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A complete guide to caring for a pregnant bitch

In domestic bitches, sexual maturity is reached between the ages of 6 and 12 months, later for some large breeds. Pregnancy is possible as soon as the first estrus cycle begins but breeding is not recommended prior to the third cycle.

Duration

The time between ovulation and the birth of puppies is between 59 and 65 days (63 days in a large number of cases). The time of mating may not exactly coincide with the time of ovulation and so the time between mating and the birth of the pups can vary much more between 56 and 72 days.

Signs of pregnancy include:

  • Discharge from the vulva starting about one month after mating.

  • After about five weeks of pregnancy, the bitch’s weight will start to increase. She is likely to gain 15-25% of her original body weight (depending on the number of puppies) during the remainder of the term.

  • During the second half of pregnancy, the bitch’s appetite will increase.

  • From day 40 onwards, the bitch’s teats may become more prominent and the mammary glands will enlarge as they fill with milk.

  • Changes in behavior

  • Morning sickness

Determining pregnancy

Roughly half way (approximated 4 weeks after conception) through the pregnancy your bitch should receive a check up from a veterinarian who will confirm pregnancy via palpation and/or urine and blood testing. Ultrasound or x-ray can also be used in the later term.  A radiograph can be carried out 3 weeks prior to the delivery to count the puppies. A number of breeders like to have this done so that they can be prepared for the number of puppies the bitch is expecting.

Feeding

The diet needs to be monitored carefully and it is advisable to seek veterinary advice about the best nutrition during the stages of pregnancy. Five to six weeks into her pregnancy, she will need 30-50% more food than normal to provide sufficient nutrients to her puppies. Give her small and frequent meals to help her eat the amount of food she requires; the growing pups inside her will take up much more room and this will lead to her becoming full more quickly. If you use a good quality, high protein food, supplements will not be necessary.

Exercise

Carry on exercising your bitch, but try to avoid anything too strenuous especially after the first month of pregnancy. Go on short walks and don’t let her get overtired.

Medications

Many canine medications are safe to use during pregnancy, however, veterinary advice should always be sought to ensure the specific medication you have in mind will cause no harm to the pups. If you give your bitch regular preventative medication for heartworm you can continue this throughout the pregnancy.

Vaccinations

Vaccinations should not be given during canine pregnancy; however, if possible, it is a great idea to have your bitch vaccinated just before becoming pregnant as this will ensure she has a high level of antibodies to pass onto her puppies during lactation.

Worming

Fenbendazole is a suitable wormer for pregnant bitches; it is effective against roundworm, hookworm, lungworm and tapeworm. Pyrantel/praziquantel combinations may also be suitable. The dosage regime will depend on the product you have chosen – always follow pack directions closely and consult your veterinarian if you are in any doubt about the dosage regime of your chosen product. It is very important to de-worm your bitch to ensure worm infestation is not passed on to the puppies. Always seek veterinary advice to ensure the correct product is being administered to your bitch and that it is being given at the correct dose and frequency.

Preparing for the birth

During the last 3 weeks of pregnancy it is a good idea to isolate her from other dogs to ensure she does not contract the herpes virus which can trigger a miscarriage.

She may dislike being left alone and will probably become more affectionate, if a little irritable. As the delivery date approaches she will start to look for a safe place to give birth. Prepare a whelping box for your bitch two to three weeks before she is due will give her time to become accustomed to it enough that she will choose to give birth in it.