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Breeding from your bitch

If you are considering breeding from your bitch it is important you research the procedure carefully. Information on local breeders of certain pedigrees is available from the breed club secretary at the kennel club. The following questions should be considered before contemplating breeding:

  • Can you afford to breed from your bitch? – rearing puppies and the veterinary care of a pregnant bitch can be costly, especially if a ceasarian is required.
  • Do you have time to rear a litter of puppies? – although hopefully the bitch will do everything to begin with, you still have to spend time weaning and caring for the litter.
  • Can you home the puppies? – if your bitch has more than a couple of puppies and you cannot home them , do you have a plan?

If you feel you can do all of the above things, then below is some advice and help to make the process easier and hopefully safer for the bitch, the puppies and yourself.

What should I do before breeding?

  • Before the process of breeding begins it is important to research your breed for any recommended health schemes, which should be undertaken before breeding. This can include hip and/or elbow scoring, eye testing and genetic blood testing to rule out any hereditary complaints. Bitches should not be allowed to have puppies until fully grown and developed themselves – in most breeds this is 2 years of age. Before you take your bitch to be mated you should ensure she is fully up to date with her vaccinations, is wormed and parasite treated.
  • Once in season a bitch is normally taken for mating around day 9-11, normally being mated twice 24-48 hours apart. A sign she is ready for mating is standing with the tail deviated to one side. Laboratory tests are available to determine more accurate mating times, these include a blood test for progesterone levels giving an accurate time of ovulation, or an inhouse vaginal smear cytology to look at cell morphology. Most bitches will only stand to allow mating when they are ready. It is best to discuss mating times with the owner of the stud dog, an experienced breeder or your veterinary surgeon.
  • Once your bitch has been mated we recommend giving the herpes vaccine. Herpes is a common cause of ‘fading’ puppy syndrome and this is often fatal. The vaccine has to be given one week post mating and then again 2 weeks prior to whelping.

How do you know your bitch is pregnant?

  • The best way to confirm pregnancy is by ultrasound which your vet can perform from around 3-4 weeks. Other changes will include a change in weight and body shape, development of milk in the mammary glands, picking at food and nesting.

How long does pregnancy last?

  • Normal pregnancy in a bitch is 63-65 days from conception. Please be aware that counting of days should be done from both first and second mating’s, as the bitch may not have ‘taken’ on the first mating. Also, if the bitch goes a couple of days over the due date of the second mating, do not panic. As long as she is eating and well this can be normal, as sometimes sperm can be ‘held’ for 24-48hrs before reaching its destination!

Is there anything else I need to do for the pregnant bitch?

  • In the last few weeks of pregnancy it’s recommended you either increase the amount you feed her or change to a puppy food. This is higher in energy and protein as well as containing more calcium and phosphorus which are needed for the growing puppies. Most people find they have to split the feeding into 3-4 smaller meals a day especially in the last couple of weeks of pregnancy as there just isn’t the room for the bitch to eat 2 big meals.
  • Once the bitch is whelping and rearing the puppies she will need a secure bed area. It is advised to get this ready in the weeks leading up to whelping so the bitch can get used to it and get settled in the bed. You’ll need plenty of washable bedding material such as towels, blankets and old sheets. It is advisable to layer the whelping bed up with blankets and then towels on top so it is nice and thickly padded. This way after the bitch has finished delivering the puppies you can just peel off the top few layers without too much disturbance, leaving mum and pups with a nice clean, dry bed.
  • Get yourself a little whelping kit together so that when things do start happening you don’t have to panic. Below are a few handy things to have ready:
  • Whelping box – like the one pictured, one with roll bars around the side are best to prevent the puppies being squashed by mum.
  • Lots of bedding, newspapers and towels.
  • Rubber gloves – you may need to give a helping hand delivering puppies.
  • Thick cotton or nylon ties – to tie off the umbilical cord if bleeding.
  • Thermometer – some people recommend taking a bitch’s temperature in the run up to whelping.
  • Heat pads, hot water bottles – whilst environmentally warm temperature is ideal for puppies, sometimes the bitch can get too hot under a heat lamp while giving birth, so ensure plenty of heat sources to keep puppies warm.
  • Puppy stim – this is a commercial product used to give weak puppies a boost.

What is a normal labour like?

  • Initially the bitch will become restless and may start nesting – this can occur 24-48 hours before the next stage. Some bitches become reclusive, but most first time mothers become quite clingy to their human owners. Initially the bitch will pick at food but will then become in-appetant.
  • A clear watery discharge may be present from the vulva, although no contractions will be present, this is the mucosal plug coming away.
  • Once contractions start, the bitch will begin straining, forcing the delivery of a puppy.
  • Following the delivery of a puppy, the placenta is then delivered.

When should I worry?

  • If she has been straining and having contractions for 30 minutes solidly and nothing has happened, this is an emergency and you should contact the surgery immediately as this can be dangerous for both the bitch and the puppies.
  • If the bitch is known to be having more than one puppy or you feel she has pups left inside, and she hasn’t delivered any for 2 hours, but is still having contractions and not pushing, this may mean her uterus is too tired to contract properly.
  • If she has gone more than 5 days over her due date.
  • A part of the puppy or fluid bag is hanging out of the bitches’ vulva.

What should I do once the puppies are born?

  • The most important thing with new born puppies is to keep them warm, they are unable to regulate their body temperature so can easily become hypothermic – this alone is enough to make a puppy very sick, but hypothermia can also trigger other problems such as fading puppy syndrome. Keep them away from draughts, providing plenty of padded bedding to keep off the cold floor and keep in an environment of approximately 25-30ºC. The use of heat lamps is advisable, but a source of heat underneath the bed is also advisable in case the puppies move out from under the direct heat of the lamp.
  • As each new puppy is born you should check for the presence of a cleft palate – this involves opening the mouth and checking the roof of the mouth for any holes or deformities. If these are present it can cause a problem with feeding and suckling.
  • Ensuring each puppy is suckling and getting the first colostrum is vital as this will give a crucial boost to their immune systems. A first-time bitch may need lots of reassurance and the presence of the owner for the first few times of feeding. If a bitch is persistently rejecting one puppy it may need a veterinary check as normally a bitch will keep rejecting an offspring if there is something wrong with it.

What if the bitch won’t or can’t feed the puppies?

  • If the puppies are not being fed sufficiently they will be very restless and noisy initially, rapidly becoming dull and quiet. It is important to weigh all puppies daily as they should start gently increasing body weight from day 2. If the puppies do require feeding, it is best to contact the surgery and arrange for one of our veterinary surgeons or nurses to discuss and demonstrate the feeding and toileting needs with you.

Caring for New Born Puppies.

The care of new born puppies is crucial to their survival, hopefully mum will do a good job at feeding and toileting them but there are a few things you need to do to help. Listed below are a few helpful hints and tips to hopefully make the rearing of your litter a little easier and more successful.

  • Cleft palates – every puppy should be checked for a cleft palate, this is a split down the length of the roof of the mouth. If one of these is present it will greatly reduce the survival rate of the puppy, and it may require tube feeding initially as suckling can prove difficult. If you are unsure what a cleft palate looks like ask one of our vets or nurses for help.
  • Warmth – this is one of the most important factors in the care of young puppies. It’s thought that second to Herpes virus, hypothermia (too cold) is the reason for fading puppy syndrome. People often worry about the bitch getting too hot, however she is more able to regulate her body temperature than the puppies as she can pant and sweat via her pads, also she is able to move away from the heat source.