When you discover your dog is pregnant, you'll need to get prepared for the new additions. Welcoming puppies into the world is a life-giving experience that can also be life-changing. You're smart to want to know what to expect. For one thing, you should expect more than one pup.
About the Pregnancy
Unlike humans, canine moms-to-be do not need frequent doctors visits. However, it is important to make sure yours is vaccinated and checked over by a veterinarian. A typical dog pregnancy lasts 64 to 66 days. During the first two trimesters, continue with normal diet and exercise. In the last weeks the puppies grow quickly, the mom gains weight and her mammary glands become noticeably larger. During the last trimester, switch her to pregnancy or puppy food, feeding her small meals multiple times throughout the day, as her stomach will not be able to store much. Decrease exercise to a minimum, and no more than what the mother dog is able to do.
Set up a clean, warm and private whelping box where your dog will deliver and rear her pups. If a large cardboard box is not of sufficient size for your dog, use an alcove or corner area in your home provided it is away from drafts -- use wood or hard plastic panels to section off the area. Ensure they're absolutely secure. The height of the walls will depend on the breed. They must be tall enough to allow the mother to enter and exit the area while preventing the pups from doing so until they reach 4 weeks of age. Place the mother dog's food and water outside of the box but nearby for her convenience.
What Happens Pre-Birth
You may notice a decrease in your dog's appetite, as well as panting, restlessness and vomiting 6 to 24 hours before going into labor. Call the veterinarian if she does not eat for more than a day without delivering. It is important to keep the home quiet during this time. Progesterone levels in the blood, which have remained high throughout the pregnancy, will dip. Her temperature drops to about 99 degrees Fahrenheit from the normal 100 to 102 degrees. Labor should follow within 12 to 24 hours.
With each delivery of a pup, placenta will expel; then you can expect the next pup to arrive within 15 minutes to two hours. If the mother dog is straining to deliver, or the interval lasts much more than two hours, call the veterinarian. Breech pups, or those coming feet-first, will need assistance if their position does not change. Specifically, toy breeds, as well as those with short snouts or large heads, can have pregnancy troubles and may require Cesarean section surgery if the pups cannot be delivered vaginally.
Immediately After Birth
With each birth, the mother should lick the pup to remove the membrane, clean him until he is dry and stimulate him to breathe. She also eats the placenta; this is normal. The pups will drink their mother's milk where they get colostrum, full with infection-protecting antibodies. Call the vet if the pup is having breathing troubles or his mother is not cleaning him, in which case you will need to remove the membrane. Also call if the pup is not drinking his mother's milk within the first 12 to 16 hours after birth. You may need to provide him with a commercial canine milk replacer specific for puppies.
Weeks 1 to 4
The first few weeks of life are very important. The puppies cannot see, hear or smell very well, and they rely on their mother to regulate their body temperatures. The pups will nurse every two hours during the first week. Pay attention if they cry, which could signal they are cold, hungry or sick. Do not handle any pup unless doing so is absolutely necessary -- for example, to keep one warm, clean or fed whose mother is not doing so. At 3 to 4 weeks of age, healthy pups should be walking shakily though they will gain strength and curiosity about the world beyond eating and sleeping all day. The pups begin to learn social skills and how to be a dog from their mother and from each other. Begin weaning them off mother's milk around the fourth week by introducing dry puppy chow several times a day. At first, mix kibble with milk replacer or water, decreasing amount of liquids week by week.
Weeks 5 to 8
The pups will continue to learn what is appropriate behavior from mom. You can begin to interact with them more around 5 weeks of age to enforce a positive experience with people. As long as the pregnancy and prior weeks have gone well, the puppies will visit the veterinarian for the first time. Starting between week 6 and week 8, the pups must receive initial vaccinations; booster shots will follow every three weeks until they are 16 weeks old. They provide protection against distemper, parainfluenza, parvovirus and canine adenovirus-2. By 8 weeks, the pups should be fully weaned and eating dry kibble. Never adopt the puppies out until after this time.
Additional Puppy Needs
In addition to continued veterinary care, a puppy will need many other things. Consult with your vet about quality food specific to your new puppy, in addition to when he or she may be fixed. Purchase water and food dishes, a fitted collar with ID tags, a leash, brushes and a bed or crate if needed. Consider whether training classes would be helpful for you to continue teaching your puppy; you may need to purchase tools such as a clicker and treats. A variety of toys serve as appropriate chewing objects and as tools for teaching a puppy certain behaviors, such as fetching.
Pam Smith has been writing since 2005. In addition to her work for Demand Media, her articles have been published online at CBS Local. She also wrote for the Pennsylvania Center for the Book's Literary Map while earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in English at the Pennsylvania State University. She is currently an editorial assistant for Circulation Research.