Most owners meet their new puppy for the first time when the puppy is 8 weeks old. It is easy to forget just how much thought, planning, and time has gone into producing the puppy long before it is ready to go home. In fact, the process starts months and even years before the puppy is born. Hunters Point Kennel would like to break down the process of producing puppies into a series of five articles to give you a better understanding of what we are doing every day to ensure that we produce quality Pointing Lab puppies to become part of your family.
In case you missed the first two articles in the series check them out!
Part 1: Picking the Sire and Dam
Part 2: When to breed and common breeding methods
After the female is bred and goes out of heat, it will be a few weeks before we know for sure that she has conceived and is indeed pregnant. This article will focus on the canine gestation period (pregnancy).
The length of gestation for a dog is about 58-62 days from the date of her last breeding, but there can be a lot of variation to this. If we used artificial insemination, we will have a better record of her hormone levels and thus are better able to predict when the puppies are due.
Detecting Pregnancy – There are a few different methods available for confirming pregnancy in the dog.
Working with a veterinarian, you might be able to ultrasound the female much like you would with a human. With this, you can know as early as 17 days if the female is pregnant or not. The heartbeats, however, will not be detectable until day 28.
If no ultrasound is available, from about 28-35 days, you can use palpation to detect pregnancy. This methods requires some experience and is not accurate for every female depending on body type. Palpating for pregnancy just means that you are feeling the abdomen in certain areas and will actually be able to feel the fetuses.
Neither palpation nor ultrasound should be used to estimate the number of puppies in the litter. For this, the most accurate method will be taking an x-ray. From about day 45 and on the fetal skulls are visible on an x-ray. By counting and measuring the skulls you can get a good idea of the number of puppies in the litter and also if there is potential for the female to have difficulties during delivery.
Lastly, there are visual cues that we also use to detect pregnancy. The female’s abdomen will begin to enlarge and, depending on litter size, can be very noticeable by 40 days. In addition, her mammaries will begin to develop. While this is most remarkable in first time mothers, the mammaries will start developing and should be obvious by about day 45 in all females. Although her mammaries are developing, milk production usually will not begin until very close to the time of whelping.
Nutrition – Pregnancy is a very demanding stage in a female’s life. This is why we want to make sure before we breed that the female is in good physical condition which includes being close to their ideal weight. For the first 30 days of gestation, most females will do just fine on a quality maintenance diet. After the halfway mark the amount of food given should be increased due to high demands by the growing fetuses. Another alternative is to switch the female to a growth diet similar to what you would feed puppies. This is a good alternative because it provides a more concentrated source of nutrients. This is advantageous because during the last stages of gestation, a female carrying a large litter will be less inclined to eat as much because of the pressure in her abdomen. It is a good idea to also split up her feedings into smaller, more frequent portions.
It is a common misconception that pregnant females need vitamin supplementation in addition to their regular diet. For most dogs, a high quality diet is adequate and provides all the nutrients the dog and puppies need. In fact, supplementing dogs with certain vitamins and minerals can actually cause more harm than good. Calcium is one example. If you give a dog calcium while she is pregnant her hormone levels will adjust accordingly. When she whelps and begins to produce milk her hormones will have a hard time keeping up because they have been suppressed by the supplements during pregnancy.
Activity – It is important for the female to remain active throughout pregnancy, although her movement may be limited in the last few weeks of gestation. Any strenuous exercise should be avoided and casual walks are the best option.
Medications – Before using any medications on a pregnant female it is very important to make sure they are safe for both mom and puppies. There are many common medications which are normally safe to use on dogs need to be avoided in pregnant females unless the benefits outweigh the risks. A common antibiotic called tetracycline is one example of such a medication. This particular antibiotic can cause teeth discoloration in the developing puppies.