Short Course in Breeding, Whelping & Raising Puppies

Written by Dr. Stanley Sohn

You have made the conscious decision to breed your bitch on her next heat cycle and now you have to prepare for the whole experience. Prior to the bitch coming into season, you should have a Brucellosis test performed. Most stud dog owners will require it. You should also ascertain when the last litter was sired by the chosen stud. If there haven’t been any recent litters on the ground or the dog is older, then you may want to ask the owner of the stud to have a sperm check done. Also, if your bitch has been bred before and you have had problems, then you may want to have vaginal cultures done on her. Another important item which should be done prior to the bitch coming into heat is to have a complete physical exam, paying particular attention to the heart, stifles and eyes. At that time, you should also update all necessary vaccinations and have a screening performed for both internal and external parasites, and treat accordingly. You should also be making all the necessary arrangements with the owner of the stud dog pertaining to the breeding before the bitch comes in season. Do not wait till the bitch comes into season to contact the stud dog owner to ask if you can breed to the dog. It is also important that you have established a good rapport with your veterinarian. You will want to discuss with them your intentions and make arrangements of how to handle any emergencies that may arise at the time of whelping.

Once the bitch comes into heat you should make arrangements to have progesterone tests performed. The most common cause for a bitch not conceiving is improper timing. Once the proper time is determined, then there are three basic ways to get the bitch bred. The first and the most successful is natural matings. You should breed the bitch from one to three times. I will typically breed bitches every other day for two to three breedings. The next most common and successful method employed is artificial insemination using fresh semen. Many breeders do this themselves, but if help is needed then you should have someone with experience do this. The third method is artificial inseminations with fresh chilled semen. If this method is selected, then all the arrangements for collecting, transporting, and inseminating the semen must be identified. The fourth method is the use of frozen semen. A veterinarian familiar with surgical insemination technique must perform this.

After the bitch has been bred, then comes the nine longest weeks. At the end of the first trimester, about three weeks after the breedings, the bitch should be palpated to determine if indeed she is in whelp. I find that about this time many bitches will go off their food, which is usually a good sign they are pregnant. It is important though to maintain a good level of nutrition. During the second trimester, it is a good idea to have an ultrasound done to verify if the bitch is truly in whelp and to determine viability of the fetus. As you come down the stretch of the third trimester, I find it is helpful to x-ray the bitch to find out how many puppies to expect. This should be performed about a week before the first due date. I will also shave the bellies and the culottes at this time. I find that removing this excess hair makes it easier to deliver the puppies and for the pups to have an easier time nursing. You should also start taking the bitches temperature twice a day during the last week before her due date. You will find the temperature is generally a little higher in the evening. Once the temperature goes below 99 and stays there, labor will usually start within twenty four hours. A week prior to the delivery date, you should have your whelping box prepared and ready to go. You should also call your veterinarian to remind them of your bitch’s due date. It is important to have a heat source for the pups. You have to decide which would work best for you, either a heating pad or a heat lamp. We use heating pads, which we place in the middle of lambs wood crate pads with Velcro ends to keep the pad from coming out or a puppy from crawling in.

Now the fun begins. Your bitch is showing the first signs of labor. She is restless and nesting. Contact your veterinarian just to let them know the bitch is in labor. This will just put them on notice in case you have a problem later. Make sure the bitch has material in the box, which she can dig. Most people use towels or shredded newspaper. Watch for the start of contractions. Once the bitch is having regular strong contractions a puppy should soon follow. It is perfectly normal for a pup to come out either head or tail first. The only presentation that would be considered breach would be sideways. The biggest dilemma most people have is deciding when to call for help. My rule of thumb is if you do not have a puppy after one hour of hard contractions, then it is time to call for help. Other signs, which would trigger a call for help, would be a pup stuck in the birth canal, or an abnormal vaginal discharge. If problems occur, then call your veterinarian and be prepared for a Caesarian section to remove the puppies.

Once the puppy has been delivered it is important to dry them and keep them warm. Chilling is one of the most common causes of fetal death. I like to have a cardboard box with a heating pad in it next to the whelping box. After a pup is born, I dry it off and cut the umbilical cord. It is important to account for all of the placentas. I do not let the bitch eat the placentas because it will often times cause vomiting and diarrhea. I then place the pup in the cardboard box to warm up and finish drying. This also removes the pup from harms way in case the dam starts digging again. If the bitch is having a quiet time between puppies, I will give the newborn back to her to clean and nurse it. After the bitch is done whelping, I clean her up and give her all fresh new bedding and place her pups in with her. Within the first twenty four hours, I give the bitch a shot of oxytocin.

It is important to establish the birth weight of each pup, and they should then be weighed twice a day to evaluate how they are progressing. A puppy may lose a little weight the first day, but after that they should begin to gain consistently. If a pup is not gaining, then it may need supplementation. Supplementing a pup may be in the form of a bottle, tube feeding, or just holding the pup on the mother. If you bottle or tube feed, utilize a formula which has been proven successful. Each breeder seems to have his or her favorite one. Typically dewclaws are removed when the pups are 3 to 5 days old.

Weaning generally begins about 4 to 6 weeks of age. The total weaning process usually takes a few weeks before the puppies have become totally independent of the dam. Again, breeders tend to have their own procedure for introducing puppies to solid foods. The formula used is as individual as each breeder is.

Copyright 2003, Dr. Stanley Sohn


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