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Well, there’s nothing like diving right into a topic and telling you how you might screw up, is there?
Right now, Janice (assuming that she is, in fact, bred) is in her third week of pregnancy. And even though it’s really too soon to tell, unless I were to take her to Dr. Stephen for an x-ray or an ultrasound, I’ve been sharing the (potential) joy among all my friends. Many have asked me how long a dog stays pregnant, and the short answer to that is about 63 days.
You bet I am! To me, there’s nothing more wonderful than seeing puppies born, waiting for them to open their eyes and then watching them as they discover a world that is so new and wonderful to them.
That’s usually the third question that comes up, and oh, boy, you bet I’m worried! I’m convinced that there’s nobody who obsesses more than I do when their dog is pregnant. And as long as a dog stays pregnant, I worry. Then, after the birth occurs, I worry. I worry right up until the point when I know that the little guys are healthy and strong and in their “forever” homes, and the female has stopped producing milk.
Okay, let’s take it on faith that I don’t want to break the Internet. So I won’t tell you about all the times I wake up in the middle of the night worrying about things that no sensible person would ever worry about. However, whelping problems can occur for as long as a dog stays pregnant, and beyond. So if you’re thinking about breeding your dog, I think we should talk about potential problems.
First of all, though, let me say that the one thing I worried about the most was whether to even breed Janice in the first place.
Because I love Boxers. And I love people who love Boxers. And I want to see good people get good Boxers. And because…
As I said in How to Get the Right Dog From the Right Breeder, the best breeders are not necessarily AKC registered. All that registration means is the dog is registered. Period. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the breeder cares about the breeding stock, or the puppies, although to be fair, the AKC is fairly vigilant in what they expect from their breeders.
A so-called “backyard breeder,” though, can care every bit as much about the well-being of the sire, the dam and the litter. They don’t take breeding lightly. They know that breeding can be difficult, can be costly if you’re going to make sure that the puppies are healthy and ready to go, and can sometimes be heartbreaking.
Things can go wrong. And that’s what I’m afraid of: things going wrong. And the reality is that the longer a dog stays pregnant, the more likely it is that something could go wrong.
So, moving right along, here are the things that I worry about, and the things that you should worry about if you’re planning on breeding your dog.
How long a dog stays pregnant obviously depends on when she was fertilized. If you’re the type to just leave your dogs to their own devices, you might not know when the puppies are due, and you might not know what to look for at each stage. So, when your dog comes into heat, watch what’s going on.
Now, I know that there’s a lot of “wisdom” out there that suggests you should watch your dogs through every single day of the heat, keep a breeding chart, separate the dogs for 48 hours between breedings, and on and on.
Personally, I think that’s over-thinking the whole thing. Dogs have been breeding, unassisted, for centuries, and I think most of the time nature just takes its course. I’ve never segregated my dogs, and I’ve never had litters that were so big that they caused the bitch problems. Who knows more about breeding dogs than we do?
At least that’s my take on it. So I don’t keep a schedule, don’t segregate, and don’t panic if they seem to want to be going at it all the time. Once I’m sure that a breeding has occurred, though, that’s when I start to obsess.
Of course, you need to know when the puppies are due; otherwise you won’t know if you’re having problems because of overdue puppies! So take note of when the first contact occurred. Then, be alert to other potential problems.
It’s not likely that you’ll experience problems in your dog’s pregnancy up to the point of whelping. When the time comes for the puppies to be born, though, that’s the stage that’s most problematic. Dystocia is one condition that can scare the living daylights out of you.
Dystocia is a “catch all” term meaning, basically, that the mother is having trouble delivering the puppies. Puppies should be coming out of the birth canal, but they’re not. Usually, this is because the breed has a head that is disproportionate to the size of the pelvis. Breeds most commonly affected are French Bulldogs, British Bulldogs, and yes, Boxers; so you can understand why I worry about Janice.
Another cause of dystocia is uterine inertia. This is a condition when the uterus is not able to contract. When this happens, the bitch is not able to push the puppies out through her pelvis. This can happen at any point in the birthing process.
Dystocia and/or uterine inertia can also occur when the entire puppy (not just the head) is too big to fit comfortably in the birth canal, and when the puppy is not in the right position. Most of the time, puppies are born head-first. A rear-leg presentation isn’t a bad thing, though; many puppies are born feet-first. The problem occurs when the puppy is trying to come out with his bottom down in the birth canal, or if he’s in there sideways; then he gets stuck, can’t be born without intervention, and also prevents any other puppies that are trying to come down through the birth canal from getting out.
The worst case scenario is when there is a dead puppy in the uterus. He’s not going to move through the birth canal, and the living puppies that are in there behind him can die while waiting to be born.
How long a dog stays pregnant is usually 63 days. There can be a bit of variation, but if your dog has been pregnant for 65 days, and you’re not seeing signs of labor, it’s time to call the vet.
Once your dog begins to deliver her puppies, things should progress on a normal schedule. The first stage of labor lasts anywhere from 6 to 12 hours. During this time, your dog’s temperature will drop, and she’ll want to “nest”; this means that if you’ve made her a whelping box, or if she has a crate that she feels comfortable in, that’s where she’ll want to be.
Then, she’ll begin to have contractions.
If your dog has been nesting for 12 hours, and then experiencing contractions for half an hour or more without delivering, something is likely wrong, and you should call the vet.
If the first stages go well, but it’s been four hours or more since the first puppy was born, that’s another red flag. You can pretty much assume that there are more puppies inside your dog, and if they’re not being delivered, something is amiss. Again, it’s time to call the vet.
If your dog is trying to give birth, can’t seem to manage it, and there’s a bloody or smelly discharge coming from her vagina, something is horribly wrong, and you need to get her to the vet right away. Chances are that there’s a dead puppy inside her, and it’s been dead for quite a while. There won’t be any good outcome if you let this go and just hope for the best.
If you think you’re out of the woods once the puppies are born, you could be wrong. There are a number of difficulties that can occur just hours after the puppies are born. One of the most common is that the bitch is, for whatever reason, unable to feed the puppies, and when that happens, you have to get milk replacer and hand-feed them. Other problems include the following.
Eclampsia is also known as “milk fever.” It occurs when the bitch doesn’t have enough calcium in her body to transfer to the milk for the puppies. It’s a common misconception that this occurs with big litters, but actually, that’s not the case. It’s more common in small dogs than in large breeds, and doesn’t affect the puppies – just the mother. The puppies are going to get the calcium they need regardless, but the mother might be restless, nervous, or develop a fever or muscle tremors. Eclampsia isn’t often all that problematic, but it’s worth noting that in serious cases, the bitch might develop seizures, and if the condition isn’t treated, she could die.
If your dog develops eclampsia, the first thing you should do is contact your vet. Then, take the puppies away and feed them with milk replacer; don’t let them nurse. Your vet can treat the eclampsia using intravenous calcium supplements, but in the meantime, you should not sacrifice the health of the bitch for the sake of the puppies. They’ll probably be fine on milk replacer, but if you allow them to continue to nurse, you will definitely be playing Russian roulette with the health of the bitch.
The best way of preventing eclampsia is to make sure that the bitch gets enough calcium when the puppies are in utero. That might mean that for how long a dog stays pregnant, that’s how long you have to give her calcium supplements.
This is really, really scary, and I’m not going to pretend for one minute that it isn’t. If your dog is passing a lot of blood after delivering her litter, don’t waste any time; call your vet right away. No matter what time of the day or night it is, call. This is beyond serious, and your dog’s life could depend on how quickly you act.
In the perfect breeding, sperm goes in, hits eggs, puppies grow, and puppies come out. If that doesn’t happen as it should, you could end up with retained placenta, or worse, retained puppies. Symptoms in your bitch would include dehydration, persistent vomiting, little appetite, weakness, depression, or a greenish, pus-like discharge from her vagina. If she’s already given birth, and there seem to be no more puppies on the horizon, this is a medical emergency and you need to contact your vet right away.
This is an inflammation of the uterus, caused by an infection following birth. If your dog seems to be lethargic or weak, or if she is dehydrated, not producing enough milk, or passing what looks like greenish material, this is an emergency. Don’t waste time getting her to the vet.
You probably most often think of mastitis as occurring in cattle, but the reality is that it can occur in any mammal, dogs included. If your dog’s mammary glands seem hot to the touch, firm or swollen, contact your vet. Mastitis is very treatable, but if it’s not treated, it can kill your dog.
I’m leaving this for the last, because it’s pretty rare. In a few cases, though, a bitch can actually cause harm to her own puppies, either due to lack of knowledge, stress, or simply because the answer to the question “How long a dog stays pregnant” is, for her purposes, “Too damn long and I’m done with this!”
Sometimes, by accident, the mother might bite too hard into the placenta and harm the umbilical area. Other times (and this might fall under the “too long” category), the mother will simply eat her puppies. She’s done, it’s over, not gonna feed them, not gonna deal with them for another minute, just done.
Keep in mind that this is very, very rare. If she does it, though, it would be best to have her spayed. You don’t want to breed her again. A good mother will instinctively know what to do to keep her puppies strong and healthy. If she doesn’t know how to do that, the reason doesn’t really much matter. She’s just not good breeding material.
Most dogs will give birth without any whelping problems whatsoever. You have to keep an eye on your bitch though, because how long a dog stays pregnant is how long you will need to be alert to potential problems. And then, you still have to keep a good eye out post-whelping.
Problems can occur at any stage of the game, and that’s why I obsess over Janice’s pregnancy. I’m not encouraging you to lie awake at night wondering “What if…” (the way I do!), but I do want you to keep a close eye on your girl. There’s nothing more wonderful than a litter of puppies – and nothing sadder than a litter of puppies that should have happened, but didn’t.
So don’t obsess, but keep an eye out. It’s your job to look after the bitch and the coming litter. If you love dogs the way I do, I know you’ll get it right!