Dog Breeding, Gestation and Lactation: A Guide
We hope the information below is useful to all dog breeders regardless of previous experience.
At Grove Lodge Vets we strive to provide the very best veterinary care for all your pets. We are one of the few practices in the UK that has a veterinary hospital as part of our group. This enables us to offer an extensive variety of services including referrals and a dedicated night team on site 24 hours a day providing emergency care, very useful to have close by if you are considering breeding from your dog.
We have appointments available at all our branches (Brighton, Portslade, Southwick, Lancing, Tarring, Durrington) on Saturday mornings for no additional fee. In addition we have appointments available all day on Saturday and Sunday at the main hospital at no extra charge (if booked prior to the day). Take a look at the other veterinary services Grove Lodge has to offer in the rest of our website.
Our veterinary team is on hand to help with any questions about breeding. We have compiled a comprehensive guide but it is by no means exhaustive. We would advise you to discuss the process in detail with your veterinary surgeon, so please ask for a double appointment when booking for initial discussion and examination.
Breeding: An Outline
When considering breeding there are several areas to be considered.
Before mating you will need to visit your vet to make sure that your pet is fit for breeding and this is the time any questions can be discussed about the breeding process.
- You will need to make sure your dog's prospective partner has also had a vet check and any necessary tests carried out prior to breeding. Don't forget your dog's routine healthcare should be up to date - this includes worming, flea treatment and vaccinations.
- Make sure you have the right location to facilitate a successful mating. Ideally allow the dogs time to interact and get to know each other - this will increase the likelihood of a successful mating.
- Ensure you have all the necessary equipment to give you and your bitch the smoothest and most comfortable time during pregnancy and birth.
- As you may wish to have a vet visit your home to check on mum and puppies after birth, you will need to find out from your vets about home visit options and costs in advance.
- Allow time to socialise and habitualise the puppies to a variety of domestic situations and inhabitants to assist their new owners in integrating their pet into society.
- If you are having the puppies vaccinated prior to going to their new home then it might be worth seeing the Practice Nurse first for a positive handling session and to weigh, worm and flea treat the puppies.
Determing Whether or Not to Mate
This is a really important part of being a responsible breeder. You can arrange for a full and through assessment by a qualified behaviourist. We would suggest a member of the Association of Pet Behaviourists (APBC) or Certified Clinical Animal Behaviourist (CCAB). If this is not possible your vet or veterinary nurse can advise you on behaviours that would contraindicate breeding from that pet.
Responsible Breeding: Socialisation and Habitualisation
We would like to highlight the importance and responsibility in your role as the breeder to make sure that your puppies are adequately socialised and habituated to the environment in which they will be living before they go to their new home. After this, it is up to the new owner to continue your good work to make sure they have a well-adjusted and sociable puppy. Without this vital work your puppies may develop behavioural problems that may put them at risk from being re-homed or returned to you.
- It is essential that you consider the amount of time that is involved in breeding and rearing puppies. If you are in any doubt as to whether you can commit the necessary time, then seriously reconsider if breeding is the right choice for you and your dog.
- Although behavioural problems in dogs can develop at any time for a variety of reasons, the role of the breeder is to make sure the right foundations are laid at this crucial stage of learning, as it will have a major impact on learning and behavioural responses in the future.
- In the first three weeks the puppies cannot see or hear so all experiences are down to touch and smell. During this time it is your job to make sure mum and puppies are safe and that the mum has everything she needs to look after her puppies in the best way. Make sure people regularly handle the puppies, however ensure the bitch is comfortable with these people and the handling is very gentle.
- The handlers must have clean hands and clothes. Ask them to leave their shoes at the front door. Handling should be for short periods only - only a minute or two at a time is ideal.
- From 3-5 weeks of age, make sure the puppies have positive interaction and experience of a normal domestic environment. This means things like household machines, other animals and people. Keep these interactions short, fun and regular. Make sure, however you are not interrupting their sleeping time. There is a CD available that Grove Lodge can supply that covers all the necessary domestic noises your puppies need to be comfortable with and includes a useful instruction manual. There is another CD covering noises of babies and children. These are definitely worth purchasing, as these noises can be very alarming to dogs and the early weeks of your puppies' lives are the perfect time for them to experience these noises under the safety of their mum's watchful eye. If your bitch is nervous or has any noise phobias it would be best to do these sessions without her, perhaps when she goes out for her daily walk. There are also two other noise CDs available, one covers traffic noise and lorries and the other fireworks, gunshot and thunderstorms. All CD work should be started at a very low volume and only when all the puppies are happy and relaxed should to volume be increased. It is never necessary for the volume to be loud as this will likely cause upset. It is best to use a mobile CD player so the noises can appear from a variety of areas.
- When the puppies are a little older and at least a week before they go to their new home, they should experience the car. If the first time they go in the car they are distressed about leaving their mum and they may very well have a long journey ahead of them, it is easy to see why they can take a dislike to the car.
- Start by putting them in a stationary car with some nice toys and food. You may wish to take just two at a time with mum, providing it is safe and she doesn't get excitable or worried in the car. When they are happy with this start the engine but do not move. When they are relaxed, make sure they are safe and secure, best to use a dog crate or secure large cat basket and move slowly forward and back.
- Providing all is going well, take a short trip round the block - only a few minutes. This should be increased slowly (providing they are all happy) to at least a thirty-minute journey. Remember in the summer not to do this during a hot day. In the winter, heat up the car before putting them in it. Remember also that this must be as pleasurable experience as possible - travelling in a car can make them feel nauseous and fearful, as it is unnatural. This may take some time so it might be worth starting at 6 weeks of age, depending on how much spare time you have available. Dog Appeasing Pheromone Travel spray can be used in the car or travel box/crate to help reduce their stress and is available from your vet.
Pre-mating Veterinary Check
- Specific tests may be carried out if the animal's previous history dictates.
- Advice will be given on inherited disease risk, vaccination, worming and nutrition. The routine vaccinations should be up to date prior to mating. If this is not done then it may be necessary to have special killed vaccines but it is better to avoid the risk. Book an appointment with your vet for a full health check to make sure your pet is fit for breeding and to get vaccinations up to date.
- Recent worming against roundworms is necessary as worms can pass from bitch to puppies. In addition it is advisable that dogs are treated for fleas and ticks. Discuss the best product to use with your vet.
Breed Specific Health Check
There are several schemes run by the Kennel Club to reduce the chance of inherited diseases. These will include checks on the eyes, heart, hips and elbows.
Determining When to Mate
- It is recommended that bitches and dogs should be at least twelve months of age and ideally less than 7 years of age. Mating a novice bitch or dog should be shared with an experienced animal.
- Oestrus is the technical term for "in season" or "in heat" and is the stage of the cycle when the bitch is receptive to the male and mating.
It lasts approximately 3 weeks.
- Optimal conception is generally 11-14 days after discharge starts. This is only a guideline, however, as some bitches will be ready as early as 5 days or as late as 25 days.
- When the bitch is ready for mating she will stand to show she is ready to be mated. At any other time, she is unlikely to entertain the male's advances so well.
- Some bitches will not stand for the dog at the most fertile period, for these bitches blood hormone levels can be measured to determine the optimum time. Your vet will be happy to discuss this in more detail with you at the pre-mating health check.
- In some cases assisted mating may be necessary. For more information on artificial insemination, speak to your vet. This is a specialist area and your vet will be able to refer you to the right person for this.
Quite often mating environments for breeding purposes can be very artificial and therefore result in unsuccessful mating and distressed animals. The following are ways to improve chances of conception:
- The dog and bitch should be allowed to have introductory play sessions and even take a few walks together if circumstances allow. This will give them the opportunity to mate when they are ready, increasing the chance of success.
- When the bitch is ready she will "stand" for the male and her tail will deviate to one side allowing mating.
The male may ejaculate prior to mounting. This is normal and the fluid does not contain sperm.
Following mounting the dog will ejaculate the sperm, then will turn 180 degrees and dismount facing the opposite direction BUT NOT DETACH.
DO NOT SEPARATE THE DOGS DURING THIS TIME AND KEEP THEM CALM. This position is known as the 'tie' and will result in injury in either one or both parties if they are forced apart before ready. During the tie, the male will ejaculate a third time.
- This forces the sperm further up to the cervix increasing the chance of conception. The tie may last for 20 minutes or more before the dog and bitch separate.
- Bitches have one or two oestrous cycles a year with an interval of 5 to 13 months, (although 6 to 7 is the average). Cycles will first appear from 6-23 months of age.
- The length of pregnancy is usually 60 days from fertilisation of the egg, but a variation from 56-72 days from the first mating has been recorded.
- As advised, pregnancies take on average 63 days if calculated by days from the first mating.
- The average litter size varies; miniature breeds can have as little as one pup and large breeds up to 15.
- Very young and older bitches tend to have fewer pups than dogs aged between 3 and 4 years old.
- During pregnancy a bitch should increase her weight by 15-25%.
- Their food intake does not tend to increase during the first half of pregnancy but in the second half it may increase as much as 100%.
- We recommend feeding Proplan food for small to medium dogs during later stage pregnancy and lactation - please discuss your dog's needs with the vet. Remember if changing your pet's diet, this should be done slowly. Mix a very small amount of the new food in with the existing food for a few days to ensure it doesn't cause diarrhoea, vomiting or flatulence.
- Whether or not the bitch was wormed prior to mating she can be given Panacur Oral Solution® or Granofen Powder® daily from day 42 of pregnancy until two days after giving birth. This will help prevent the puppies getting roundworms.
- It is useful to measure or weigh the food accurately to ensure the correct amount recommended for the brand is being fed and help to monitor the food intake.
- Regular exercise is essential but let the bitch dictate when she has had enough. Little and often is the best option.
- Pregnancy diagnosis can often be done by palpation at approximately 3-4 weeks following mating in some slim bitches.
- Hormone tests are not used as they do not differentiate from a false pregnancy.
- Ultrasound scanning is possible from 21 days although the first scan is usually carried out at approximately 28 days. Ultrasound can only give an
- indication of the number of puppies although this is not always 100% accurate.
- Ultrasounds can identify foetal heartbeats. This is carried out in late pregnancy.
Preparing for the Birth
- In the last few weeks of pregnancy the bitch should be encouraged to accept "a nest" which you have prepared in a suitable place for giving birth and raising the young.
- The ideal place for the nest is a warm, clean, draught and damp free area that can be heated. Ideally it should not be too close to the main traffic areas of the house but not so quiet that the puppies don't become accustomed to household noise.
- If possible the area should include a penned off outside area but within the house for the puppies to play in when they are over 4 weeks. This will also allow the bitch to rest. A safe outside area is necessary for older puppies.
- The nest box needs to have sides high enough to prevent the puppies getting out, until they are at least 4 weeks old. The bed should be well padded and washable and big enough to allow her to stretch out with the expected number of puppies around her.
- If your bitch is longhaired, it is advisable to have the Practice Nurses clip the area around her vagina and part of her tummy as this will make it easier for the puppies to find the nipples and for you to clean her after whelping.
In addition to the nest box and outside pen, you will need the following:
- Lots of newspaper.
- Plenty of soft bedding material that can be easily washed and is well padded but not made from material that could shed. Veterinary fleeced blankets are ideal (vet beds).
- A clock, notepad, pen and accurate weighing scales. This is to note the birth times and weights.
- A hot water bottle, towels and box. It may be necessary for a short period to put some puppies in the box with the hot water bottle wrapped in towels if the litter is large and the bitch clumsy for the puppies' safety whilst she is giving birth. She must be allowed to clean them first and when she has finished giving birth they must go back in with the bitch.
- A pot of "Whelpi®" milk substitute. This can be offered to the bitch after parturition (giving birth). This is also useful to have to hand with some small syringes, teats and feeding bottles for feeding the puppies if the bitch cannot care for them for any reason.
- Cotton wool for cleaning puppies as necessary.
- Take the bitch's rectal temperature twice daily and record in the last week of her pregnancy. A sudden reduction in temperature will indicate she will start giving birth 24-36 hours later. Normally the temperature will be around 39°C and drop to below 37°C.
Stages of Giving Birth
There are several stages to giving birth:
2. First stage (onset of contractions)
3. Second stage (propulsion of the puppy)
4. Third stage (passage of placenta)
5. Puerperium (after puppies passed)
It is important to understand the normal phases of giving birth so you can identify when things might be going wrong.
- Usually this will take 6-12 hours
- Bitch may appear restless but equally may show no signs at all
- Will normally take 3-12 hours, but can occasionally take longer.
- The bitch may spend some hours appearing restless with short periods of straining (a few minutes at a time). Once the bitch is continually straining, a pup should be expelled within 30 minutes. A watery, green fluid (which surrounds the pup in the womb) may also be expelled.
- The placenta is normally passed within 15 minutes of each puppy but sometimes several puppies are passed before the placentas appear. Make sure you count the placentas and that there is one for each pup.
- Following the birth of all the puppies you may see a bloody or dark green discharge from the vulva for up to 2-3 weeks. This discharge is usually only a few drops at a time not a continuous flow.
Spotting potential problems
During stage two
- If there is a green fluid but no puppy within half an hour. This indicates there has been separation of the placenta and a puppy is stuck in the birth canal.
- If she has strong regular straining without producing a pup for 30 minutes.
- If she has weak or irregular straining for more than 4 hours.
- Following the first puppy being born if the next one is not produced in the next 2 hours.
During stage three
- If the placentas are not passed within 4-6 hours of the last puppy, keep a close eye as the bitch may be eating them.
- If the discharge following the birth is foul smelling or pale green or yellow.
- If there is continual or severe bleeding from the vulva.
- If the bitch doesn't want to eat or drink within a few hours after giving birth.
- If you have any queries or concerns speak to your veterinary surgeon immediately
Giving Birth: In Detail
- As the vaginal tissues relax, she may start nest making and there will be a reduction in rectal temperature. Some bitches seek company and others isolation. Some will show no signs. Most don't appreciate an audience so it is recommended to have only one very familiar person there during the birth.
- Onset of contractions can last 3-12 hours and even this range can vary. Milk is usually present and may be seen. She should become increasingly restless, possibly panting and or shivering. They may vomit their last meal or refuse food and become more intense with their nest making. The allantochorion (which is the sack around the puppy) may rupture and green fluid leak from the vulva.
- The contractions become more obvious and the bitch will appear to squeeze from her rib cage towards her bottom then relax. It is important to record the time of this contraction. The time between this first contraction and birth of the first pup is variable. It can be as quick as 10 minutes or 30 minutes sometimes more, especially in first time bitches. If she is straining for half an hour without producing a puppy or her waters have broken and a pup has not been produced, then you must call your vet immediately.
- As each pup is born the bitch should clean the membranes and fluid from them vigorously. If she does not, this must be done for her. If she is trying but not succeeding, gently assist and encourage her. They will normally lie on their sides but some will stand. If you need to assist, use a clean dry towel and clear the membranes and mucus from the nose and mouth, then rub vigorously to stimulate breathing and dry them out. The puppies must be kept warm or there is a severe risk they will die of hypothermia. The afterbirth should follow the birth of a pup and this should be separated from the puppy. It is normal for the bitch to eat the placenta, but make sure the bitch isn't over enthusiastic with the umbilicus and chew too far or they may hurt the puppy. If the umbilicus remains attached you can gently stretch and tear it a few centimetres from the pup's tummy or if necessary cut with a clean pair of scissors. A full examination and weight check should be performed only once the bitch has completely cleaned the puppy and all puppies are born.
- Although the placenta is normally passed in the second stage sometimes a puppy is born without a placenta. It is vital to count the amount of puppies and placentas as they are passed. If there are more puppies than placenta, then the bitch will normally pass the remainder at the end of phase two. After whelping, the bitch may pass a dark bloody slightly green discharge for about a week. After that a clearer mucous discharge may be seen for up to 6 weeks.
- If you are worried during any stage of pregnancy, parturition (giving birth) or lactation please contact us as soon as possible. If it is out of hours call our main hospital on 01903 234 866. We offer a 24 hour, seven days a week emergency service from our main hospital.
Care of Mother and Puppies
- Following the birthing process you will need to check mum and puppies to make sure they are well. They should all be bright and alert; mum may be tired but not excessively lethargic or dull. Please ensure your hands are thoroughly washed before handling pups. If you place your finger in their mouths, they should try to suck it.
- Check their mouths for cleft palates, which look like a hole in the roof of the mouth. Do a size comparison to identify if there is an obvious runt. Take their weights accurately so this can be monitored daily.
- Make sure the bitch is producing milk by firmly drawing down on a nipple. Make sure all the puppies are managing to feed and observe them carefully to see if they are crying relentlessly.
- If you are concerned or it is your first litter you may wish to speak to a vet or arrange for a vet to do a home visit to check and weigh the puppies and check mum. This is better discussed with your vets in advance to see what home visit options are available.
If there is evidence of fleas the puppies can be treated with Frontline spray ® from 2 days old and then repeated every month, the amount of spray is dependent on body weight.
- Call our Practice Nurse team for more advice on 01903 223137. If you would prefer to book a free appointment with a Practice Nurse to have them weighed accurately and to get your flea and worming products call 01903 234866. Alternatively if you have accurate scales at home just call and tell the Practice Nurses the weights and they will get the medication ready for you to collect. Call 01903 234866 to speak to them direct 8am - 5.30pm Monday to Friday or leave a message on 01903 223137.
- The puppies need to be treated for roundworms with Panacur oral paste ® or solution at 2 and 5 weeks and just before going to their new homes at 7-8 weeks. This particular treatment is given daily for three consecutive days at each of those dates and they must be accurately weight as the dose is dependent on body weight.
- They should be treated for fleas and this can be done with Frontline spray® from two days old and repeated monthly.
- The bitch can be treated for roundworms with Panacur Oral Solution® or Granofen Powder® at the same time as the puppies. This is a single dose and again is dependent on weight.
- Following this the bitch should be treated monthly with a multi-wormer like drontal ® until the puppies go to their new homes. Remember her weight will change especially during lactation (when she is feeding the puppies) and her weight will need to be measured prior to each worming treatment until her weight has stabilised at its normal level.
- The bitch can be treated with Frontline Combo® which is a spot on for fleas and ticks monthly until the puppies go to their new homes. If you are not worried about ticks the treatments can be stretched to every 6-8 weeks.
- When the puppies go to their new home it is useful for you to provide the new owners a starter pack to include the following:
- Advice on what diet they need and how much, this should cover changing the volume and consistency of the food and frequency of feeding as they get older.
- A list of suitable toys, treats and games to play with and what training can be started at this young age.
- Recommend they attend a puppy party at their vets and follow on with puppy training at a suitable puppy class. Ideally puppy classes should be with a qualified, registered and regulated trainer with specialised knowledge necessary for puppy classes. We recommend classes with an 'APDT' (Association of Pet Dog Trainers) or registered 'Puppy School' (Gwen Bailey and Associates) tutor. Gwen Bailey is a full APBC member (Association of Pet Behaviourist). The 'Puppy School' trainers will be able to offer advice on adolescent and adult training classes to follow on from them.
- If your puppies are staying local, why not give their new owners the Grove Lodge Practice Nurses' contact number: 01903 223137. They can offer free advice on any aspect of puppy health, training and socialisation. This will follow on from the good start you have given them. If they don't live locally you can suggest they find a vets who run puppy parties and nurses' clinics as these are a great source for information and support. If they register at Grove Lodge they can even request a free puppy pack and a special advice sheet on caring for their new puppy in the first few days. This covers further information they need on settling their puppy into their new home. Grove Lodge staff can make them an appointment to come in to see a practice nurse for the puppy to be weighed and wormed and to see the vet for their first vaccination at 8-9 weeks, unless you have already done this. It is even better if they can call the practice nurses before they pick up their puppy so they can get all the equipment in place for a smooth transition from living with the litter to living in their new home.