When can my female dog be pregnant ?
This question is often asked in two different situations: either your female dog has been mated by a male, and you are wondering if she can be pregnant, or you wish to plan a mating for your female dog. In any case, you need to have some notions about the sexual cycle of the female dog.
The age of puberty is variable. Female dogs of small breeds reach puberty earlier (generally between 4 and 10 months, compared to 1 year or even 1 year and a half for large breeds). Female dogs generally have 2 cycles per year, but some will have only one, while others will have 3. The length of the cycle as well as the interval between two cycles varies from one female dog to another. There are four stages:
- During about ten days, the female dog loses blood. She attracts males, but systematically refuses mating.
- During the following ten days (on average) the blood loss disappears. The female dog continues to attract the males, but this time she accepts the mating. Her behaviour is often modified: she is more lively, runs away, and eats a little less than usual.
- There follows a fairly long phase (2-3 months) during which the female dog may or may not be pregnant. It is often during this period that she develops disorders such as metritis.
- Finally, a period of sexual rest settles in for one to several months.
If you wish to breed your female dog, it is preferable to consult your veterinarian beforehand for several reasons:
- Carry out a clinical examination to make sure your female dog is in good health, define a deworming program, but also to verify that her vaccinations are up to date, which is important for her health and that of her puppies. In fact, the female dog will transmit her antibodies to them at birth via the colostrum. The vaccination of the female dog is therefore also important for the protection of the puppies.
- Carry out a follow-up of your female dog’s cycle to determine the ideal time for mating. This follow-up can be based on vaginal smears that the veterinarian then observes with a miscroscope, or on progesterone measurements in the blood.
Two mating sessions are sometimes necessary to make sure the female dog is pregnant.
It is often advisable not to breed your female dog from her first heat, to be sure that she has finished growing and that the pregnancy is going well. Moreover, the risk increases from a certain age, and it is not advisable to breed your female dog beyond 7 or 8 years of age. Finally, it is better not to exceed a frequency of one litter per year per female dog.
Important: know that beyond 2 litters sold per year you will be considered as a professional breeder and subject to administrative constraints.
How is the gestation period for the female dog ?
In the female dog, gestation lasts on average 63 days after ovulation, that is to say between 57 and 70 days after the mating.
Outwardly visible signs are quite late. Generally speaking, the behaviour can be slightly modified. Pregnant female dogs are generally calmer, more fearful and more solitary. Some vulval discharge may be observed.
The udders also change: around 35 days of gestation, the teats become longer and slightly swollen. Then, around 45 days, a few drops of milk may come out if pressure is exerted on them. At the end of gestation, the udders become significantly larger. The visible distension of the abdomen is late.
From the 5th week of gestation, the metabolism of the female dog increases a lot. Her appetite also increases. It is advisable to adapt her diet to this period.
Be careful however, these signs are late, unreliable, and above all they can be the witness of health problems unrelated to pregnancy. If you suspect a pregnancy in your female dog, it is preferable to have this confirmed by a veterinarian.
Diagnosis of pregnancy by the veterinarian
Diagnosis of gestation can be made at the earliest around 3 weeks of gestation; indeed, fetuses begin to become visible on ultrasound between 21 and 28 days. Another method is the determination in the blood of a hormone secreted by the placenta called “relaxin”. This is often done at the earliest around the 25th day.
From about 1 month of gestation, it is possible that the veterinarian can feel the fetuses by palpation, provided that the female dog is not too fat and that she is relaxed. However, this is not a very reliable method. At the end of gestation, it is also possible to hear the puppies’ hearts with a stethoscope.
Finally, from 47-50 days of age, the bones of the fetuses are sufficiently formed to be distinguishable on an X-ray. It may thus be possible to count them by counting the number of heads visible on the x-ray.
How to take care of a pregnant female dog?
For the first few weeks, you can continue to feed her the same food as usual. However, from the 5th week of gestation, the nutritional needs of the female dog increase. However, she is not necessarily able to ingest a greater quantity of food, especially since the fetuses occupy an important place in the abdomen. The food must therefore be richer and more energetic. In this respect, puppy food can be interesting. In addition, it may be wise to split meals more often. Ask your veterinarian for advice on feeding your female dog. Remember to transition your puppy’s diet gradually for any new diet.
Your female dog can continue to be moderately active. She will probably tire more quickly. One solution may be to decrease the length of walks, but increase the frequency of walks.
Caution: Never administer medication to your female dog without first asking your veterinarian’s advice. Many medications are contraindicated during pregnancy because of toxicity to the fetus.
How does a normal parturition take place?
Human selection has led to the creation of certain breeds that are unable to give birth alone, generally because the puppy’s head is too big at birth to pass the mother’s pelvis. These are the so-called brachycephalic breeds that have a flattened muzzle like bulldogs and pugs, or dogs whose head is large in relation to the rest of the body like Chihuahuas. For these female dogs a caesarean section is mandatory. The date of the operation is planned in advance.
In other cases, the birth of the female dog can take place at your home. Make sure that she has a calm and comfortable place, which you will make available several days before the expected whelping date so that she can get used to it.
There are a few warning signs of farrowing. For example, in the 24 hours prior to birth, rectal temperature usually drops below 37°C (95°F). Initially, the female dog will seek isolation. Others, on the other hand, refuse to leave their owner. Contractions then occur, as well as green vulvar discharge. This phase can last from 1 to 4 hours. Then begins the phase of expulsion of the first puppy. This is most often done in anterior presentation, but later presentations are not uncommon.
An important rule is to intervene as little as possible without having first taken advice from your veterinarian. Female dogs are very sensitive to infections (metritis in particular) and any handling with insufficiently clean hands can have serious consequences. Watch the farrowing from a distance. Generally speaking, the birth of a female dog can take quite a long time. You must be calm and patient.
If you know that several puppies are to be born, be aware that it can take up to two hours between puppies. Beyond that time, please inform your veterinarian. Also, if the female dog doesn’t seem to be in good shape, or if she loses a lot of blood, call the veterinary clinic. Even in case of an emergency, it is always better to warn of your arrival.
Each cub will be licked by its mother, who will eat the membrane that surrounds them before breaking the umbilical cord with her teeth. Make sure that the puppies start suckling quickly.
In the vast majority of cases, puppies give birth without complications.