Preparing for the Arrival of a Litter of Puppies

Making an informed decision to breed from your dog can be hugely rewarding and exciting, as well as a little daunting! A pregnant dam needs extra care whilst she is expecting, and of course, there is a lot to do as you get closer to the impending arrival of the puppies.

If your dog is expecting, this article will cover the essentials of how to prepare for the arrival of a litter of puppies.

The basics of canine pregnancy

First, here are a few things you need to be aware of if your dog is pregnant: 

  1. The period of gestation for dogs is between 58-68 days, with most litters arriving in the middle of that time period. As the pregnancy progresses, you will need to accommodate for the changing, growing needs of the dam, keeping her comforable, avoiding strenuous exercise, and ensuring that you fulfil all of her nutritional requirements.
  2. When your dog is pregnant, she will need to eat a lot more than she normally does. Up to around twice as much, or even more, particularly as the time of delivery comes closer and when she is nursing her litter.
  3. Research feeding a top quality, high nutritious food to ensure that the dam is able to care for her young properly, and that the pups get the best possible start to life. We recommend speaking to your vet about the special care considerations of feeding a pregnant or nursing a dog

When should your dam see the vet?

Dogs have been doing what comes naturally and delivering their own young without the need for human assistance for millennia. Most canine pregnancies pretty much take care of themselves, providing that the dam is healthy and properly cared for.

However, it is still a good idea to ask your vet to confirm your dam’s pregnancy and check that everything is going well. Think about running an ultrasound examination at around the four-week mark, to give you an idea of how many pups to expect. You may also wish to ask your vet to make a home visit as the time of delivery gets nearer too.

Certain dog breeds are commonly delivered by caesarean section, due to the size of the pups’ heads in relation to the hips of the dam. Some breeds, like the French Bulldog and English Bulldog, must be delivered by caesarean section in the vast majority of cases. This is something else to bear in mind and plan for, if your vet indicates that this is the case for your own dog.

Make a whelping box

In the couple of weeks leading up to the birth, you will need to start preparing for the pups’ arrival. Setting up a whelping box for your dam to deliver her young in and use as a secure home during their first few weeks of life is something that you can do as early in the pregnancy as you wish. However, the box should already be set up and ready for use at least a week before the delivery date.

A good whelping box should be located in a quiet, comfortable area of the home with a consistent temperature, and should be large enough to hold the dam and pups comfortably. It should also stop the small puppies from climbing or falling out of the box when moving around. It is a good idea to use a waterproof sheet in the bottom of the box, before placing blankets, towels, and other bedding within it to allow your dam to get comfortable and feel at home.

Try to encourage the dam to start using the whelping box as her bed well before the pups arrive, so that she seeks it out for delivery and feels secure using it. You should also keep plenty of changes of bedding and spare towels on hand in preparation for the pups.

Labour and delivery

Around 12-24 hours before your dam delivers her litter, you may begin to observe some changes in her that will let you know that the time is drawing close. Signs include: 

  1. A previously voracious appetite dropping off. During this time and she may even stop eating entirely.
  2. She is likely to appear restless and unable to settle down.
  3. Your dam’s temperature dropping. Her temperture can help you to idenify how close to delivery she is, and as the time of delivery gets closer, her temperature will drop from the norm of around 38.5 degrees Celsius to around 37 degrees. Delivery follows within 12-24 hours of the change.

When your dam does actually go into labour, you may want to be there to see it and to keep an eye out for any problems. But try not to interfere or intervene unless this is absolutely necessary. Also, let your vet know when labour commences too, just in case there are any complications.

When the pups have arrived, monitor them and the dam carefully, and ensure that the pups start feeding within a few hours of birth. Unless there are any problems that require the attendance of the vet sooner, schedule a check-up at home for the pups and the dam a couple of days after delivery – and introduce your puppies to the wider world!

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