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Preparing For Whelping
Planning to have puppies, known as whelping, is an exciting time. To help your female relax and prepare for whelping there are several things that you can do as the owner. One of the most important things that an owner can do is to ensure the health and well being of the dam or female all through the pregnancy. During pregnancy, you will notice both behavioral changes as well as physical changes in your female, regardless of the breed or type of dog.
Usually, it is relatively difficult to identify the physical changes in the female until about the 30th day after a successful mating. Usually the physical signs will include a somewhat distended abdomen, swollen nipples, and a change in personality. Most females will become more anxious and needy during the first stage of their pregnancy. They may also have some slight morning sickness, or even stop eating every meal even though they may have been very hungry before at each meal.
Most females will give birth at approximately day 62 of their pregnancy, but the gestation period may last between 54 and 73 days, depending on the breed and the exact date of breeding. During this time, the female should be on high quality kibble food, without any specific supplements or vitamins unless recommended by your vet. Additional supplementation can result in birth defects and poor health for newborn puppies. At about the 20 day mark before the puppies are expected, the female should be switched from adult kibble to premium puppy kibble that has added protein. This will allow the female to prepare her body for both the growth spurt of the puppies, as well as for her role in providing nutrition for the newborns.
Besides just the change in food, it is also important to start watching where the female spends her time. Usually, pregnant females will start to look for areas to have their puppies, usually in a quiet, out of the way spot. Often they prefer a confined space such as a closet, the bathroom, or even under the bed. Since it is important to be able to monitor her when she is giving birth, try placing a whelping box in the area she is interested in and get her used to getting in and out of the box.
The whelping box should be large enough to allow the female to lie down fully extended on her side, as well as have lots of room to move around. Although towels are often used in the bottom of the whelping box, this can be very messy and usually these towels will be easier to discard rather than to try to clean. Remember too that the whelping box will have to be completely cleaned shortly after the puppies are all born, to remove the moisture and other body fluids that will be present. Newspaper or paper towels, or cloth towels or old sheets are an excellent idea for lining the whelping box.
Watch your female for signs that she is experiencing some discomfort that can indicate she is going into labor. You may see her stand up and lie down repeatedly, whine, lick herself, or even wander constantly through the house or whelping room. One of the most accurate ways to tell if she is actually going to give birth is to take her temperature with a rectal thermometer on a daily basis, starting about 5 days before the due date. Typically a dog will have a normal body temperature of 100 to 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit. About 24 hours before she is going into labor, the body temperature will drop several degrees. Watch her carefully for signs of anxiety, then take her to the whelping box.
Don't be surprised if your female doesn't act how you think she should. Many females will stand or even squat when giving birth, but some will lie down on their side. She may howl, pant or whine or may be very quiet and reserved. It is not uncommon for the female to push or strain for several contractions, or up to 20-30 minutes before the first puppy is born. She may have the puppies close together, or she may have one, then seem to stop, then start giving birth again. It is not uncommon for puppies to be born up to 45 minutes or longer between each other. As long as the female is not straining or appearing to be in discomfort this is probably natural.
If you notice the female is appearing distressed, or becoming frantic or extremely fatigued after 30-45 minutes of active straining without a puppy being born, the vet should be contacted immediately. Unless you are familiar with assisting the female, do not attempt to pull or push the puppy during the birth process, this can cause damage to both the mother and the puppy.
After whelping, the female will lick the puppies, rupturing the amniotic sac as well as bite the umbilical cord. If she does not do this within about two minutes of the puppies being born, open the sac and dry the nose and mouth area of the puppy so he or she can start breathing.
The problems to watch for during whelping are usually related specifically to the female. If she is straining without delivering a puppy for more than about 20 minutes call the vet, he or she will probably stay on the line and provide information. You should always notify your vet when your female is expecting, and have an emergency or 24 hour contact number. Some breeds are very difficult whelpers, and it may be recommended by your vet that the puppies be born at the vet clinic to allow immediate cesarean delivery if required. This is the best way to ensure the safety of both the mother and the puppies.
The puppies will naturally move towards the mother and start to nurse. This is an important bonding process for both the dam and the puppies, and people should minimize their contact at this time, even if one puppy is struggling a bit to get to the right spot. Most mother dogs will gently nose the puppies to the right spot, as well as licking the puppies after they eat to stimulate the release of fecal material and urine. The mother will consume all the puppies waste, again this is very natural and will stop when the puppies get older.
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