Essential pet advice with vet Jo Gourlay

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This week we continue the series on breeding from your dog at home. Having already discussed the pros and cons of breeding generally and how to find good homes for the pups, we now continue with what to expect during the pregnancy itself, finishing next week with the birth.

The first step is obviously getting your bitch pregnant, which may not be as simple as it sounds. Bitches only come into season, known as “heat”, once each breeding season which, on average, is only twice in a year.

During this phase, male dogs will often pay more attention to bitches, which can be interesting if they are in the same house (you do even hear of male dogs chewing their way out of kennels, scaling fences and swimming through rivers to travel miles to the neighbouring farm as they have picked up on the wind the bitch is in heat).

Although it can be a nightmare keeping suitors away, if you have carefully selected the perfect sire, but he happens to live at the other end of the country, you can begin to see how logistically it can be a problem if your bitch suddenly hits the fertile few days a week earlier than you expected. Various tests can be used to tell when they are coming into season, and some stud dog owners are happy to board bitches and try them for several days to increase the odds. The best thing is to discuss the options with both the stud dog owner and your vet to maximise the chances.

Pregnancy in bitches usually lasts between 58-68 days from the first mating. Confirmation of pregnancy is normally done with either blood testing, palpation (feeling) of the abdomen or an ultrasound examination or a combination of the above. These are normally done from three to four weeks post-mating but each veterinary surgery will have its own protocol.

The benefit of ultrasound after approximately four weeks is that the foetal heart beats may be seen, which is of great reassurance to everyone. In terms of nutrition, a well-balanced good quality food is normally all that’s required without supplementation of vitamins or minerals, especially calcium (which can actually potentially increase problems with imbalances later in pregnancy or shortly after birth).

The quantity of food should be gradually increased from the fifth week onwards and by the last week the bitch will require about 130% of the energy of a non-pregnant bitch.

Once producing milk (lactating), the energy requirement gets even higher in order to provide for the pups. This is especially true after the pups get into their second week. Your own vet will help you decide on an appropriate feeding regime, including the type, quantity and frequency of feed needed for the various stages. Some bitches struggle with a large quantity of food in one go so may require a higher energy food more frequently to meet her demands.

Exercise doesn’t normally need to be restricted but it’s sensible to avoid excessive amounts during the last three weeks.

You should also speak to your vet about ensuring vaccinations and worming (with a pregnancy safe product) are up to date so the puppies have the best protection from day one. Make sure if you see your vet for anything else, especially an emergency you have told them if you suspect your bitch is pregnant so they can take this into account and where necessary avoid certain drugs potentially damaging to the puppies.

Next week we complete this series of articles by moving onto the birth itself.