I Think My Dog is Pregnant

by Diane Silver
Ad Astra Rottweilers


Okay, so you think your bitch is pregnant. Either you bred her on purpose, or she got out or some fence jumper got in while she was in heat. Now what?

First, if it wasn't a planned breeding, consider spaying. There are a lot of possible dangers in having a litter, and spaying will protect her from uterine cancer and a lot of other very dangerous female problems. Spaying a pregnant bitch is not nearly as hazardous to her health as having a litter of puppies. Besides, the country is overrun with unwanted dogs, why bring more of them into the world? Consider this very carefully.


Okay, it WAS a planned breeding, or you've decided you want to have the litter. Now comes the hard part.


THE BITCH

Has your bitch had a complete physical? Get one. Has she had her heart and thyroid checked? Do it. Has she been tested for von Willebrand's? This is VERY important. Do it. If you find that you're not placing her in jeopardy by continuing her pregnancy, start planning for puppies.

When she's about 5 weeks pregnant start increasing her food intake (not before then) and by nine weeks she should be eating 1 1/2 times her normal food. If you are feeding her a product that makes "Puppy" food, switch her to that, if not start her on a growth formula vitamin. I use Dr. Goodpet's maximum growth vitamins. Don't "fatten her up", she's going to be a barrel anyway, she doesn't need to carry around unnecessary weight.


EQUIPMENT

You will need:

  1. A whelping box. You can make one. It must be of sturdy material, and moisture-proof. It's best that it be portable, that it comes apart for storage. For a large breed like a Rottweiler it should be 4' x 5' or 6', and it must have a "pig rail", a wooden railing that runs around the inside of the box about four inches off the floor of the box, about three inches wide and 3/4 inch thick. This is so that the Mom can't accidentally lay on a puppy and smother it.


  2. Lots of newspaper. You will want to put a layer of clean newspaper, about twelve thicknesses, on the bottom of the box. Having puppies is a messy business.


  3. Blankets or comforters, enough that you can put down a clean one every day. If you can wash every day you will only need two or three, but be prepared to be a lot busier than you were before puppies.


  4. A rectal thermometer. You will want to start taking the bitch's temperature on about the 60th day of gestation. Take it twice a day every day after that time. The gestation period for puppies is 63 days. This is not carved in stone, but pretty reliable. Keep a record.

    Her normal temperature will be 101 or 102 degrees F. When it drops to 98 or 99, then rises again, don't go to the movies. Puppies are imminent.


  5. A room thermometer for the whelping box. Puppies cannot regulate their own temperature, so the temperature inside the box must be kept at 75 - 80 degrees F.


  6. Some kind of identification. I like to put a different colored ribbon on each puppy as it comes out. This helps keep track of how each one is progressing as time goes on. You will have to change ribbons as the puppies grow, so a good idea would be to get rolls of different colored ribbon on sale somewhere. Some people use different colors of nail polish and dab a spot on the puppies' heads. That lasts longer, but if you have ten puppies you'll have to think about things like "right front paw" "left rear paw", etc.


  7. Small, sharp scissors for cutting umbilical cords. You will want to leave about 3/4 inch to an inch attached to the puppy. Do not cut too close! Mom may bite it closer, or it may break off closer, but don't you do it.


  8. A baby ear syringe (rubber bulb syringe) for sucking phlegm out of throats. Puppies get pneumonia from having birth fluids in their lungs, and they die easily.


  9. Clean hand towels, enough for one or two for each puppy. These are to dry the puppies and to stimulate their hearts and breathing.


  10. A scale. A 2 pound postage scale will do for newborns, but you will quickly need a bigger one. Each puppy should be weighed and its weight recorded as they are born and cleaned off and marked.


  11. Record sheets for each puppy. These should have a place for birth order, weight at birth, color ribbon, and any remarks you think of; white spots, double dew claws, etc. might be some. You should be able to keep these records for a few weeks, including tail dockings, wormings, vaccines etc.


  12. Baby bottles and milk. Regular human baby bottles, the kind with plastic disposable fillers, are good, and Just Born puppy formula or goat milk are good supplements.



I DON'T KNOW NOTHING ABOUT BIRTHIN' A BABY!

How do you know how many you're going to have? At 21 - 28 days you take your bitch to the vet and have a sonogram done. This will give you an APPROXIMATE number of puppies. If the vet can see, say, five puppies, plan on seven or more. There's a chance you'll only have five, but don't count on it.

Watch your bitch carefully when her temperature indicates she is almost ready. She will seem nervous and you may be able to feel, or even see the puppies moving around more than usual. Put her in the whelping box and stay with her as much as possible. She may have another idea about where she wants to have them, but don't let her. Do let her go potty whenever she wants, but go with her, as she may drop a puppy in the yard. She doesn't know the difference between a puppy pushing on her bowel or having to poop.

I put in a supply of Swanson's canned chicken soup for when she's in labor, and after a couple of hours offer her a can (not heated) to keep her strength up. Don't feed her regular meals while she's in labor, but have water handy. She should go out to pee once in a while; you may have to put a leash on her and take her out after she has a few puppies. She won't want to leave them. Again, watch her carefully while she's out and make sure she doesn't drop any puppies and walk away from them. This doesn't mean she's a bad mom, just that she's preoccupied.

The mother should be allowed to eat the afterbirth from at least a few puppies. This may seem gross to you but it helps bring in her milk and shrink her uterus back to normal. Besides, if she eats it you don't have to handle it. As each puppy is born you should be sure it is out of its sack, hold it up to your ear to hear if it's breathing and if its heart is beating. Holding one hand under the puppy's body and head and the other hand over body and head, in a downward sweeping motion shake any liquid out of the puppy's throat and lungs. Be very careful not to whiplash the puppy's head. Then listen again. If this doesn't do it, use the syringe and suction out the throat. If you don't get the liquid out of the puppy's lungs it may get pneumonia and it will die. Vigorously dry the puppy with one of the clean hand towels, rubbing back, sides and belly and dry face carefully. Then put the puppy on a teat and make sure it is nursing.

Watch carefully between puppies. When she gets strong contractions she is going to stand up and start moving, and she can easily step on the puppies that are nursing. Be prepared to move them out of her way FAST. I keep a plastic storage bin with a towel in the bottom of it beside the whelping box, and when mom starts getting ready for another pup I grab the ones that are there and put them in the bin real quick. After you've taken care of each new puppy put them all back on her. Nursing stimulates labor and uterine contraction.

Be prepared to bottle feed. If she has too many puppies or just doesn't have enough milk, or if you have some puppies that are small and need extra nourishment you will need to play mom. I use a regular newborn human baby nurser and Just Born puppy formula or goat milk. Dilute goat milk with 1/2 warm water.Whatever you supplement with, make it body temperature. DO NOT FEED PUPPIES OR DOGS COW'S MILK! Their system doesn't tolerate it and they will get sick. Do not put the puppies on their backs to supplement. They may choke. Hold them almost upright and feed them just as you would a human baby. Don't let them get air in their bellies, hold the bottle so that only milk comes through the nipple.

When she has not had a puppy for two hours or so, and is no longer in labor, mom needs to have a "pit shot" (oxytocin) to expel any retained afterbirth, or to encourage labor if she has more puppies. Your vet will usually do that if you call and tell him you just had a litter. You can usually tell if there are any more puppies inside her by feeling her belly, but not always. A RETAINED PUPPY CAN KILL YOUR BITCH. After you're sure she's finished, you can clean up the area. Put the puppies in the holding bin and put down fresh paper and a blanket or comforter for her and the new family. Put the puppies back. She will be very tired and so will you. Give her another bowl of broth and let her sleep.

When I have a litter of puppies I sleep on a daybed in the puppy room and let mom sleep on it with me. She tells me when she needs to nurse, or the puppies do, and I try not to sleep while she's in the box. I'm a nervous nelly and I live in fear of her rolling over on a pup and smothering it.


ALTERNATIVE LEARNING METHODS

This is a very sketchy outline. A better way to learn is to ask your breeder, or any knowledgeable breeder that you know and trust, to let you observe and/or participate in a whelping. I was lucky enough to do both and you'll find it eliminates surprises. like "Oh, my gawd, what is that thing, and why is my dog crying?"

Another good method is a book called Breeding a Litter by Beth Harris, or Veterinary Notes for Breeders, by Annette Carricato, V.M.D.. I recommend hands on (or at least eyes on) experience if at all possible. As I mentioned earlier, having puppies is a messy business. It is also no romp in the park for the mom, and her reaction to the first few puppies might surprise you.


CARING FOR MOM AND A NEW LITTER

Mom will be bleeding for a few weeks after the puppies are born. Watch carefully to be sure that it is not bright red blood or green discharge. Bright red blood indicates hemorrhage, and green indicates infection. Either will kill your bitch quickly, so be aware of this.

At two or three days you will need to take the puppies to the vet to have tails and dew claws "done". This MUST be done when they're this young, so they won't have much pain. I have witnessed this and found a three day old puppy is more annoyed at being held upside down than hurt by the surgery. Take mom in for a quick once over at the same time. Tails should be cut at one vertebra. Chances are your vet will ask you how you want it done, so you need to know that. Rotties have front and rear dew claws removed. This is not in the standard but most breeders do it. (I feel that dew claws are just something to get caught in the rugs, shrubs and whatever. Some breeds are required to have them, but not Rotties.) When the puppies get home from that I give them a small dose of Rescue Remedy. You must be sure that the tail stumps are kept clean. If mom doesn't do it you have to.

Nursing a litter of puppies takes a lot out of a girl. She will need to eat almost twice as much as she was before she got pregnant. I give her three meals a day instead of her usual two, a cup of cubed cheese (jack or mild cheddar) twice a day for snacks, and a dish of vanilla ice cream before bedtime. She will want to spend most of her time in the box with the puppies if she is a good mom. You must make sure she goes out potty a few times a day, and I suggest you go with her with a paper towel and wipe her before you bring her in. You'll see why the first time she goes. Your bitch is going to bleed for three or four weeks after the pups are born, so don't panic. She will also have long strings of bloody mucous for a while, and she'll be very needy and want to cuddle, so you just grit your teeth and sit with her and ignore it.

Every day I wash the blanket or comforter from the box and give them a clean one. I usually turn it once during the day to give them a clean surface.


PUPPIES

As the puppies get a little older you'll see personalities begin to emerge. I think this is the best time for a breeder, watching new little Rottweilers come into their own. When their eyes open you will want to give them little latex toys to play with. It takes them a couple of days to realize what they are, but then they learn to play with toys, a good lesson. They will need their toenails cut at about five days. I use a cuticle scissors or small pocket nail clipper for this. Be very careful not to cut the quick, but keep Stop Bleed or something similar, some styptic powder, etc., in case someone wiggles while you're cutting and gets quicked. Their toenails grow very fast, and they scratch Mom, so keep them cut back.


VACCINATIONS

Talk to your vet about shots for the pups. Rottweiler puppies are very susceptible to Parvovirus, and should be vaccinated at your, or your vets, discretion. While they are nursing they have their Mom's immunities, but shortly after weaning they are on their own, and you never want to see a litter of puppies with Parvo.

To this purpose, don't let anyone in your house without spraying their shoes (bottom and top) and hands with Clorox or Parvocide. One exception to this rule can kill a whole litter of puppies. Do not let any strange dogs in your house or yard. Same reason. The virus can be carried on shoes or feet.


PLACING PUPPIES

Assuming that you are the best Rottie owner in the world, you will want your puppies to have someone like you as their new owners. Screen prospective owners carefully, making sure they are not going to be bait for fighting dogs, back yard "guard dogs" or junk yard dogs. Get a contract from a reliable breeder who will let you copy theirs, and use it. Do not sell a puppy without a contract, and have your pet contract specify that the dog must be spayed or neutered.

If you are not a breeder with a reputation (and you wouldn't be reading this if you were) or have not bred to a stud with a reputation, you may find yourself with six month old puppies. Don't give in to the urge to place them with anyone who asks. Consider giving (yes, giving) one to a therapy group or a search and rescue trainer. Aside from the knowledge that you've done some good, it may be tax deductible. Also consider giving a puppy to someone who you KNOW will give it a good home, even if you don't make any money on the deal. There's a lot of satisfaction in having a new owner call you regularly and tell you how wonderful the puppy you bred is turning out.


THE FINAL WORDS

Now that you've had a litter, do you really want to go through this again? If not, consider spaying your bitch, for her health and your peace of mind.

HAPPY PUPPIES!



Copyright 1999 by Diane Silver, Ad Astra Rottweilers
Republished on the Rottie-L website with author's permission - thank you!



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