Maybe you’ve been trying to breed your dog, and pregnancy is a joyous occasion. Or perhaps you left the back door open and you’re not thrilled about the prospect of puppies. Either way the signs and symptoms are the same-and so are the expectations along the way.
The heat, or estrus, cycle determines when your dog can be impregnated. The cycle has four stages:
1. Proestrus, the stage before eggs release. Your dog will be bleed during this stage, which lasts 4-20 days, and will be attracted but not receptive to males.
2. Estrus, the fertile phase. During this phase, which lasts 5-9 days, your dog will be receptive to males. The bleeding turns into a light pink discharge.
3. Diestrus, a non-receptive stage, lasting 56-60 days, when hormones are active on the ovary.
4. Anestrus, a stage that lasts several months, in which there is no ovarian activity.
Female dogs have, on average, two heat cycles per year. The first usually occurs by 6-12 months. For smaller breeds, it can happen as early as 5 months, and for larger breeds, 11 months or even later.
The estrus cycle spans different time frames for different breeds-and sometimes, even for dogs of the same breed. Pregnancy during the first heat cycle is inadvisable since a 6-month old dog is still a puppy herself.
If you don’t intend to breed your dog, you should spay her before her first heat cycle to avoid accidental pregnancy and eliminate the risk of disease later in life. You can have her spayed while she’s in heat, but this could lead to complications.
Once you’ve noticed the signs and your vet confirms pregnancy, here’s what you can expect:
The gestation period (pregnancy) lasts about two months, or 58-68 days.
Canine pregnancy doesn’t require special treatment, but you should visit your vet for regular check-ups to ensure her overall health.
You should have your vet check her a week before her due date to anticipate any problems that may occur during whelping (the act of labor).
Whelping occurs in two stages. Stage I lasts 6-12 hours. She’ll have contractions, but you won’t see them. You may notice her restless and panting. During stage II, the fetuses begin to move through the birth canal. Your dog will be obviously straining at this point.
During the pregnancy, you’ll need to make some changes in your care routine to ensure a healthy delivery:
Your dog’s nutritional needs won’t change until the last 5 weeks, when they’ll nearly double.
Feed her the increased food in several small portions-not all at once.
She will require more water than usual, so keep an eye on the bowl!
Avoid strenuous exercise. Short walks and gentle play are perfect.
In some cases, dogs may require veterinarian intervention to deliver the puppies. Causes of Dystocia, or abnormal birth, include:
The shape and size of the pelvic canal.
Uterine inertia-meaning the uterine can’t contract and push the babies through the canal.
The puppies are too large.
The puppies may be in a position that makes smooth passage through the canal difficult.
You should call your veterinarian for intervention if:
Your dog’s been pregnant for over 70 days.
She’s been in stage I labor for 24 hours.
She’s had strong contractions for over an hour and hasn’t given birth to a pup.
You notice a foul-smelling vaginal discharge.
She begins vomiting excessively.
If everything goes smoothly, your dog will deliver from the comfort of your home. Here’s what you need to do:
Provide a whelping box (a low-sided, open-topped box) where she can lie until she delivers. This will prevent her lying down and accidentally killing her puppies. The box should be relatively small, with sides 6-8 inches tall (so the puppies won’t crawl out).
Line the floor with plastic, then paper, and then a flannel layer on top.
Tack the flannel to the sides of the box. This ensures it won’t smother the puppies if your dog paws at it.