Puppies on the Way? How to Tell and What to Do
How it Happens - Before delving into deeper aspects of pregnancy and breeding, let's first start with the canine heat cycle. The period of heat, called the estrous cycle, is separated into four categories, each which may vary in length, depending on the dog. When dogs are in heat, they are preparing to ovulate. The first stage, proestrus, is prior to the release of the eggs; this stage lasts an average of nine days but can fluctuate. During this time, the female will be attractive to males, although not receptive of them. The second, called estrus, is the fertile phase. During this stage, females will be receptive to males; this generally lasts a week. The third step is called diestrus, which is a non-receptive time when the corpora lutea are active on the ovary; it can last up to 60 days. The final stage, referred to as anesturs, has no ovarian activity and may last several months. Most dogs experience this cycle twice a year. Once this process is complete, the actual conception can occur. The time elapsed between conception and birth is about 62 days.
How Can I Tell? - There are a few ways to confirm whether or not your dog is pregnant. A trip to the vet's office and an ultrasound can confirm early detection in a reliable and noninvasive manner. Fetal heartbeats can be detected sometime around the 25th day after breeding. Progesterone blood or urine tests are not accurate since dogs go through roughly the same hormonal changes whether or not they are pregnant. Blood tests, however, will detect a hormone called relaxin that is not found in non-pregnant dogs; this test may be performed mid-gestation. Most veterinarians can determine pregnancy simply by feeling the abdomen; this can be done during a certain window of time, which is 20 to 30 days after conception. An alternate way to detect a pregnancy is through x-rays; fetal skeletons are visible after about 45 days of pregnancy.
What Can I Do? - Although the average period for gestation takes 62 days, it can fall within a range of 54 to 72. During this time, there's really not much you can do other than wait. Feed her a regular diet for the first month; it is absolutely imperative that you do not give her any types of dog vitamin supplements. This may sound odd, but dogs that are on supplements are unable to efficiently extract calcium from their bones once birth takes place which can cause them to suffer from Hypocalcemia, which may eventually lead to muscle weakness and possibly seizures. During the second month, switch the diet over to a high-quality puppy food; this will provide extra calories that she will need. One to two weeks prior to delivery, get everything you'll need together. Your supplies should include a box with sides high enough so that four- to six-week-old puppies cannot get out. About a week from the expected due date, you should begin taking the dog's temperature rectally; normal temperatures range from 100 to 102.5° F. Within 24 hours of giving birth the temperature will drop a few degrees, giving you ample notice. The box should be placed in a familiar but private location and lined with towels. Along with towels, you should also keep scissors, dental floss and iodine for cord maintenance.
Here it Goes - Whelping can become a messy business and if you have to experience it at home, be prepared. Make sure that you are wearing clothes that you will not mind throwing away. The actual labor is segmented into three stages. The first stage, which may go undetected, occurs when the cervix is dilating and there are some contractions. Clues of this may include shivering, restlessness, panting, vomiting, unwillingness to eat, or your dog may hide out in a private spot. If you notice this stage, which may last 6 to 12 hours, encourage your pet to go to the whelping area (the box you have set up). Stage two is active labor and stage three is placental expulsion; if more than one puppy is being born, she will alternate between these stages. Once active straining starts, the first puppy is delivered within 10 to 20 minutes. If active straining has gone on for an hour and is unproductive, it is time for professional assistance. Many dogs will rest for an hour between puppies; this doesn't require any special assistance since the dog is not actively straining during this period. Each situation is different, some puppies are born head first while others are breech born (rear first); if you try to assist the delivery, never pull on an ear or a foot - instead, try to hook your fingers behind the shoulders or hips using a gentle downward traction. Some dogs will squat, while others will lie down, some will grunt quietly, while others will be quite vocal.
Most puppies are born with the amniotic sac intact; if the mother doesn't attend to them within the first two minutes, you must step in. The membrane must be ruptured for the puppy to breathe. Use a child's nasal aspirator to clear the fluid from the mouth. Dry the puppy with a clean, dry towel - gently rub near the umbilicus to stimulate respiration; it is important that each puppy gets its own towel. Once a pattern of regular breathing has been established, use dental floss to tie off the umbilical cord about one inch from the puppy's body, and then cut it with scissors and dip the end of the cord in iodine. If your dog is an experienced mother or wants to do it herself, then you can let her; she will tear the membrane and chew off the cord. Some say that if the mother does not eat the placenta, she will not produce milk; this is untrue, just take them away and she will not know the difference.
It's All Downhill From Here - Once all the puppies are born, make sure they all get a chance to have their first meal. The first meal of milk is rich with protective antibodies that will help build their immune systems and make them healthy from the start. The mother can leave for a light meal and should be allowed to relieve herself, then can return to the pups to rest. Call the veterinarian the next morning, if they are not already aware. Many vets will want the mother and pups in for a quick check up. For the next six to eight weeks, the mother will be producing a discharge that can range from reddish-brown to bright green in color; this is normal and nothing to be concerned about. However, if the discharge is bright red and bloody, call your veterinarian immediately. After the birth, you will want to increase her dog food intake. Lactation increases your dog's caloric needs threefold or fourfold. Calcium supplements should also be incorporated into the mother's diet.
Finally, congratulations on your new family and enjoy the fun. It has been a long road, and we hope that every one is happy and healthy in the end.