'Expecting the Unexpected'

Written By Dr Tim Laws

A common situation we see at the clinic is a dog in labour, often in the middle of the night, the owners totally unprepared for what is involved in the breeding process and some of the problems which can arise. 

Some clients didn't know the dog was pregnant at all and thought she was getting fat.

It is a common misconception that letting your female dog have a litter will make them a better dog, but breeding dogs can be a very rewarding pastime and a great educational experience for children.

However, you have to be doing it for the right reasons. 

Very few people make money from breeding dogs and when this becomes the main motive, it will often end in disaster. 

Be prepared to gain the knowledge and get appropriate advice from your vet or experienced dog breeders to make the process financially and emotionally stress-free.

Before considering breeding your dog, a trip to the vet is advisable to determine whether your dog is healthy and free of genetic problems that may be passed to the next generation. 

Your vet may advise x-rays to make sure your dog doesn't have hip or elbow dysplasia and will give advice on the timing of the mating to give the best results.

Three to four weeks after mating, the next visit is for an ultrasound to determine whether the bitch is definitely pregnant and to make sure everything looks normal. 

The vet will give advice about diet, exercise and what to expect over the next six weeks.

The gestation period for dogs is generally 60 to 63 days and in the last week of the pregnancy, it is best to get your dog checked again. 

On this visit, the vet will often take an x-ray to determine the number of pups so you will know when the birthing process is over. 

We will give advice on the birthing process and when to call for help. 

At this point you should have your whelping box prepared in a warm and quiet area of the house.

The first sign that labour is imminent is a decrease in your dog's temperature by at least one degree. 

The first stage of labour is when your dog will become quite restless and start panting, often refusing food and sometimes vomiting. 

There is often a clear discharge present. 

This stage can last up to 18 hours but if the discharge turns green or brown, you need to call the vet immediately.

The second stage of labour is when the contractions begin and there should be puppies being born within half an hour of this starting. 

Usually pups are born every 15 to 30 minutes but sometimes the mums can have a break for a few hours and during this time there are no contractions. 

The time to call the vet is when there have been contractions for 40 minutes and no pups born, or, if contractions have stopped for more than two to three hours and you know there are more pups to come.

Some breeds of dogs like bulldogs are highly likely to have problems giving birth normally so an elective caesarean is often advised. 

It is also common to perform caesarean sections on small breeds or breeds with larger heads like Staffordshire bull terriers. 

Bitches under a year old or over five years old are more likely to have problems as well.

In summary, the best outcome for your dog is to be knowledgeable about the pregnancy and the birthing process, be mentally and financially prepared if something goes wrong and have a good relationship with your vet who may need to come out in the middle of the night to give assistance.