Normal average pregnancy for dogs lasts between 64-66 days but, the apparent length of pregnancy assessed from the time of mating may vary between 56 and 72 days since both early and late matings may be fertile.
Signs of Pregnancy
Increased body weight and abdominal enlargement: however, these signs may not be obvious if the number of pups is small.
Reduced food intake and a vaginal discharge are common approximately 1 month into the pregnancy. Enlargement and reddening of the mammary glands may be noted especially from 40 days after mating.
Production of milk is a variable finding: some mother dogs produce from day 55 onwards or just before parturition.
Once you are aware your pup is pregnant, bring her to the vet for a check-up. There must be a transition to new food where protein and carbohydrates are required and usually puppy dry food is given and this continues until the puppies are born and weaned off. The minute the pups are weaned off, mama can return to her regular adult food. After 30 days into the pregnancy, appetite increases. Supplements are not needed provided a compete and well-balanced diet with the required nutrients are given. Maintain regular exercise but do monitor as time passes mama-to-be gets heavy and her walking would be shortened. Sometimes when one or more kittens have been born, mother cat will cease straining and rest quite happily, allowing the kittens born to suckle. This resting stage may last up to 24 or even 36 hours, after which straining recommences and the remainder of the litter is born normally and easily.
Parturition means “action of giving birth to young” and there are 3 stages:
The First Stage
Stage 1 lasts between 6 to 24 hours taking into account of breed, size of dog and litter size.
This is the stage of uterine contractions. Mama will appear restless and at times pacing back n forth and go off food. In addition, shivering and vomiting may be observed. Most dogs seek seclusion or seek their human for assurance. As mama approaches this stage, her body temperature will drop 1 degree immediately. She’ll most likely rest at her nesting area but regularly observe her.
The uterine contraction pushes the first foetus against the cervix which starts to dilate. The allantochorion (embryonic membrane – placenta) may rupture and allantonic fluid may be produced from the vulva.
The Second Stage
Stage 2 lasts for several hours, much shorter compared to Stage 1.
This is characterized by increased uterine contractions and propulsion of the foetus through the cervix into the vagina. As the first foetus enters the pelvic canal forceful abdominal straining commences. Mama will be in a lateral (lying on the side) recumbency during delivery although some mother dogs will remain standing.
To avoid any damage to the neonate, we place our hands just below her behind and watch closely so we can catch the neonate. The delivery of the foetal head is often most difficult and this may be associated with some pain; after this the foetus is usually produced rapidly. The first pup will arrive 30 minutes from the first contraction usually. She’ll be panting so it’s good that her trusted human is beside her giving assurance and words of comfort. Visible contraction.
The amnion (membrane that surrounds each foetus) is often seen at the vulva during straining. This may either rupture spontaneously, be broken by mama or is unruptured and the foetus is born. Mama will usually break the sac the minute the foetus is born and if she fails to do so, you must remove it quickly. The time between the straining and the birth of the first foetus varies; it may be as short as 10-30 minutes but may take longer in young mother dogs. Non-productive straining for greater than 60 minutes may indicate dystocia (difficult birth; used to indicate any problem that interferes with normal birth).
The birth of a foetus is usually followed by the expulsion of the allantochorion (placenta) usually within 20 minutes. The subsequent foetuses may be delivered quicky although the interval between foetuses may be up to 6 hours. The time taken from the birth of the first to the last foetus is variable and may be as long as 24-36 hours.
After the delivery of the foetus, mama usually commences vigorous licking, removing membranes and fluid away from the neonate’s face and promoting respiration. If she fails to do so, this can be done by using a clean soft towel. Mama will sever the umbilical cord with her teeth and eat the placenta when it is expelled. It is important to ensure Mama does not excessively chew the umbilicus since this may damage the foetus. If the umbilicus is not severed, this can be achieved using a clean disinfected scissors.
Neonates (newly born kittens or puppies) are best left with their mother during the remainder of the delivery. If they are removed this may be distressing and inhibit further straining.
The Third Stage
Stage 3 lasts between 10 to 30 minutes.
This third stage follows immediately from the second stage and is seen as the passage of membranes, complete with dark flesh coloured mass of separated placenta, known as the “after-birth”. Normally, each set of membrane is passed immediately after each pup, however, some times the second pup will follow so quickly from the opposite uterine horn that the membranes from the first will be trapped temporarily and the two sets will be passed together. Also take note that with the consumption of all this, at times, Mama can have diarrhoea. Nothing to be alarmed as it would pass within 24 hours. Fill her water bowl consistently with clean fresh water and her food bowl with puppy dry food as she requires all the nutrients providing milk to her litter of pups.
Sometimes when one or more pups have been born, Mama will cease straining and rest quite happily, allowing the pups born to suckle. This resting stage may last up to 24 or even 36 hours, after which straining recommences and the remainder of the litter is born normally and easily.
Clementine’s Pregnancy July 2002
Clementine, a Saint Bernard, 2 years old, first pregnancy.
Side view of Clementine. Doesn’t show much of a huge bulge.
1st Stage Parturition
Relaxing Clementine by grooming as she was restless and pacing.
Tired. Clementine resting at a corner
Taking temperature of Clementine that dropped one degree.
Mammary glands of Clementine and milk can be seen.
Clementine’s preferred birthing area
Clementine’s actual birthing area
2nd Stage Parturition
Clementine giving birth very soon. Receiving assurance and getting clingy with her hoo-man. She’s at her birthing area.
First neonate is born. Female. 700g. Clementine gave birth walking then standing so our hands were at her bottom. From left: rigorously licking, removing the zoonary placenta & cleaning her neonate.
Clementine was very tired and we helped clean her first pup. As it was winter, we made sure towels were clean and warm especially to retain body heat to the pup. Clementine sniffing her first born
First neonate suckling on Clementine. No human intervention!
3rd Stage Parturition
Neonates suckling, exhausted Clementine
From Left: 1st neonate, 2nd neonate. Male weighing 600g. Clementine’s birthing journey took 36 hours for 6 puppies
Images & Content courtesy of former Vet Nurse Student 2001
Meem Siah, Otago Polytechnic, Dunedin, New Zealand
Veterinary Nursing 2nd Edition – Edited by D.R. Lane & B. Cooper