Getting Ready to Have a Healthy Litter of Puppies
You’ve bred your bitch, and now begins the wait period for puppies to be born. During this time, your No. 1 priority should be taking care of your brood bitch to be sure she has a clean, comfortable kennel environment and opportunities for moderate exercise. Nutrition is important as well. Here are some tips to help you get ready.
A dam should be oﬀered gradually increasing amounts of food during the nine weeks of gestation. During the ﬁrst trimester, from 0 to 21 days, she should be fed a normal amount of her regular complete and balanced adult or all life stages dog food. During the second trimester, from 22 to 42 days, the amount of food fed should be doubled. During the third trimester, 43 to 64 days, she should be fed two to three times more than before pregnancy in small feedings throughout the day.
“A caloric-dense diet, such as puppy food or an all life stages food, is recommended for the third trimester,” says Melanie A. Barnes, DVM, head veterinarian at the Purina Product Technology Center in St. Joseph, Missouri. “A puppy food also is recommended for the ﬁrst part of lactation. Regardless of the phase of pregnancy, diets should be adjusted based on maintaining an ideal body condition for the pregnant dam.”
Ideal body condition during pregnancy is deﬁned as having an appropriate muscle and fat balance. You should be able to easily feel the bitch’s ribs, shoulder blades and hips; however, her growing abdomen means that you cannot see a waist behind the ribs when viewing from the top or an abdominal tuck from the side as when she is not pregnant. Dr. Barnes advises that ideal body condition can vary during pregnancy, thus it is best to consult a veterinarian or veterinary nutritionist about an individual dog.
As fetal development continues, the dam has progressively less abdominal space for comfortable digestive tract expansion and function. Frequent feedings of smaller meals may be helpful. Growing fetuses, ﬂuid and developing placental tissues and mammary glands all contribute to a dam’s increasing body weight. During the ﬁnal two weeks of gestation, food consumption may decrease.
As the dam gets closer to her due date, breeders should pay attention for signs of labor. One indicator a dam is getting close to whelping a litter is a decline in body temperature that occurs about 12 to 24 hours before labor begins. Her rectal temperature may fall from 101.5 degrees Fahrenheit to well under 100 degrees. The ﬁrst stage of labor, consisting of mild uterine contractions, can last from six to 12 hours or longer. The dam may become restless and nervous, even shivering and vomiting. She also may try to dig or rearrange her bedding.
Strong contractions lasting from 10 to 30 minutes result in the birth of the puppy during stage two labor. Straining that continues past 30 minutes could signal trouble and the need to consult a veterinarian immediately, especially if straining persists without the expulsion of a fetus. “It can be normal for dams to rest for several minutes to hours between delivering puppies,” says Dr. Barnes.
Expulsion of the placenta takes place in the third, or ﬁnal stage, of labor and delivery, occurring from 5 to 15 minutes after the birth of each puppy. Dams whelping more than one puppy alternate between stages two and three. Until normal whelping is completed, breeders should be certain that the afterbirth has been expelled.
Nine weeks go fast. Before you know it, your dam will deliver her litter and you will have puppies. Taking good care of the bitch helps to ensure all goes well and that both the dam and her puppies are healthy.