Advice for Expectant Dog Owners from New Lodge Vets

Dog, Cat, Rabbit Vet

Pregnant Bitches

The gestation period of the bitch is 63 days +/- 2 days. Pregnancy diagnosis is usually performed at approximately 30 days post mating by means of an ultrasound scan performed by a Veterinary surgeon. This scan will identify if your bitch has been successfully mated and is pregnant, it will not however tell you how many puppies the bitch is expecting.


Prior to whelping it is important to ensure the bitch is fed high quality puppy food ad lib in the last third of pregnancy. As a guide the more expensive the puppy food is the more digestible it will be, and therefore better for the bitch and growing pups.

Introduce the new food gradually with her normal diet to avoid digestive upset. The puppy food will provide the bitch with the extra energy and calcium required to sustain herself through pregnancy and lactation. If fed a good quality complete puppy food during pregnancy you should not need to supplement the bitch’s diet with extra vitamins. Examples of recommended puppy diets are Royal Canin puppy starter or Hills Puppy food.


It is strongly advised to worm your bitch from day 40 of pregnancy to 2 days post whelping if you wish to reduce the chance of the puppies being born with roundworm. Wormers licensed for pregnant bitches are available at the surgery.

Prepare a whelping box

This needs to be in a quiet area of the house away from drafts and will provide the bitch with a safe secure place to give birth. It is best introduced two weeks before the expected due date. It needs to be lined with soft washable bedding (vet bed is ideal) and needs to be escape proof for the puppies. High sides and a low front will enable the bitch to enter and exit as she wishes but keep the puppies safe. As the bitch starts to feel ready to give birth she will start to nest. This may not be in the place you have chosen.

It is recommended to check your bitch’s temperature twice daily, a week before her expected due date. Normal temperature for a dog is 38.3-38.7’c Bitches experiencing a lower temperature (less than 38’c) for more than 12 hrs are likely to whelp within 24 hrs.

Small kitchen scales are ideal for weighing the puppies on a daily basis to ensure they are growing sufficiently. It is important to ensure you have everything you need before the day of whelping, this may include special substitute bitch’s milk and feeding equipment, bottles etc. It is also important that the bitch is up to date with her vaccinations as she will provide the puppy’s early immunity against disease both during pregnancy and later in her milk.

First Stage Labour

Your bitch will become restless and pant excessively. She will usually refuse food and may shred her bedding or dig.

Throughout the pregnancy there may be a slight mucoid discharge from her vulva. Just before whelping this increases in volume. On average, stage one of labour lasts 6 -12 hours but may be as long as 48 hours especially if the bitch is having her first litter.

Second Stage Labour

She should stop panting at this stage and begin straining. The first sign of imminent birth is the appearance at the vulva of the amniotic sac (also known as the water bag). Your bitch may stand, crouch or lie down for the actual birth. Do not be too anxious to help with the puppies if she knows what to do. It is normal for her to consume the afterbirths (these are green in colour and will stain!).

If the bitch does not pay attention to the pups you must intervene. Clear the mouth and nose of mucus and place the pups on their stomachs and rub them vigorously with a towel. This will help stimulate the breathing. If your bitch does not cut the umbilical cords herself it may be necessary for you to do it. Sterilised scissors should be used to cut the cord at least 3 cm from the pup. Keeping the pups warm is also very important. A heat lamp or hot water bottle may be used – do not have in direct contact with the pups.

If the following occurs it is important to contact a vet:
1. If there is constant unproductive straining for more than ½hr with no appearance of a pup
2. A pup is visible but appears to be stuck
3. Any evidence of green discharge with no appearance of pups.
4. If there is more than a 2 hour interval between the birth of pups.

After the birth

Check each puppy has a strong sucking reflex, this can be done by placing a clean finger into the puppy’s mouth. It is important that the puppy starts to suckle as soon as possible after birth, to ensure digestion of colostrum, which contains essential antibodies and nutrients. Colostrum can only be absorbed by puppies for up to two hours after birth.

The bitch should stimulate the puppy’s anus and genital areas to encourage the puppies to urinate and defecate. If the bitch is not stimulating the puppies, you will need to do so yourself. Damp cotton wool can be gently wiped around the anus area. Puppy faeces is usually soft and dark brown in colour.
Following the birth of the puppies, it is recommended that a vet checks over the bitch and her pups. We advise that the pups be weighed at birth and then daily in order to ensure each pup is feeding well and gaining weight. Substitute milk (Welpi) and puppy nursing kits are available at the surgery if you should need them.

The bitch may have a brown/green coloured discharge after giving birth which is normal and is the remnants of placental attachments, this discharge should clear within a few days after birth. Continued discharge needs to be brought to the attention of your veterinary surgeon.

Ongoing considerations

In order for the bitch to continue to produce enough milk to feed her puppy’s she needs to remain on a good quality puppy food throughout lactation and the weaning process. The puppies can be weaned from 4-6 weeks of age onto the same high quality puppy food that the bitch is being fed. Fresh clean water should be provided at all times.

Visitors should be kept to a minimum during the first 2 weeks following birth. The bitch may be protective towards her new born puppies this may be shown in the form of growling towards people. If the bitch does not feel that her puppies are safe she may attempt to move them.

Please do not hesitate to contact the veterinary centre for advice. For further information, we recommend: – Breeding a litter – a complete guide to mating, whelping and puppy rearing by J M Evans, available from Amazon.

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