Care of the Pregnant Dog

mother dog nursing puppies


Are you getting ready for the pitter-patter of little paws? As with humans, one can minimize complications with proper care in pregnancy. Having puppies may sound easy and it may seem like the dog does all the work but that is not always how it turns out.

So our first assumption is that the litter is wanted (if not necessarily planned.) If the litter is not wanted, please consider that there is a terrible canine over-population problem with some shelters in our own area euthanizing over 100 dogs DAILY. If your litter is not wanted, please consider spaying the pregnant female or having a medical abortion.

Now on to caring for the pregnant dog:

THE FEMALE DOG IS PREGNANT
FOR AN AVERAGE OF 63 DAYS.

PLAN ACCORDINGLY

DIET

The expectant mother will gradually require increasing amounts of food to nourish her developing litter. A food approved for growth (i.e. a puppy food) will certainly be necessary during the nursing period and pregnancy may be a good time to transition into this new diet.

About three weeks into the pregnancy, she may experience a little nausea and appetite loss similar to morning sickness. This should resolve within a week, so if an upset stomach or loss of appetite lasts longer than that or is accompanied by listlessness, something more serious is going on and the vet should be notified.

Calcium supplementation may be tempting but is not a good idea. As long as the expectant mother is on a quality diet, supplementation is unnecessary. Further, supplementation can suppress her natural calcium releasing hormones so that when she really needs extra calcium during nursing, she will not have the proper hormone balance to get it. This can create a very dangerous situation which could easily be avoided by avoiding supplementation of calcium.

AT AROUND 30 DAYS OF PREGNANCY,
BRING THE FEMALE DOG TO THE VET
FOR A WELLNESS CHECK UP AND TO CONFIRM
THE PREGNANCY WITH A SIMPLE BLOOD TEST.

EXERCISE

Regular walking helps the expectant mother keep up her strength but intensive training, showing, or even obedience school is probably too stressful. Obesity is a dangerous problem for pregnant dogs and serious blood sugar regulation problems can put the litter at risk. Still, pregnancy is not the time for a weight loss program. Your vet will help guide you regarding the optimal nutrition plan for your individual dog.

During the final 3 weeks of pregnancy, the mother dog should be completely isolated from other dogs at home (see below). This means no walks in public during this stage of pregnancy.

VACCINATION

A female dog should not be vaccinated during pregnancy; there are sera in the vaccine which could be harmful to the developing fetus. Ideally, the female should be vaccinated just prior to breeding. She will be passing on her immunity to her pups in the first milk she produces (special milk called “colostrum”) so we want her antibody levels to be at their peak yet we want to avoid vaccination during pregnancy.

PARASITE CONTROL

If the expectant mother uses a heartworm preventive product normally, she may continue to do so during pregnancy. All heartworm products available are approved for use in pregnancy and lactation.

Flea control is important during pregnancy though is more important after the puppies are born. It is important to use a safe product during pregnancy. To find a product approved for pregnancy and lactation please see our flea control comparison chart.

Roundworms and Hookworms can both be transmitted from the pregnant mother dog to her unborn puppies. This is a nuisance as one usually ends up with both an infected mother and infected puppies but fortunately there is a deworming protocol to control this infection. If you have concerns about internal parasites for the puppies, speak to your vet about worm control. Daily medication will be needed but it is possible for worm-free puppies to be born.

ISOLATION OF THE MOTHER TO PREVENT HERPES INFECTION

Canine Herpesvirus infection causes a minor cold in adult dogs but can cause abortion in pregnancy as well as death in newborn puppies. The best way to prevent infection is to isolate the mother dog completely during the 3 weeks prior to delivery and the 3 weeks after delivery. This means absolutely no contact with other dogs.

For more details about Canine Herpes Infection, click here.

JUST PRIOR TO ISOLATION, IT IS A GOOD IDEA
FOR THE EXPECTANT MOTHER TO HAVE
A RADIOGRAPH OF HER BELLY TO COUNT PUPPIES.

KNOWING HOW MANY PUPPIES TO EXPECT
WILL TELL YOU WHEN SHE IS FINISHED DELIVERING.

LABOR AND COMPLICATIONS OF DELIVERY

There is always the possibility of a problem with delivery and you will need to be able to recognize labor when it is occurring, what is normal and what is a sign you need to see the vet for assistance. Please visit our page on Giving Birth to Puppies for information on care during labor and nursing.

Page last updated: 4/22/2011