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Dogs: Mothers and Puppies


While male dogs are sexually potent when they are from five to six months old, they are not capable of mating until they are around three months older.

Sexual maturity in the female arrives between her sixth and twelfth months. Her sexual activity is determined by a “heat” cycle, which occurs approximately twice a year. The cycle can be divided into four stages:

1. Proestrus is often confused with heat. The vulva swells and shows the first signs of bleeding. This phase lasts from seven to nine days.

2. Estrus is heat — it is the five- to seven-day period during which the female will accept a male and breeding takes place.

3. Metestrus is the period immediately following heat when, unless pregnancy has occurred, the uterus and ovaries return to their normal state.

4. Anestrus is the period of roughly three months in which the uterus and ovaries are at rest and under no strong hormonal influence.


The first heat is often erratic — the female should not be allowed to mate until the second heat, to ensure sexual maturity.

False pregnancy (pseudoeyesis) may occur approximately six to eight weeks following a period of heat. Psychological and hormonal influences have been suggested as explaining the physical and emotional changes, such as the enlargement of the breasts, which secrete a serum-like milky sub stance, and the restless state, in which the female may show excessive affection and mothering behavior toward toys, shoes, and the like. While this condition will sometimes end if estrogen or testosterone injections are given, this is not recommended. The false pregnancy usually ends naturally within one to three weeks without therapy.


The owner of a female that has been accidentally mated has three options available:

1. If mating is known to have occurred no more than twenty-four hours earlier, the dog can be given an estrogen shot that will delay implantation of the egg in the uterus. This will also prolong the heat period two to three more weeks, however. There is also the possibility that the shot might not work and she may still be pregnant.

2. An ovario-hysterectomy can be performed as soon as she’s out of heat.

3. You can wait and take the chance that she may not be pregnant. If she is and the pregnancy is allowed to reach term, the mother can either have the puppies naturally, or they can be removed through a Caesarean section (an incision in the uterus) if problems develop.


VACCINATIONS AND PARASITE CHECK. The prospective mother should receive boosters for distemper, hepatitis, leptospirosis, and rabies prior to breeding. This ensures the pups good protective antibody passage via the colostrum during the first twenty-four hours of nursing.

Since many intestinal parasites can cross the placenta in utero, the bitch should have two or three fecal examinations for parasites and be treated prior to breeding if any are found.

WHEN TO BREED. Most breeders agree that it is best to take the bitch to the male rather than vice versa. There are many psychological and social factors that come into play during mating, and if possible, the bitch should spend her entire heat cycle with him,

The dogs should be allowed to “tie” (copulation) at will or at forty-eight-hour intervals at the first sign of heat. The male will mount the female from the rear, holding her between his forelegs, while she lowers her hindquarters to allow him to insert his penis in her vagina. In inexperienced animals, there may be some fumbling before this is accomplished. Breeders will not attempt to mate dogs unless one has already had experience because of the likelihood that nothing will be accomplished if neither has learned what to do. They should not be separated until the tie, which may last as long as ten or twenty minutes, is complete.

GESTATION. The gestation or pregnancy period lasts between sixty and seventy days.

Around a week prior to delivery, make a clean nesting area in a familiar part of the house out of the way of people going in and out of the room. The area should be quiet, warm, and free of potential hazardous obstacles to roaming puppies (stairs, electrical cords, and so on).

DETERMINING PREGNANCY. Your veterinarian should be able to palpate (feel) the fetuses through the abdominal wall twenty-one to twenty-eight days after conception. An abdominal X-ray, which will not harm the fetuses, can confirm or deny a pregnancy forty-five days after conception. The fetal bones should be visible at that time.


SIGNS. The pregnant dog will generally start to nest five to six days prior to delivery. Approximately twenty-four to forty-eight hours prior to delivery, she may become restless and have a slightly decreased appetite. Her body temperature may fall below 100°F. around eighteen or twenty-four hours prior to delivery. During this same period, eolostrum may ooze from her breasts. Panting and straining may begin.

WHELPING. During the forceful contractions of the uterus that push the fetus through the cervix you may see either a clear saclike structure called the amnion, which surrounds the fetus, emerging from the vulva, or the passage of clear fluid (breaking water) if the amnion ruptures.

The pups may emerge either headfirst (60 percent of the time) or feet first (40 percent of the time) and may be delivered in fifteen-minute to two-hour intervals. Once delivered, the puppies should be cleaned of excess amnionic tissues so they can breathe. The mother will normally bite and break the umbilical cord as she cleans and attends to each new puppy. If she doesn’t, then lie a piece of thread firmly around the cord near the pup’s belly and tear the cord, slightly away from the pup’s belly.

Individual placentas (afterbirths) are usually passed with each puppy. Count the placentas to be sure none are retained — they may lead to uterine infections. It is not unusual for the mother to eat a portion of the afterbirth.

DYSTOCIA. Dystocias, or difficult births, may be a result of oversized pup pies unable to pass through the pelvic canal, uterine inertia or lack of uterine contraction when the mother is exhausted by prolonged straining, a compromised pelvis due to old pelvic fractures, or mechanical obstruction due to maldelivery or malposition of the fetus or fetuses.

Your veterinarian will assess the difficulty and attempt to remedy the problem either by manual manipulation or with hormones (oxytocin) to stimulate uterine contractions, or a C-section if medical therapy fails to correct the problem.

Dystocias should be considered in the following situations: when no pup pies are produced after two to four hours of labor; when only a portion of the puppy appears and cannot be delivered with assistance; when a puppy has not been delivered within an hour after the amnionic sac “breaks water”; when a bloody vaginal discharge occurs; or when the mother is in distress with exerted breathing.

Any of these conditions warrants veterinary evaluation. Waiting too long may jeopardize the lives of both the puppies and the mother.


FIRST SIX HOURS. The puppies should be placed immediately on the mother for nursing since it is during this first eighteen to twenty-four hours that antibodies against disease and the highest amount of nutrition are passed in the colostrum of the milk.

This period is also quite important in that there are always one or two runts that have problems competing with the other puppies for food and may need special attention. If left unattended, isolated from the mother, they may fall prey to malnutrition and hypothermia (subnormal temperature) and die.

24 TO 72 HOURS POSTPARTUM. The puppies and mother should be taken to the veterinarian for examination for any congenital defects (umbilical hernia, cleft palate, or congenital heart defects). The mother is examined for any retained puppies and may receive an injection of oxytocin to stimulate her release of milk and help her to pass any retained placenta and fluids.

Tail docking and dewclaw removal are usually done at three days of age.

The eyes usually open somewhere between twelve to fourteen days.

A normal greenish black vaginal discharge may persist for five to ten days following birth. Should the discharge continue after this, or change in character, you should call your veterinarian.

FIVE TO SIX WEEKS OF AGE. The puppies should be weaned onto solid foods gradually at this time. Baby teeth start to appear at three to five weeks.

Puppies from six weeks to six months old should receive three meals daily; six months to one year, two meals daily; and over one year, one or two meals daily, depending on the dog’s activity.

A puppy feeding chart developed by Ralston Purina follows; it may be helpful in determining how much your puppy should eat.








miniature poodle, dachshund, Pomeranian, Pekingese


pointer, setter, springer, spaniel, Siberian husky


Labrador retriever, boxer, German: shepherd


Great Dane, Irish wolfhound, Saint Bernard, Newfoundland

1½ cups

2½ cups

3½ cups

4½ cups

2½ cups

4½ cups

6½ cups

7½ cups

3½ cups

6½ cups

8½ cups

11½ cups

4½ cups

8½ cups

12½ cups

16½ cups

AFTER WEANING. After weaning, any of the commercial puppy chow formulas currently on the market are fine up until six to eight months of age. These products are well fortified with vitamins and minerals and rarely need supplementation. After eight months of age, the dog can be put on an adult diet.


MASTITIS. Mastitis is an inflammation of the mammary glands, or breasts. This condition often accompanies false pregnancies; the pseudo-milk accumulates and does not drain properly. It also occurs during or after nursing when one of the mammary ducts becomes obstructed due to injury or infection. Signs include hot, painful, hard, and frequently discolored breasts. There is usually a blood-tinged to brownish discharge when the affected nipple is milked out. The dog generally runs a high temperature, has a de creased appetite, and is reluctant to nurse. The puppies should be taken off the mother; milk out the glands gently two or three times daily, and apply warm compresses to the glands two or three times daily for twenty to thirty minutes. If abscesses develop, your veterinarian will promote adequate drainage and start the appropriate antibiotics.

ECLAMPSIA. Eclampsia (low blood calcium), usually occurring two or three weeks after delivery, is a common problem among the smaller breeds of dogs. It has long been thought this is caused by an excessive drain of calcium by the puppies’ taking the mother’s milk. This condition occasionally occurs before delivery, however, suggesting a much more complex mechanism. Symptoms include restlessness, shaking, panting, high body temperature (often exceeding 104 F), muscle twitching, and convulsions.

Mothers showing these signs should be cooled down by dousing in cold water and be taken to your veterinarian immediately, who will then administer calcium intravenously to bring her out of the crisis and dispense calcium— phosphorus—vitamin D supplementation for use at home. The puppies should be taken off the mother permanently and fed by hand, or kept off her for at least forty-eight hours.

HYPOGLYCEMIA. Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) is a common problem among the toy breed puppies shortly after weaning. Their excess activity and high metabolic rates are often not met by the daily dietary caloric intake. The puppy becomes listless, lethargic, dull, wobbly, and, in more severe cases, comatose. Give a puppy with these symptoms 1 to 2 teaspoons of honey or maple syrup mixed with water (half and half) every two hours for the next six to eight hours. This will usually prevent the condition from worsening and will often bring the puppy dramatically out of its stupor.

Should you find your puppy flat out (comatose), with no sign of injury, wrap it in a warm blanket and take it immediately to your veterinarian for intravenous glucose and intensive care.

ORPHAN PUPPIES. In caring for puppies that have lost their mother several factors must be considered:

Warmth. For the first three weeks of life a puppy’s body temperature is less than 100°F and its heat-regulatory mechanisms are not fully developed. For this reason the environment of the pups should be kept in the range of 80° to 85°F. As they become older, this can be decreased to 70°F.

Isolation. Puppies should be handled as often as possible by members of the family during the course of the day to ensure emotional stability. At night a licking clock or low-playing radio may prevent some of the loneliness resulting from the lack of body contact.

Feeding. There are a number of commercial formulas out on the market that approach the composition of normal bitches’ milk (Esbilac, Orphalac). These can be bought at many of the pet stores or from your veterinarian. All formulas should be warmed to body temperature, and fed as directed on the label. Special puppy nursing bottles with special puppy nipples are generally available. If not, an empty syringe can be obtained from your veterinarian to administer the formula.

Puppies do not have well-developed swallowing reflexes — the formula should always be administered slowly at the side of the mouth. The puppy should be placed on its belly in approximately a 45-degree angle. Never feed the puppy on its back. One of the most serious problems in young puppies is aspiration pneumonia, caused by inhaling the formula down deep in its lungs.

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