Making the decision to breed from your dog should not be taken lightly. Not only is it an expensive and time-consuming process, but it can also result in adding to the enormous surplus of dogs without homes.
CONSIDER THE REASONS Before you breed from your dog, it is important to think long and hard about your reasons for wanting to have a litter of puppies. It is easy to get carried away with thoughts of cute puppies playing around your home, but the reality is that rearing a litter is extremely hard work. Do lots of research and plan everything carefully, and speak to a reputable professional breeder. If you decide that you don’t want to breed from your dog, it is best to have it neutered.
PREGNANCY AND PRENATAL CARE Dogs are pregnant for 63 days, but puppies can be born a few days on either side of this. Let your vet know early on that you have had your bitch mated. The vet will be an invaluable source of advice throughout your bitch’s pregnancy and will advise on measures to keep your bitch parasite-free so that she doesn’t pass infestations on to her puppies. There is no need to increase the amount of food your bitch eats in the early stages of pregnancy. However, from around six weeks the food needs to be increased by about 10 percent each week. At this time your dog’s exercise requirements are also likely to change. Shorter, more frequent walks that avoid very energetic activities are best.
WHELPING Long before your dog is due to have her puppies, set up a whelping area. The location of this is vital. It should be in the house so that your dog feels comfortable and the puppies get used to everyday household noises. However, it also needs to be in an out-of-the-way place where few people will need to walk once the puppies are born. It should be warm, dry, quiet, and draft-free. The whelping box itself can be either shop bought or homemade. Whelping can be a daunting prospect; however, it normally occurs without any problems. The key to a smooth whelping is preparation so you know what to expect and what to do if things start to go wrong.
Individual bitches vary drastically in their behavior, but there are some telltale signs that whelping is imminent. Approximately 24 hours before whelping she may become restless because of the discomfort she will feel as her uterus prepares to expel the puppies. She may also refuse food, pant very deeply, and scratch and dig at the bedding of her whelping box—you can provide her with paper to rip up. Your bitch will be visibly calm just before the arrival of the first puppy and you should see the muscles around her abdomen contract as she makes efforts to push the first puppy out. The time to wait until the next puppy is passed can vary greatly. During that time the newborn puppies should be encouraged to suckle and your bitch urged to tend to them. If some time has passed and the bitch appears relaxed and is attentive to her puppies, the whelping process is over.
POSTNATAL CARE With the worries of the whelping process now behind you, all your focus must switch to making sure that your bitch has everything she needs and that her puppies get the best possible start in life.
As lactation requires a huge amount of energy, your bitch will need about twice the number of calories she was consuming prior to whelping, and the meals need to be little and often.
She will also require lots of water. As she will be reluctant to leave her puppies, feeding her in the whelping box is advisable. She certainly won’t need any exercise and will only need to be taken out for short visits to relieve herself a few times a day.
The natural maternal instincts your bitch has means that you will not need to do anything with the puppies initially. They should not be interfered with, other than to be checked over to ensure they are healthy and are putting on weight, and that they drink some of the bitch’s first milk. Called colostrum, this initial milk provides the puppies with essential antibodies and is vital to their health. Within a couple of weeks you will need to trim the puppies’ nails to prevent them scratching their mother’s skin as they suckle.