Care of breeding bitches
and their puppies
Breeding from your bitch and raising her pups can be an extremely rewarding experience or it may produce frustration and failure. Breeding can become very costly, especially if the bitch has problems during her labour and needs a caesarian, or if she does not accept the pups and the little ones need to be hand raised (time off work, formula, etc.). Pet bitches are often torn between their instinctive desire to be with their pups and the routines they have acquired with their owners. This can lead to problems and should be borne in mind before breeding is contemplated.
Also raising a litter of pups is an extremely time-consuming exercise and one that should not be embarked upon without due consideration.
Please before deciding to breed bear in mind that many pups end up in shelters and/or euthanised even though they are healthy and gorgeous – simply because breeders have trouble finding owners.
The following information is provided in order to increase your chances of success.
When to breed:
If you decide to let your bitch have a litter of pups, firstly make sure she is:
· Healthy – Check your bitch has had a recent check over
· Vaccinated – Your bitch will pass on important maternal antibodies to her pups – to pass on maximum immunity, she needs to be up to date with her vaccinations
· Wormed – Worm the bitch prior to mating and then at 5 weeks and 8 weeks gestation. Make sure you use a good quality wormer that is SAFE for pregnant/lactating bitches. Ask our staff if you are unsure about which products to use.
Bitches usually come into heat about every 6 months, although very large breeds may cycle anything up to once in 15 months. The season usually lasts 21 days. The first signs of heat are swelling of the vulva and a blood red discharge, there may also be a personality change. During this period male dogs will be attracted to her. It is not uncommon for a bitch to have a silent heat.
A bitch should not be mated until her second season, and if you intend to breed with your bitch, you should start before she is 3 years old. For the bitches and pups health, she shouldn’t have more than one litter per year.
Male dogs are more successful when the environment is familiar. Therefore it is preferable to take the female to the male’s home for mating. The timing for mating is critical. The bitch will usually accept the male during the second week of the season. The most fertile time is generally considered the 10th to 14th days of the heat period. It is best to mate her 24 hours after the discharge turns a straw colour and 36-48 hours later. Alternatively, mate her when she first accepts him every 48 hours after, until she rejects him.
Pregnancy lasts 63 days but pups may arrive from the 58th to 68th day. Make sure you mark the time of mating/s on a calendar, so that you have a good idea when the pups are due. If you wish to have the pregnancy confirmed, do so between 3.5-4 weeks, at this stage your vet should be able to palpate pups, before and after this period, and it can be too hard to feel them.
It is extremely important to make sure your bitch has a good quality diet. Change her diet to a high-quality puppy food before she is mated and keep her on this diet throughout pregnancy and lactation. Her food intake should not be altered during the first two-thirds of her pregnancy, and if a complete puppy diet is being fed, there is no need to use additional vitamin and mineral supplements – in fact, doing this can cause problems. After the 6th week of pregnancy, food intake should gradually increase, and so abdominal pressure increase with the size of the foetuses, smaller meals fed more frequently will be helpful. During the last three weeks food intake will often increase by up to 1.5 times the normal level and at the height of lactation, approximately three weeks after whelping if often 2.5 to 3 times normal, particularly if she is feeding a large litter.
Preparing for whelping:
From the time of mating, many dogs show behavioural changes. Most develop an unusual sweet and loving disposition and demand more attention. However, some may become uncharacteristically irritable. Some experience a few days of vomiting (‘morning sickness’), followed by the development of a ravenous appetite which persists throughout the pregnancy.
Prepare a whelping box that is large enough for the bitch to move around in, with sides that are high enough so the pups cannot climb out, but low enough that she can get out and if necessary you can reach in to give assistance. Get the bitch accustomed to it well before the birth. 2.5cm thick of newspaper makes good bedding during whelping with the top layers being moved as they become soiled. The box must be free from draughts and placed in a quiet, low traffic area (especially if she is easily stressed). Clip any long hair away from the vulva and mammary glands.
The impeding signs of whelping including the following:
Lack of appetite approximately 12-24 hours before birth, a drop in body temperature of 0.5-1 Degrees Celsius, restlessness, anxiety, panting and discomfort. She may tear up her bedding and attempt to make a nest. She may vomit. A slight clear muciod vaginal discharge can occur within 24 hours of whelping. There may or may not be milk present at whelping time.
Do not fuss, but regularly check the bitch. If the bitch is having pups for the first time a careful watch should be kept on her until she has finished. Initially there are mild contractions, then become more forceful. The first pup is usually born within 2 hours of these strong contractions. Pups are usually born at intervals of 10-30 minutes, but 1-2 hours in between is not uncommon. A few strong contractions should discard the pup, they should exit the birth canal within 10 minutes of being visible. The entire litter is usually born within 12 hours.
Following delivery, the mother should like the newborns face. The pup is usually born in a sac, which the bitch breaks. If this doesn’t happen, you must tear it off to enable the pup to breathe. This is likely to happen with the first 1 or 2 pups of a maiden bitch. Vigorous washing by the mother stimulates circulation, causing the pup to cry and begin to breathe, it also dries the pups coat (sometimes this can look a little rough). If the dog does not lick her pups, the vigorous rubbing with a warm, soft towel will stimulate the circulation and dry the hair. If the pup does not start to breathe, gently blowing into the mouth can assist respiration. The mother will sever the umbilical cord by chewing it about 1 inch from the body. If the umbilical cord is not broken it should be torn about 1 inch from the body with your finger nails, or tired with sewing thread or dental floss about 1 inch from the body and then cut with clean scissors. The afterbirth is discarded if not eaten by the bitch (which is normal). Be sure to count that a placenta follows each pup born. Liquids may be offered to the bitch in between pups.
After all the pups are expelled the bitch will usually settle down to allow the pups to start suckling. Healthy pups sleep and eat and sleep. There should be no continual crying. When whelping is proceeding normally the bitch should be left undisturbed. Clean and dry the pups only if the bitch doesn’t do so. Do not handle the pups or interfere unnecessarily with the bitch.
Signs of possible trouble:
· A green discharge at any stage prior to the first pup
· Continuous straining for over 2 hours and no pup
· Longer than 4 hours between pups
· If part of a pup or fluid filled bubble is seen and it does not proceed further in the next 10 minutes
*If any of these signs are seen, contact the clinic IMMEDIATELY! If we are closed, contact the Western Animal Emergency Centre at Werribee (which is staffed 24 hours a day) on 03 9731 2232
Difficulty delivering (dystocia) may be managed with or without surgery. The condition of the mother, size of the litter and size of the pups are factors used in making that decision.
Have a bitch and pups checked within 24 hours of whelping. This visit is to check the mother for complete delivery and can overcome many potentially serious complications. The pups will also be checked over for problems/birth defects, etc. The pups are wrapped in a towel and taken to the clinic in a box with a hot water bottle if indicated. The mother may receive an injection to contract the uterus and stimulate milk production. The bitch will have a vaginal discharge post whelping; this is normal and should have stopped by 3 weeks, indicating that the wall of the uterus is healed.
The lactation bitch:
Record the bitch’s weight and feed her to maintain weight. She may need up to 2.5 times her normal intake 4-5 weeks after whelping. An excellent diet is essential – we recommend and stock Royal Canin dry puppy food, also make sure she has plenty of fresh, clean water available.
Eclampsia/milk fever: this is a condition that can occur in the bitch with a depletion of calcium, due to lactation. Small bitches seem to be more prone to this. Symptoms include panting, weakness, spasm of the limbs and twitching /shaking. Treatment by a veterinary surgeon without delay is essential.
Supplement feeding: This may be necessary if the litter is very large or the bitch has little milk. It is always best to top up all the pups rather than feeding some formula and others off the bitch. Leave all the pups with the bitch overnight.
Worming the puppies:
Pups should be wormed for the first time at 2 weeks of age, then at 4, 6, 8, 10 and 12 weeks old (fortnightly until 12 weeks of age). After this they can be wormed monthly until they are 12 months old. Using a worming syrup or tablet with pyrantel as the active ingredient – making sure that it is safe for pups at 2 weeks of age (Drontal puppy worming suspension). Don’t forget to also worm the bitch at 2 and 4 weeks post whelp.
Speying the dam:
Normally we recommend waiting until the pups are 10-12 weeks old to desex the bitch. This allows the uterus to return to normal and the mammary glands to be free of milk. We don’t like to wait any longer as the bitch may come back into heat/season.
Start weaning the pups after 21st day and it should take about 2 weeks to complete. You can help with this by dribbling the puppy milk onto their nose and mouths with your fingers,repeat this 2-3 times a day until they begin to lap from a saucer. Gradually add wet puppy food (which can be smeared onto their mouth and nose) to the milk until they are eating the wet puppy food or soaked dry puppy food only, this should occur by 4-6 weeks of age. Pups should be fed a puppy food until they are 12 months old, when they can be started onto an adult food. During weaning, the amount of food given to the bitch should start to be decreased.
NOTE: puppies have very sensitive digestive systems, so to decrease the chance of them getting diarrhoea make sure the weaning process (from liquids to solids) is done slowly. Gradually increase the amount of wet food added to the milk/formula every couple of days so their tummies can adjust
If possible the pups should get colostrum within the first 24 hours. Commercial formulas eg: Animalac & Divetalac are readily available, as well as bottles and teats – the puppy formula needs to be warmed to 38 degree celsius before use. DO NOT USE COWS MILK as most dogs are lactose intolerant!!! Pups may need to be fed every 2-3 hours at first, as they grow the time in between feeding and obviously the amount they are drinking will increase.
It is vital that the pups are kept warm; pups do not develop a shiver reflex until they are around 10-14 days old and cannot maintain their body temperature. If they are not at the right body temperature, they cannot digest food. Use a hot water bottle or something similar to keep them warm.
***Pups cannot go to the toilet by themselves as the mother normally stimulates them by licking their abdomen and genital area. You must stimulate them to defecate and urinate – you can do this by using a moist cotton ball or tip (dipped in warm water) and stroke/massage the abdominal and genital areas. This should be done before and after each feed, wake them up to do this before starting to feed. Their little genitals are quite sensitive and may become sore and red, so it is important to be as gentle as possible.
All pups should be weighed at the same time daily to make sure they are gaining weight for the first 3 weeks of life. Any loss of more than 10% should warrant seeking veterinary advice and more closely monitoring of the pups feeding, toileting and general activity.
The easiest way to keep a record of weights, feeding, toileting, etc. is to record each pups details into a book. This way you can keep track of how much they are drinking each feed, their weight and whether or not they have defecated, etc.
Pups are provided some immunity to canine diseases from their mother (via the placenta and colostrum) – particularly if she is up to date with her vaccinations. Protection with these maternal antibodies only lasts a few weeks, after this time the pups are susceptible to disease.
Pups need vaccinations to prevent against the three deadly diseases Distemper, Canine Hepatitis and Parvovirus, as well as protecting them against Parainfluenza and Bordetella (Kennel Cough), which is a debilitating and highly contagious respiratory disease. Vaccination is essential to provide the pups protection against these diseases BEFORE they come into contact with them!
Recommended vaccination schedule:
6 week of age – Protech C3 (Distemper, Canine Hepatitis and Parvovirus)
10 weeks of age – Protech C3 & Protech Bronchi-Shield III (Distemper, Canine Hepatitis and
Parvovirus PLUS Bordetella bronchiseptica, Canine Adenovirus type 2 and
14 weeks of age - Protech C3 (Distemper, Canine Hepatitis and Parvovirus)
NOTE: Do not let the pups play anywhere except inside your home and your back yard until 14 days after their final vaccination (at 14 weeks of age). Until this time they are not fully protected. they must not be walked outside of these areas until they are protected.
*This is vital information to pass onto the new owners of your pups. Unfortunately we see many cases of parvovirus every year that could have been easily prevented. Sadly many of these PUPS DIE or are put to sleep! Kennel cough is also quite prevalent around our area
If you have any questions or concerns please feel free to contact the clinic during our opening hours
18 Alexandra Street, Melton Vic 3337
Ph: 03 9743 4413 Fax: 03 9743 7260