Check that your bitches’ annual booster vaccinations are up to date – this will ensure that passive immunity is passed to her pups in the colostrum (the first milk) and so give them some protection against disease for the first few weeks of life. The manufacturers of our vaccine advice that it is safe to vaccinate during pregnancy, however we would advise to make sure vaccines are up to date before mating occurs.
During the last third of the pregnancy, bitches need to be fed a high quality puppy and nursing food. They should also be fed for their bodyweight 2 – 4 meals a day. No extra supplements are required and if used, can be dangerous.
It is very important to worm pregnant bitches. Worming bitches during pregnancy can prevent endoparasitic infections, which can pass through the placenta to the puppies, but also through the milk once the pups are born.
In the last few weeks of pregnancy, attempts should be made to encourage the bitch to accept a nest in a suitable place. This ideally should be warm, clean, draught free, damp proof, and heated to an ideal temperature of 25 – 30 degrees. The room is best isolated so the bitch can rest quietly. A whelping bed can be placed within the nest, which should be of a suitable size, to allow the bitch to stretch out, and have enough room to deliver her puppies. The sides of the nest should be high enough to prevent the puppies from escaping until they are approximately 4 weeks old.
A plentiful supply of newspaper is necessary for the whelping area, and plenty of bedding. A pair of scales, pen and paper and a clock are good to note times and weights of neonates being born. A thermometer is also good to monitor the bitches rectal temperature.
STAGES OF PARTURITION
Monitoring the bitches’ rectal temperature twice a day is essential in the last week of pregnancy. This is because the bitches’ temperature will drop from approximately 39 degrees to 37 degrees during the onset of whelping.
There are 3 stages of parturition –
STAGE 1- the temperature of the bitch will decrease; this stage can last for up to 24 hours. She will become restless and start to prepare her whelping nest by shredding and ripping up her bedding. She will also show an increased mucus discharge from her vulva. The bitch will begin uterine contractions, start panting, shivering and may vomit. The time of her 1st contraction should be noted down.
STAGE 2 – Starts with the onset of visible contractions and the time of the first contraction should be noted down. The contractions will increase, and the delivery of the pups will commence. If contractions continue for 1.5 hours without the production of a pup, Veterinary help must be sought immediately, as this could indicate dystocia which means the bitch is having difficulty giving birth. Each pup will be delivered within a membranous sack, which the bitch will remove herself and vigorously lick the pup to stimulate it to breathe and clean the fluid from around the pup. If the bitch fails to do this, you must assist her to break open the sack, clear the airways and use dry towels to stimulate the pup. About half of the pups will be delivered head first; the others will come out backwards.
STAGE 3 – once the pups have been delivered, the placentas will follow. We would recommend you count these, to ensure they match up with the number of pups but this can be difficult to be accurate about as bitches often eat the placentas. Once the whelping stage is complete, the bitch will continue to have a dark coloured discharge for up to a week.
PUPPIES AND FEEDING
Puppies will normally commence taking milk from the bitch shortly after birth, at intervals of 2-3 hours for the first few days. It is essential that all puppies do this in order to receive colostrum which is the first milk containing antibodies and immunoglobulins.
You may need to assist the puppies in latching on to the bitch the first few times.
During the first few weeks, the bitch will take care of the needs of the puppies; however the litter should be checked regularly to ensure they are each receiving enough milk and to ensure they are gaining weight adequately.
At 10-14 days, the puppies’ eyes will start to open, and gradually they will become stronger on their legs and begin to crawl around.
Weaning is a gradual process, which normal starts at about 4 weeks. Puppies will still feed from the bitch, but should also be offered small amounts of a proprietary brand puppy food such as “Hills”. The food can be soaked for 20 minutes in hot water, to allow it to soften up, and once cool, can be offered to the puppies. Some puppies will wean easily, taking solids and lapping straight away, others may take a little longer so it is important to treat each puppy individually and be patient.
Puppies should be weaned completely by 6 weeks, eating 5-6 small meals a day of a high quality puppy food.
WHELPING/WEANING CHECK LIST
It is a good idea to be well prepared for your bitch during the whelping and weaning period. Here is a list of some of the things you need to think about –