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Canine Pregnancy - What to Expect!

by Geoffrey English

The gestation period for dogs is typically between 58 to 68 days from the day of ovulation, with most pregnant bitches giving birth on or around the 63rd day. Many breeders use the day of the first witnessed “knot” to determine when they can expect puppies. This is typically a good “rule of thumb”, however, a bitch may not ovulate on the first day she stands for a male, causing the puppies to arrive later than the date calculated. Remember, a dog’s sperm is able to survive for up to seven day in the bitch’s oviduct. The only accurate way of predicting the due date of a litter is to use progesterone assays to determine the exact time of ovulation and adding 63 days to that date.

Often a bitch that has a large litter will whelp earlier than bitches carrying fewer puppies. Puppies born before the 58th day are considered premature and often physiologically undeveloped, which can cause extreme difficulties with survival of some or all of the dogs in the litter. It’s always a good idea to have a veterinarian check over your bitch during the pregnancy to make sure there are no complications.

During the first few weeks of pregnancy there are few signs that a bitch is carrying puppies, except for a slight weight gain, that is often undetectable by the breeder. Some bitches will experience morning sickness between day 21 and day 30. Much like humans, this involves occasional vomiting caused by the sudden increase in hormones during pregnancy and the uterus being distended. If morning sickness occurs, it is a good idea to give your expecting mother numerous small meals throughout the day rather than a few larger ones.

An ultrasound may be used to confirm pregnancy as early as 25 days (it is at this point in the pregnancy when the embryonic heart is detectable). However, it is difficult, if not impossible, to accurately count the number of puppies using this method. On or about the 45th day, the skeletal system of the unborn puppies will begin to be developed enough to be visible by radiograph (x-ray).

Lining the bottom of the whelping box with newspapers will encourage your bitch to stay in the box and continue to nest and shred the newspaper.
Photo by: Author
On or around the 35th day of pregnancy, the bitch’s caloric requirements will increase, typically requiring twice the normal amount of food. There are mix schools of thought in regards to supplements like calcium and vitamins. Some vets believe that a pregnant bitch should receive supplemental calcium and vitamins during the final month of gestation. While others believe calcium supplements can be harmful to the pregnant bitch by causing metabolic imbalances and excess vitamins may be harmful to the puppies. The one thing both sides agree on, however, is that there is no substitute of a well-balanced dog food formulated for growing puppies.

Appropriate feed typically contains 1,600 digestible calories / pound of food and at least 21 percent protein. Some commercial dog foods on the market are labeled complete and balanced nutritionally for the maintenance of adult dogs. These diets typically do not provide the nutritional balance for a pregnant bitch and you are often better served with a formula for growing puppies.
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