How do you know when a dog is going to have puppies, and what should you do when she gives birth?
An unspayed female that has mated or tied with a male has a very high chance of becoming pregnant. Dogs are pregnant for approximately 63 days with a range of 58 to 70 days, depending on when ovulation and conception actually occurred.
At about 30 days along, an ultrasound can be performed to see if she is pregnant and if the puppies look healthy. However, this should not be used to count the number of puppies as it can be difficult to get an accurate count because of the way the uterus is shaped. At about 45 to 50 days, an X-ray should be taken to count the number of puppies. At this stage, the skeletons have mineralized and it becomes much easier to count the number of puppies present, so you know how many to expect when whelping day arrives.
You will want to prepare a place for the mother to give birth that is warm, quiet and away from the hustle and bustle of the house. When they are delivering the puppies, most mother dogs handle everything by themselves and do not need help from people. In fact, sometimes when people interfere, the mother becomes nervous or anxious and can actually stop her own labor until things calm down. In general, I recommend monitoring the dog during delivery from a distance and only intervening if necessary.
When she goes into labor, she will be doing a lot of pacing, nuzzling of blankets, and acting like she cannot get comfortable. Sometimes you can see the contractions on the side of the abdomen. The mother will then begin to push and you will be able to see the puppy come out pretty quickly (with one to two pushes usually). The mother will then clean the puppy and stimulate it to breathe by licking at it vigorously, chew the umbilical cord, and often eat the placenta (afterbirth), which can come out directly after the puppy, or sometimes two puppies are born followed by two placentas. Usually the puppies are nursing within a few minutes unless the mother has more pushing to do.
You should take her to your veterinarian if she is actively pushing but has not delivered a puppy in 30 minutes to an hour, or if more than two hours have passed between puppies. If she tries to deliver a puppy and it only comes halfway out, you should step in and intervene immediately, as this is a dangerous situation for the puppy. Take a soft towel and gently grasp the puppy, providing traction in the downward direction preferably during the mother’s contractions to help her deliver the puppy.
If a puppy is born that the mother is not cleaning, you should clean the nose, mouth and body with a dry towel and rub him vigorously to stimulate him to breathe.
After all the puppies have been delivered, keep them very warm because they will not be able to regulate their own temperature well. The mother’s body heat as well as the other puppies’ body heat helps to keep them all warm, but you can also place a heating pad under part of their blankets or place a space heater in the room if necessary.
Monitor the puppies daily to make sure they are gaining weight (using a scale that measures in ounces) and nursing well. Take them all to your veterinarian for a checkup after one to two days or if you have any concerns. Lack of weight gain is usually the first sign of a problem in puppies and if not addressed quickly, it is very easy for them to pass away.
If the mother does not make enough milk or if the puppies are not nursing well, sometimes it is necessary to bottle feed them with a puppy milk replacer. However, mother’s milk is always preferred if it is available. After 10 to 14 days, the puppies will start to open their eyes and ears. At about four weeks, you can wean them off the mother and start to introduce canned puppy food.
At 8 weeks of age, they can be adopted out to their new homes and you can finally get some rest.
Note: i Love Dogs strongly advocates spaying or neutering your pets to prevent unwanted pregnancies.