Many pet owners are under the impression that having a litter will improve their bitch in some way. This is a fallacy. Owners who are not interested breeding their bitch are well-advised to have her desexed at about six months of age before she has her first season. Once you have decided to breed your bitch, your veterinary surgeon should check her for any abnormalities or diseases that might endanger her pregnancy or make breeding inadvisable. During this preliminary examination, ask for advice on feeding, worming, mating procedures, and any problems associated with the breed. Some bitches require longer preparation for pregnancy than others, perhaps because of poor physical condition or the presence of parasites or reproductive tract infections. Once the bitch has been mated, the best time to confirm pregnancy is between four and six weeks after mating, although it can be confirmed by palpation of the fetuses from three weeks, if the bitch has a supple abdomen. Keep careful records of all dates of mating, as most bitches whelp within sixty to sixty-five days following, mating, In the pregnant bitch, the vulva may stay enlarged after mating; it is a good early guide to pregnancy. In the non-pregnant bitch, the vulva will go back to normal size following the heat period. By five to six weeks most pregnant bitches will be obviously heavier and their abdomens will take on a full appearance.
Care During Pregnancy
Diet during the first half of pregnancy should be at normal maintenance level. At five weeks the diet should increase about 20-30 per cent in total kilojoules and 2-4 per cent in protein. It is advisable to add liver, at the rate of 1 gram per kilogram of the dog’s weight, eggs, dairy products or other good-quality animal protein daily during late pregnancy and lactation.
During the latter part of pregnancy, the nutritional needs of the fetus are provided by the bitch and if extra nutrition is not provided in her diet, fetal demands on her body stores will leave her in a depleted state to begin lactation. The bitch should gain about 10 per cent above the weight of the pups during pregnancy to be ready for lactation.
A fairly practical rule is to feed a maintenance level of high-protein, commercially balanced diet during pregnancy and increase the amount fed in proportion to the bitch’s, increase in weight. Since most of the weight increase occurs in the last four weeks, dietary needs are easily calculated.
Nervous bitches or toy breeds usually eat small volumes and therefore need a diet of high energy value to receive proper nutrition during pregnancy—this means high protein and fat compositions. For most dogs, except the small breeds, a litter of two or three is only a moderate stress during pregnancy; more than four pups can pose problems for the bite.
If marginal diets, especially those relying on meat scraps as the protein sources, are fed, the results will be a reduced litter size and excess weight loss for the bitch. From the nutritional standpoint, a bite: can be rebred when she has recovered any weight loss and is once more in good physical condition.
Do not overfeed a pregnant bitch; many overfed bitches have complications. Exercise for the pregnant bitch is most important. This should not be too strenuous, but enough to keep her muscles in tone. Plenty of walking is ideal.
The bitch should be checked to ensure; she has a sufficient number of functional nipples to feed her litter. A normal large breed of dog can rear pups with ease providing early weaning is adopted. Many bitches of th-. larger breeds have litters in excess of this number. it is very important that the pups be allowed to suckle undisturbed for the first six to twelve hours as it is during this period that they acquire their antibodies against disease from the colostrum. Pups deprived of this milk have a much greater risk of dying in the first six to twelve weeks of life.
The Lactation Period
Lactation is a period of maximum stress for the bitch. Her energy requirements start at the peak gestation levels and rapidly increase to a maximum of approximately 300 per cent of maintenance at about the third or fourth week. Her exact needs depend on the number, size and age of the puppies and whether they are eating on their own in addition to nursing. Eating should be encouraged as early as possible, at fifteen to twenty days.
A rough guide for estimating the increase in the bitch’s food during lactation is to give her 920 kilojoules of extra food per kilogram of litter weight. The diet should be high in protein, up to 30 per cent, but must have adequate non-protein calories or the protein will be used for energy, not milk production. This means a high fat percentage is necessary too.
The daily ration should be divided into three or four portions. The best solution is to self-feed a high-protein dry food (one of the commercial rations) or feed a moist food with added fats two or three times daily. Water deprivation stops lactation quickly. Don’t be tempted to add fresh meat to dry and canned foods as this will disturb the calcium balance.
Complications of Pregnancy
This is the most common breeding problem. At five to six weeks post-mating, the bitch gains weight and may make milk, but she is not pregnant The problem is likely to occur each heat period and is due to a hormone imbalance in the ovaries. A normal pregnancy will not prevent the problem recurring at subsequent heat periods. Bitches prone to false pregnancies ten: to be candidates for infections of the womb and the development of mammary cancer. The only cure, apart from the administration of hormone tablets to eliminate the milk and the psychological disturbances associated with the problem, is to have the bitch sterilized.
Bitches usually whelp without trouble. However, a knowledge of possible complications may save the bitch much discomfort and may save the lives of her pups. Dystocia (difficult birth) may be caused by any of the following.
Pregnancies may fail at any stage with the death of the fetuses. A dead fetus is then either resorbed or aborted. In early embryonic death, before implantation in the uterine wall, resorption is usual. Later on, abortion is more likely to occur, because the dead object is larger. (Abortion can also occur with a living fetus, although the mechanism that triggers uterine contractions, relaxation of the cervix and vagina, and extrusion of the fetus, are not fully understood.) There are five possible causes of fetal death: Genetic faults Fetal death followed by resorption may be associated th some genetic fault.
Infection Viral and bacterial infections or, more rarely, fungal infections d parasites can cause fetal death.
Toxic causes These may include drugs given by injection or orally for the treatment of disease, or skin and coat dressings ingested by licking, or polluted food, water or air.
Physical factors These factors range from accidents to exposure to heat cold. Extreme heat has recently been recorded as causing fetal resorption guinea pigs.
Vitamin E deficiency While it may be incorrect to list vitamin E deficiency as among the causes of resorption, it has been found that many bitches that have lost fotuses through resorption do not do so again if kept on a high dosage of vitamin E throughout estrus and pregnancy. The correct dosage must be advised by a veterinarian.
Some bitches are unable to expel the pups from the vagina easily and the pups may asphyxiate before they are born. Help should be given by gently grasping the protruding part of the pup with a clean towel and pulling gently outwards and downwards, towards the bitch’s hocks, as she contracts and strains. When the pup is born, the membranes should be torn away from its mouth with the fingers and the umbilical cord left intact for at least fifteen to twenty minutes, so that the blood in the placenta can be recirculated into the pup’s body. After this time, grasp the umbilical cord firmly between the fingers as far from the pup’s body as possible and separate it from the afterbirth with a firm pull. It should not be necessary to tie off the cord.
Avoid putting any strain on the pup’s abdomen where the cord enters the body as a large and sometimes fatal hernia can be produced. If the bitch passes one pup normally, she will generally need no further help. It is normal for pups to be presented either head first or tail first, and the latter usually presents no problem to the bitch.
Preparation Before Whelping
About a week before the puppies are due, start encouraging the bitch tk sleep where she is to whelp. This may be a box, a basket or even a Ilea: area of the room. The essentials of a satisfactory whelping area are: Size It must be large enough for the bitch to lie fully extended. Lighting The area should be dimly lit and so arranged that the bitch can be observed without being disturbed.
Heating The area should be warm, dry and draught free. Some form o heating should be provided in cold weather, but make sure it is not an ‘oven in summer.
Safety rails A whelping box should be fitted inside with rails about 5 centimeters above the floor all round. The rails provide a safety area where Whelping box. a puppy can lie without being crushed if the bitch rolls. This is particularly important in large breeds of dogs.
Bedding Ideally provide some form of absorbent, disposable paper as a bedding material, as this is easy to clear away afterwards. Torn newspaper is ideal.
Care of the Pups and the Bitch
When the bitch and pups have had several hours together, have your vet check the bitch to ensure that there are no more pups or afterbirths inside her. The vet will usually give injections to ensure complete contraction of the uterus and to minimise post-partum infections. The pups can also be checked to ensure that they are healthy and free from congenital defects such as cleft palates, hernias and abnormal digit numbers which may necessitate early euthanasia. The vet will also advise on vaccination procedures.
There is no single cause of neo-natal mortality in pups. In a typical case, puppies appear vigorous and healthy at birth and suckle avidly for the first twenty-four hours. Thereafter, they become progressively weaker, make no further attempt to suckle and lose weight rapidly. Their heads may sway from side to side, they paddle feebly with their paws, and lack the strength to find or hold on to the teat. Spasm, with extension of the forelimbs and spine, may occur just before death. Very often the affected puppies become restless and cry continually, and the bitch may push them to one side. Eventually, respiration becomes difficult and the pup dies. Sometimes bleed- :rig froth the urinary passage may occur. Not all litter mates are necessarily affected and the bitch concerned may or may not produce failing litters in subsequent pregnancies. The causes fall into five main groups:
These consist of bacteria and viruses.
- Parasites As many as 90 percent of all pups are affected by worms. Infestation may also occur via the colostrum. In the course of migration, the larvae can give rise to pneumonia and the adult worms can lead to bowel disturbances such as diarrhea, vomiting and obstruction of the intestine from the fourteenth day onwards. Jaundice from blocked bile ducts is sometimes a feature. Weekly dosing of pups with a piperazine citrate syrup at the rate of 100-200 milligrams per kilogram of body-weight from two weeks onwards is recommended, or canex puppy worming syrup.
- Hypothermia There is no doubt that chilling, which leads to hypothermia, accounts for a high proportion of puppy deaths. This is because puppies are incapable of generating heat by shivering, and have little subcutaneous fat to provide insulation. Consequently, if the room temperature is allowed to drop during the first few days after birth, a disastrous, irreversible chain reaction can be set up. The normal body temperature of a day-old pup is only 37°C and takes four weeks to rise to the normal adult level. However, no puppy should be given up, even if deeply hypothermic, without an attempt to resuscitate it by warming. If hypothermia is suspected, hot water bottles at approximately 44°C should be placed in the nest or ambient temperature should be maintained at around 30°C. Radiant he_ (that is, heat from a radiator) is acceptable as long as it does not draw cc _ air over the puppies by convection.
- Bad mothering Apart from cannibalism ,which can be accidental during excessive licking (especially in short-nosed breeds such as Boxers), crushing and laceration may occur. Starvation of a litter may also come about because of inadequate milk supply or because the bitch’s nipples are too large or too tender, or the pups are premature. Many mothering problems can be avoided by paying attention to the design of the whelping accommodation and by allowing the bitch to become familiar with the surroundings well advance of the birth. Dystocia (difficulty in giving birth) may account for the loss of as many as 8 per cent of viable puppies after birth.
- Congenital defects Conditions such as cleft palate, which can lead inability to suckle or inhalation pneumonia, and obstruction of the anus – urethra and neo-natal jaundice frequently lead to puppy mortality. The importance of thoroughly examining puppies that have faded can be overstressed. Where such problems are occurring regularly, you should be spent time examining pedigrees and discussing, the breeding program with your vet.
Diet at Weaning
Weaning the pups should start when they are three to four weeks old. This is especially important where there are a large number in the litter or the pups are particularly big. Use one of the pre-packed brands of dry dog food and some good-quality canned food or finely chopped meat. By six weeks of age the puppies can be nutritionally self-sufficient.
The bitch will lose condition while lactating unless she is fed well on foods of high calorie content. The best and most balanced foods to feed at this stage are the dry, complete dog foods, as they are a balanced ration in a form that allows the bitch to obtain sufficient calories to produce the milk the pups need. Calcium can be fed to the bitch at this stage with some benefits. The most suitable type is calcium carbonate.
Dry dog foods have the correct calcium balance but many breeders disturb this balance by feeding meat as well. Canned dog foods provide meat protein with the correct levels of calcium and when fed in place of meat no additional calcium supplements are needed.