Not everyone wants to breed their dog, even if the bloodlines are outstanding and the potential for quality pups is practically shooting off the radar. Realistically, any time that you breed a bitch, you are going to be running risks to her health and even to her life, because not all pregnancies go smoothly. So if you do decide to breed your dog, consider your reasons carefully. If you think she’ll be a happier, healthier dog if she has one litter, you’re wrong. If you’re thinking of breeding mixes, don’t – they’re not desirable (unless of course they’re those horrid “designer” breeds like Chorkies, Shi-poos and so on that are so popular right now, but so prone to health problems that if you breed them you’re an idiot).
I’ve had my Janice bred twice, to Leroy. Both are purebred Boxers. Before I even considered a breeding, though, I had Janice vet-checked for any potential issues. I got a cheerful, “Go for it!” but if I hadn’t, if there had been even the slightest doubt, I would have had her spayed immediately.
If you are going to breed your dog, then you are going to have to do a number of things to help her through her pregnancy. Your dog’s pregnancy should be rigorously monitored to ensure that everything goes smoothly. So here’s what you should do, week by week.
1. The First Week
You have seen a breeding. Or maybe several. What you need to know at this point, unless the breeding is a “one-off,” is that your dog could actually be fertilized several times over the course of her heat. I talked about this in So You Got the Runt of the Litter. There are actually not usually runts. The smallest one in the litter is the last one fertilized. All the puppies are born at the same time, but the smallest one will be the one that was from the latest breeding, and it will often catch up very nicely in size.
There’s not much that you need to do at this point. Make sure the bitch has access to good quality food. You can also supplement with yogurt or cottage cheese. Exercise as you normally would. If you didn’t worm her prior to the mating, then ask your vet for a wormer that is suitable for pregnant bitches. During this period, the bitch should not receive any live vaccinations. Also, stop flea treatments, and if she’s wearing a flea collar (something that I don’t ordinarily recommend in any case), take it off.
2. The Second Week
At this point, the cells will begin to divide. The embryos will begin to grow in your dog’s uterus. Follow the same care as you did in the first week.
3. The Third Week
Between 14 and 21 days, the cells will have divided to the point where each embryo has 664 cells. The care of your dog will be the same as it is in the first and second weeks of the pregnancy.
4. The Fourth Week
At this point, your veterinarian will be able to determine whether your dog is pregnant. He can palpate the uterus as early as 27 days, and determine if a pregnancy has occurred. By day 31, though, fluids will have begun to build up in the uterus. This is a natural occurrence that works to protect the pups, but it makes palpating difficult.
At this point, you may notice a clear discharge coming from your dog’s vagina, and her teats may begin to swell. You should avoid strenuous activity at this stage. A little more protein in the diet is advised, and you can provide this by means of mixing an egg or a quarter cup of cottage cheese into her food. Your vet might also suggest a multi-vitamin, but go low on the calcium.
5. The Fifth Week
This is the point where those little embryos actually start to look like dogs. If you were to have an ultrasound done, you would see toes, claws and whiskers. This is also the point where the sex is determined. The eyes will be closed, and will remain so until the puppies are born and reach the age of about 10 days. Your dog will begin to put on weight noticeably. If she’s short-haired, the weight gain will be much more obvious that with a long-haired breed.
You’ll want to start giving her more food, and by the end of the fifth week, switch her over to puppy chow. This is because puppy chow isn’t just the best choice for the little ones – it also delivers a much higher nutrient content to the pregnant bitch.
6. The Sixth Week
At this point, if you haven’t already done it, you really need to start adding eggs and cottage cheese to the bitch’s diet, and if you haven’t already gotten a multi-vitamin from your vet, do it now. Give her as much food as she wants.
You should also begin preparing the whelping area. I got it horribly wrong with Janice’s first litter. I didn’t make a whelping box, and I was kind of bemused when the litter began to arrive – “Oh, look, Janice is giving birth under my desk!” Now granted, it all worked out just fine, other than me having to muck out under the desk every morning. But really, she would have been much more comfortable if I’d built a whelping box and encouraged her to sleep in it.
A whelping box should be big enough for the bitch to relax in comfortably, and also have a door so she can get in and out easily – after all, you don’t want her to have to jump over a wall, and possibly land on a puppy. A removable front makes it a lot easier.
7. The Seventh Week
At this point, the puppies are still growing, and the bitch will begin to shed hair on her underside. Again, give her as much as she wants to eat. She might get a bit picky about her food, so you can jazz it up a bit if you like with organ meats. Take her back off the puppy chow, and ease back on calcium-rich foods. At this point, there should be no rough play.
8. The Eighth Week
By now, if you touch your dog’s belly, you might feel the puppies moving. Birth could occur any time now, but it will make for a healthier litter if they go for the full nine weeks. So again, no rough play. At this stage, you could probably express milk from your dog’s teats. This is a forerunner to the all-important colostrum that your dog will produce, which contains valuable antibodies to keep the puppies’ immune system healthy. If you like, at this point, you can get in touch with your vet to book an x-ray to find out how many pups she is about to whelp.
Even if you don’t care to find out how many little ones are in utero, you should alert your vet to your dog’s due date so he or she can be on hand if anything goes wrong. Make sure you have plenty of gas in your car so you can get to the clinic quickly if necessary. At this point, offer no calcium whatsoever. No cheese, no sardines, and no calcium pills. She’ll get all the calcium she needs in her regular dog food. You might find that she’s a bit more fussy food-wise than usual, but this is not the time to humor her. If you find she’s REALLY fussy, though, you might try mixing a bit of wet food in with the usual dry offering. You may also notice that she’ll start “nesting.”
9. The Ninth Week
Put on your big girl panties or your big boy tighty-whities, because IT’S TIME! The usual gestation period is about 63 days, but it could happen anywhere between 57 and 56 days. She probably won’t have much appetite, and she’ll be pretty restless until she settles down in the whelping box – don’t necessarily assume that she’ll use the box, though. Even if she’s used it right up until now, she might get other ideas. As I said, Janice whelped under my desk the first time. I’ve also known of instances where a bitch has whelped on the owner’s bed, on a sofa, and even behind a wood cook stove. In the long run, it probably doesn’t matter much where she whelps. If she ruins your furniture, suck it up. Your main goal here is a healthy litter, so wherever she chooses to deliver, that should be fine by you.
As I said before, whelping doesn’t always progress smoothly. Some breeds whelp very easily. Some don’t. Some individual dogs have no trouble with whelping. Some do. At the first stage of labor, though, you should call your vet just in case something goes wrong. If something untoward should occur, then there might be a danger to the bitch and the pups, and you don’t want to take chances.
At the first stage of labor, if you take your dog’s temperature, you should find that it will drop to about 98°F from the normal 99-101°F Once it bottoms out, then you can expect labor to start in anywhere from two to twelve hours. The bitch will probably be quite restless, and might lie on her side or move about trying to find a more comfortable position. She might vomit, urinate frequently, or try to move her bowels but be unable to because of the pressure from the puppies inside her. You might also notice a mucus discharge, and she may refuse food. All of this is perfectly normal. If the discharge is green, though, get her to the vet – it could be a sign of a complication. Green discharge is only normal after the pups are born, not before.
As the bitch moves further into her labor, she might shiver or pant. This is also normal. She might also vomit, and she will almost certainly grunt. If she’s grunting or pushing for more than an hour after delivering the first pup, though, something is wrong. You might need to call your vet to have a C-section done. The normal time to push a puppy out of the birth canal is 2-10 minutes If that doesn’t happen, then you could have a puppy in a breech position Then you might have to help out if a vet can’t get to you in time. You’re going to have to reach up into the birth canal and gentlyturn the puppy into the right position. Sadly, you’re also going to have to keep in mind that breech puppies are often born dead. And this is where it gets really nasty – if you can’t urge him out, you’re going to have to use a bit of force. You might kill him in the process. But if you don’t get him out, you’re risking the rest of the litter, and also the health of the bitch. Sometimes a breached puppy can be pulled out if you grease him up with dish soap or KY jelly. But not always. If it’s a choice between one puppy and the rest of the litter, or a stuck puppy and the possibility of losing the bitch, then you really don’t have much of a choice. It’s hard – horribly hard – but you really don’t have much choice at this point. And besides, a puppy stuck in the birth canal is likely already dead – and you can’t save, or kill, a dead puppy. Do what you have to do.
Now, having said that, if it looks like the puppy could be born alive, push him back inside the bitch. He might come out on his own, or the weight of the other puppies above him might force him out.
You might have a really easy delivery. In other cases, you might have to help your dog along through the whelping process. If she’s been pushing with no results, you can try feathering. This is a way of stimulating contractions. What you do is put a finger in her birth canal, and stroke at the point where the top of her tail would be on the outside. Move your finger in a “come here” motion while you press upward and move your finger toward the outside of her vulva. This could induce harder contractions. If this doesn’t push the puppies down the birth canal, then it might be time for a C-section.
This can be a tough thing to call – do you call the vet, or try to do it on our own? Sometimes, all it takes is a phone call. Simply ask your vet how you should proceed, and if he says, “I think you’d better bring her in,” or,“I’d better get out there,” then this is not the time to question. Go with what your vet advises. After all, it’s lovely to have a litter of puppies, but not at the expense of the bitch.
The Final Word
I’ve bred two amazing litters out of Leroy and Janice, placed a ton of good puppies in a ton of good homes, and I’m the last person who’s going to tell you not to breed. That said, though, I think that breeding should be approached with caution, and only considered by people who are absolutely sure about what they’re doing, and why they’re doing it. Breeding is not for the faint of heart, because things can go wrong. It’s also not for people who are unable or unwilling to provide outstanding care for the bitch while she is carrying puppies.
So, should you breed your dog? Well, let me tell you a story about my last litter out of Janice and Leroy. Neither of them are registered, so the AKC would say I shouldn’t breed them. Personally, I think people should be able to have awesome Boxers without paying a “registered dog”: price. So I guess the AKC would call me a backyard breeder. But here’s what my vet said – “Over the years, I have seen so many of your dogs come into my clinic. They’re so beautiful, and they have such wonderful temperament! I’ve seen countless show dogs that don’t come up to their standards. Whatever you’re doing, keep it up!” That’s pretty high praise, I think. So I guess I’m getting it right.
That said, though, if I ever thought that breeding Janice would hurt her, I wouldn’t do it. And if you’re thinking of breeding your dog, I hope that you’ll consider her wellbeing first. A litter is lovely, but not at the cost of your dog. So before you breed, consult with your vet. That’s really just about all that I have to say on the subject.