 98.6 degrees or more, the onset of labor is imminent. Then, you can count on the birth of the first puppy in the next 12-24 hours.
The three phases of labor
The symptoms mentioned as restlessness, nesting, panting, tremors, refusal of food, diarrhea, and occasional vomiting appear at intervals of 6-24 hours before delivery, and their intensity is increasing. These hours, in which the dog intensively prepares for delivery, are called dilation. In addition to the external signs, there are also some necessary changes inside the mother for a smooth expulsion process during this phase.
The cervix dilates (cervical dilation), the cervical mucosa dissolves (light vaginal discharge), and the first contractions occur. The first puppy should be born about three to four hours after the water breaks or the start of the first contractions.
When the first puppy slides through the cervical canal, the dog automatically initiates abdominal pressure. During this expulsion phase, the mother usually lies on her side or squats. After two to four abdominal contractions, the puppy is usually expelled relatively easily. Whether puppies are born head first or breach does not matter in dogs.
Puppies are usually born in 10-60 minute intervals, but longer intervals of up to two hours are also possible (especially for new mothers). As soon as the first cub is born, the mother bites into the surrounding amniotic membrane and cuts the umbilical cord with her teeth.
About five minutes after the puppy comes out, the placenta, like the amniotic membrane, is ingested by the mother. This not only helps to keep the birthplace clean but also promotes lactation for the dog. It can also happen that two or three puppies are born in a row and that the respective placentas come out last. Then, to stimulate the babies’ breathing, the mother licks them. Parturition ends when all the pups have been born and the same number of placentas have been delivered. Generally, this is done in less than 12 hours.
How to help deliver a female dog
Unlike people’s births, where the support of a midwife or doctor goes a long way toward facilitating the birth, dogs do not need assistance. That is why it is better to leave the mother alone during the expulsion phase and only intervene in an emergency.
However, support is necessary when the puppies come out very often, and the dog is still busy ingesting the amniotic membrane and placenta of the firstborn. In this case, the breeder should free the hatchlings from the surrounding amniotic membrane with absorbent paper and cut the umbilical cord.
This prevents the puppy from inhaling amniotic fluid. During the expulsion process, you can dry the puppies that have already been born and put them in a separate basket with a hot water bottle or place them directly in the mother’s mammary gland.
To check that all the puppies have been born, you should count all the pups and the placentas. The number of puppies and placentas must be identical because any placenta left in the uterus can lead to blood poisoning in the dog.
Breastfeeding for the first time
With the expulsion of the puppies, the mammary glands of the dog have filled with milk automatically. Milk production is adapted to the number and appetite of the puppies. By nature, all young are provided with sufficient food. The consumption of colostrum (the first milk) is significant for the development of young dogs. It contains important antibodies from the mother and protects the puppies from pathogens.
Although the young will always stay in the basket and are still defenseless after they are born, it is normal for them to find the mother’s nipples. Despite not yet having developed their sense of hearing and sight, and their sense of smell is also insufficient, they can use touch and the instinctive pendulum movements of their head to locate the source of breast milk.
Contact with the mother is vital
Direct contact with the mother during the first hours and days is vital for the puppies’ survival. Not only for the substantial breast milk but also to activate other bodily functions. The mother’s body heat ensures that the little ones do not get cold, as the offspring cannot yet regulate body temperature independently. When a puppy strays too far from the mother, she picks it up again and places it in the middle of her litter.
The elimination of feces and urine also does not work on its own. Only by licking the perineum area does the mother trigger the urination and defecation reflex of her young. Next, to keep the environment clean, the dog licks the excrement.
Breastfeeding and Gaining Weight During the First Weeks
During the first days and weeks of life, the main entertainment of puppies is based on sleeping and drinking. The two are usually in sync. Thanks to the nutritious mother’s milk, which supplies the pups with all the important nutrients, the pups gain weight quickly. To calm their hunger and their need to breastfeed, the pups drink 12-20 times a day in the first week. After a week, the distance between feedings lengthens.
However, until the fourth week, the newborn puppies still look for their mother’s breasts about 8 times a day. Only after the fifth or sixth week, the need for lactation of the puppies decreases, and five daily rations are enough. The normal thing is that the mother’s milk is sufficient until then. To make sure young dogs are gaining enough weight, you should weigh them once a day. Most puppies will have doubled in weight after 10 days. When they reach the sixth week of life, they already weigh 6 to 10 times more than the day of their birth.
Feeding the pups depends on the amount of milk the mother produces and the weight gain of the pups. In general, breeders start feeding animals between the 3rd and 6th weeks of life. If you are not sure, it is best that, after about four weeks, consult your veterinarian if it is advisable to start introducing solid food.
In addition to breast milk, as the first food, you can offer puppy milk or a homemade water puree and puppy food, which is first smeared in the mouth or on one leg. From the eighth to the tenth week of life, you can now introduce puppies to conventional puppy food, which should be very high in meat.
Feeding for the nursing mother
Feeding the mother during the first weeks after giving birth has a decisive influence on the quality of the breast milk and, therefore, on the puppies’ health. For milk production, you need a large amount of protein and calcium. As a result, your energy need increases by 325% compared to the normal level. That is why administering additional mineral preparations may be convenient.
However, nutrients must have a proper balance. Too much or too little of a certain mineral or nutrient can cause the body not to process other substances properly, and deficiency symptoms appear. Take a good look at your dog during this intense stage. If he loses weight, his activity decreases a lot, or his coat becomes rough, it is best to make an appointment with your veterinarian.
Possible Complications During Puppy Birth
Although Mother Nature has created the best conditions for a good start, the birth and breastfeeding phase are not always without problems. Therefore, as a spectator of the birth, the person can recognize when the natural process is altered and when his intervention or that of a veterinarian is necessary. The signs that indicate problems in delivery and that require the assistance of a veterinarian are the following:
- Prolonged gestation times associated with fever or poor general condition of the dog
- Fever, exhaustion, or deterioration of the general condition of the dog during labor
- Not giving birth to the first puppy or more than two hours after the birth of the last puppy despite strong contractions
- Dark green vaginal discharge before the birth of the first puppy (possibility of amniotic fluid poisoning)
When is it necessary to perform a cesarean section? Possible causes of these complications are, for example, the absence of contractions, disturbances of the canal (vaginal tightness or puppies that are too large), the improper opening of the birth canal, or puppy deformations (for example, hydrocephalus or dead puppies).
You should call a vet who will use ultrasound or X-rays to decide to perform a cesarean section in all these cases. In these situations, the cesarean section can save the lives of the mother and the puppies. However, it is not advisable to induce labor with the help of medications such as oxytocin.
It is possible that after childbirth, the maternal instinct is affected, for example, by anesthesia after a cesarean section, by fear, or by the dog’s dissatisfaction during the nesting process. Person assistance is required when biting the amniotic membrane.
If umbilical cutting and licking of the anal area are not performed, you can remove the amniotic membrane with absorbent paper and place the puppies on the mother’s nipples. You should also intervene if you have the feeling that some puppies are being pushed aside and that they are not getting enough of the important first milk.
What problems can occur during breastfeeding?
Lack of milk production, symptoms of nutritional deficiency in the mother, or inflammation of the mammary glands (mastitis) are the most common disorders during the breastfeeding phase of the first weeks. The first symptoms are fever, unwillingness to breastfeed, refusal to feed, or apathy. As soon as you recognize these signs, the weight of the puppies stagnates or decreases, or the dog’s general condition worsens, you should consult your veterinarian.
Trust your competence and nature
Despite a large number of potential problems, most deliveries go smoothly. Therefore, you should stay calm and trust nature and the mother’s instinct. Knowing the phases of the birth and the possible difficulties, you will know when it is better to leave the dog alone, when to help a little and when to call your vet.