A dog is man's best friend so we need to take care of every aspect of its life. And that includes helping pregnant dogs through their most delicate time by overseeing the pregnancy and delivery at home.
An adult female dog is fertile only during her heat cycle, which begins when she is about six months old and lasts for an average of 21 days, the duration varying between breeds. The cycle is repeated roughly once every six months. The gestation period lasts between 58 and 70 days, depending on the dog's size.
Johnson Ho, principal veterinarian of the Happy Valley Veterinary Clinic & Hospital, says that while nipple growth is one of the telltale signs of pregnancy, it is not conclusive and more checks are needed. There are three ways to accurately diagnose pregnancy - by palpating the uterus, performing an ultrasound or an X-ray.
While people may think it is better for the delivery to take place in a clinic, Dr Ho says an unfamiliar environment can make the dog anxious which, in some cases, can lead to dystocia - a difficult labour or delivery. So he advises dog owners to help deliver the puppies at home.
Dr Ho says to help ensure successful delivery at home dogs need a clean and quiet environment to prepare for labour. Room temperature for large breeds, such as labrador, should be 20 degrees Celsius, while that for smaller breeds, such as chihuahuas, should be 25 degrees. 'Owners should be knowledgable about the process, pay attention during the delivery and call the vet if any abnormalities occur,' he says.
Dr Ho says the temperature of about 80 per cent of pregnant bitches drops two to three degrees and they incur a loss of appetite about 24 hours before the first birth, so he suggests monitoring the mother's body temperature and eating habits daily. A greenish-brown water discharge marks the start of labour, which is the active pushing stage where contractions are frequent. The first birth should emerge within an hour, and Dr Ho says that owners can trim the hair around the mother's nipples and vaginal area before the birth to help with delivery and feeding.
Dr Ho advises owners to help each pup as it exits the vagina by tearing the sac - the thin layer covering a pup's body. A pup cannot breathe if this layer is not torn off, which the mother will do, and the pup will die if it does not take its first breath within three minutes of birth. So owners can help with this process and rub the newborn to help it breathe. The mother might rest for up to four hours before she pushes out the next pup, but once abdominal contractions start again, it should not take longer than an hour for the next pup to emerge. Large dogs can give birth to up to 12 puppies while smaller breeds may only have a litter of two. Dr Ho says it can be hard to notice the last pup. He suggests conducting an X-ray before birthing begins to know how many to expect.
Delivery difficulties are rare for healthy bitches, but owners should pay attention to pets that have large heads or genetic problems. 'Breeds that have larger heads, such as bulldog or Boston terrier, increase the possibility of dystocia 20 to 30 per cent,' Dr Ho says.
With the birthing process done the next step is nursery. The room temperature of the nursery area should be about 28 degrees Celsius. The mother will feed her pups up to eight times a day, so it is important to provide her with sufficient water and puppy formula food, which contains more nutrition and that helps with milk production.
'You can expect 5 per cent daily growth in a puppy during the nursery period. Make sure the environment is ideal and take the puppy to a vet if it whines consistently.'