I invited Valerie, one of our technicians, to submit a little essay for the post today. We had a number of cases last summer/fall in which female dogs were accidentally allowed to mate, resulting in an unexpected pregnancy and litter of pups. This can be an incredibly difficult situation for an owner, especially if they have no experience breeding dogs. Valerie has been breeding Labrador Retrievers for many years, so she’s got a lot of experience to share with us.
I think it’ll be helpful if I give some background information on the reproductive cycle of the dog. Dogs tend to cycle once or twice a year, starting at 6-12 months of age. This is commonly called a ‘heat’ cycle. During a cycle, the female’s reproductive tract ‘wakes up’ and prepares to have puppies. The resulting changes go through a series of stages that take about 3 weeks to complete. During the stage called “estrus” (heat), a female is very very interested in finding a mate. Males will show up from a long way off, and the female will be very receptive to romantic advances. Accidents can happen incredibly fast. In some cases, just one mating will be enough to produce a litter of pups. (Breeders actively trying to have a litter of pups will usually allow a series of breedings to increase the chances of a good litter of pups.)
A dog’s pregnancy lasts about 62 days. Just two short months from mating to puppies — it’s not much time for an owner to prepare for what could be a very very labor-intensive process. We spent some time a few posts back talking about the advantages of spaying a dog before her first heat, so I won’t belabor the subject again. Suffice to say that my personal opinion is firmly in the “don’t breed your dog” column as far as most owners are concerned.
I’ve added some extra notes in [ brackets ] to help out.
Here is Valerie’s contribution:
Hello! I just wanted to talk about what to prepare for when you have a dog that was bred and you have never had a dog who has had puppies before.
First of all, the hardest part is figuring out when she was bred and counting the days to delivery of the puppies. Since you may not know your dog was bred, the first thing you might notice is your dog getting fat and her nipples getting a lot larger than they normally are. You may have noticed that she was in heat a few weeks prior. This is probably a sign she is going to have puppies, so now you need to figure out when.
For example, you need to count from that night she got out and the neighbor said she was at their house all night with their male dog. When you have figured out that day, you count about 62 days after, and that should be with 2 – 5 days of when she will have the puppies. By time you have noticed her getting fat and her nipples getting larger she should be about 30 – 40 days along. [Note from Dr.H: Females are generally fertile in the 10-14 day portion of the 3-week cycle. So if you're not lucky enough to know that your female snuck out for a date, you may have to just guess where the 10th-14th day of her cycle was and count from there.]
Start preparing before the puppies are due! Here are the things that you will need to do:
•Read everything you can about whelping puppies!
•Prepare a whelping bed for her and get her acclimated to being in there.
•Start feeding her puppy food [about day 30-40 and onward] for the extra nutrients she will need to feed her puppies. Depending on the breed of dog [and how big the litter is] she might need a extra meal during the day. [Poor nutrition can harm the puppies and cause serious, life-threatening problems for mom, too.]
•[An x-ray of the mom after day 42 will help you have an idea of how many puppies mom should be having.]
•Have plain thread and scissors handy.
•Have lots of hand towels. Try to have a little suction bulb.
When you are getting close to the 62nd day start preparing all the rest of the household (other dogs, other cats, and any children and people living in the house) to help watch her and know when she starts going into labor. It is very important to know when she starts going into labor to ensure her safety and the health of the puppies. Usually a female will stop eating about 24 hours before having the first puppy. [There will also be a drop in her body temperature about 24 hours before labor. You should take her temperature several times a day when she is close to her due date. Signs of labor can be restlessness, panting, trembling, and then active contractions in the belly - mom's pushing!]
Once active labor starts, be ready to help if you are needed. There should only be you and your dog in the whelping area especially if this
is her first liter. Too many people could make her nervous and she may stop pushing. Do what ever you think you should do to keep her calm and comfortable while she is in labor, like petting and talking to her and stay right with her. A puppy should be born within 1-2 hours of the start of her contractions. If not, she needs to be taken to the veterinarian! [Generally, we say that 1 puppy per hour during active labor, or faster, is normal. Any longer than that indicates that there could be a problem.]
When she finally starts having the puppies, she will want to start caring for them right away. You can help mom to get the amnionic sac [a membrane that covers the puppy like a pouch] off. You can tie off the umbilical cord with some plain string about 1/2 an inch from the belly, then cut the rest off. A small suction bulb will help get mucus out of the puppies nose. Use hand towels to dry them vigorously. [Puppies sometimes don't want to breathe right away. Rub the heck out of them carefully to stimulate them and to get them breathing and crying. Crying means lungs full of good air!] Then get that puppy on a nipple ASAP. The very first milk is important to help the puppy not get sick. Stay right with mom the whole time until the last puppy comes out. It could be many hours, so get comfortable! [Mom will pass placentas after the pups, sometimes between puppies. Just throw them out - she may try to eat them but this isn't necessary.]
Caring for puppies after birth can be very easy if mom is taking good care of the puppies. It can be very hard if she is not or if the puppies have problems. Be prepared ahead of time so you know what to watch for and what to do. [Caring for a litter is a long enough topic that we will have to cover it another time.]
That’s a brief introduction to whelping a litter! If you’re in this situation, contact your vet for information, advice, and backup. Don’t go it alone, especially if you’ve never had a dog have a litter before. You can research the whole process here: