Layla, my 10-month-old Lhasa Apso, might be pregnant by Bruno, my 9-year-old Pug. I was supposed to spay and neuter my dogs but I never got around to it, and now I’m afraid for Layla because she is still a puppy herself. I know that was not a smart thing to do and I feel really bad. The good news is that I have good people who want a puppy. I just want Layla to be OK — please tell me what to do!
– Minerva, New York, N.Y.
This is certainly not the ideal situation for any of you, but the good news is that most small-breed female dogs at Layla’s age are nearly fully grown. This is far more of a problem for larger-breed dogs that take a lot longer to fully mature. Most dogs should not be bred until after their second heat.
You will want to educate yourself as much as possible on what you need to plan for and expect over the next two months (dogs are pregnant for approximately 63 days). It helps to know the exact date of conception, but if they were living together and you didn’t see it happen, you may not know this.
At approximately 30 days, you can have an ultrasound done by your veterinarian to see if there are puppies and to estimate the number (ultrasound is not very accurate, however, at detecting the number of puppies). At 45 days of pregnancy, your veterinarian can take an X-ray that will provide a much more accurate puppy count.
To give Layla the extra nutrients she needs, make sure to feed her a puppy growth formula throughout the pregnancy as well as while she is nursing. Do not, however, give her any calcium supplements during the pregnancy, as this can predispose her to eclampsia (a severe calcium deficiency that occurs once the puppies start nursing).
Build or purchase a birthing box and have Layla start sleeping and eating in it over the next two months so she becomes comfortable there. When it is getting close to the due date, you will probably need to surround the birthing box with a baby gate or another kind of blockade so she stays in that area. You do not want her to jump on your couch to deliver the puppies, after all.
Make sure you have the phone numbers for your veterinarian as well as the emergency veterinary clinic in case she has difficulty delivering. The good news is that most dogs are able to deliver all their puppies without any help from people. If things do not go as planned, however, Layla may need to be hospitalized or even have a Cesarean section, so you should prepare yourself for that as well.
It is important to keep things as calm as possible and try not to interfere with the birthing process unless Layla really needs help.
If Layla is actively pushing for more than 30 minutes with no progress, or if more than two hours elapses between puppies and she is not making any progress, you should take her to your veterinarian. If she has delivered a puppy halfway and is not pushing it all the way out, you may need to help her by gently pulling downward on the puppy to deliver it all the way. A puppy stuck halfway in the birth canal cannot breathe and its blood supply is getting cut off from the umbilical cord.
You may also need to tie off the puppies’ umbilical cords with a small piece of string or floss, and clean their noses and mouths if Layla is not doing it. You also may want to purchase puppy milk replacement to use if Layla does not make enough milk.
You will need to make sure the puppies stay warm at all times, and can place a heating pad below part of their enclosure. The puppies will nurse until about 4 weeks of age, when they can then be weaned and Layla can be spayed.
There are many books and online resources on canine reproduction that you can review to get more information to help you plan for the big day.
After the puppies are weaned, you can schedule Layla for her spay surgery. I would encourage you, however, to have Bruno neutered immediately to prevent any other accidents.