7 min read

How Do I Care for a Pregnant Dog?

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Overview

Caring for a pregnant dog is a big responsibility, but the work doesn’t begin when her belly starts to expand — it starts before conception. Many pet parents don’t realize how much goes into responsible breeding. Breeding dogs need many tests, vet visits, and the best nutrition to ensure the healthiest outcome for the mother-to-be and her future babies.

During her pregnancy, your dog will rely on you more and more as she prepares for birth. The workload only grows after birth, with a healing mother and a litter of pups to look after.

Needless to say, it’s a lot. Luckily, we’re here to help you navigate this new chapter of pet parenthood. We’ll cover how to determine if your dog is healthy enough for breeding, as well as caring for your dog during pregnancy, labor, and the postpartum period.


How to care for a female dog before breeding

Before breeding your dog, you should take some steps to make sure they're healthy enough for pregnancy. For starters, females (and breeding males) should undergo a breeding soundness exam. A breeding soundness exam can ensure dogs are fertile, healthy, and don’t have any conditions that they could pass down to their offspring.

This type of exam is quite extensive and usually begins with discussing your dog's medical history. The vet will inquire about the dog’s past pregnancies, nutrition, and past or present medical conditions that may affect pregnancy.

From there, the vet will do a complete physical exam, checking for skin conditions, joint problems, and other abnormalities. During the physical, vets will also palpate the abdomen and mammary glands, feeling for growths, tumors, tenderness, and inverted nipples.

Most vets will also perform a vaginoscopy to analyze the vaginal structures and detect any possible vestibulovaginal defects. Depending on your pet’s history and vaginoscopy findings, the vet may request further testing, like uterine cultures and vaginal cytology (a microscopic assessment of the pet’s vaginal cells). 

Vets will usually recommend brucellosis testing before breeding, even if your dog has tested negative in the past. Brucellosis testing is crucial not only because this condition can cause your dog to miscarry, but also because humans can contract it too. In humans, brucellosis can cause miscarriage and endocarditis, a life-threatening infection of the heart lining.

Many vets recommend genetic testing before breeding a dog. Genetic testing can determine if your dog has any hereditary conditions and which conditions they could potentially pass on to their pups. 

Lastly, vets will administer vaccinations, dewormers, and parasite preventatives as needed. The vet should also discuss any preventative medications that your dog should discontinue before breeding.

We understand that accidents happen, and many pet parents are unable to get their dogs vetted before accidental breeding occurs. Some parents may not realize how young dogs can enter reproductive maturity, especially smaller dogs who can go into heat as early as 4 months old. If you suspect your dog has recently bred, take them to the vet as soon as possible to get a full workup.


How to care for a dog during pregnancy

Once your dog starts showing signs of pregnancy, you should take your pet back to the vet to confirm the pregnancy and make sure things are going well. Vets will use manual palpation, hormone testing, and ultrasounds to diagnose pregnancy and estimate how far along the dog is.

Medications

During your appointment, talk to your vet about which vaccines and preventative medications are safe for your pregnant dog. Some flea and tick medications are unsafe for pregnant or lactating bitches, and your vet will be able to suggest alternative treatments. Most vets will recommend regular checkups through the end of pregnancy and into the postpartum period.

Nutrition

Nutrition is so important for pregnant dogs, so make sure you’re feeding your dog quality dog food. Experts usually recommend a balanced and complete puppy food for pregnant and lactating dogs since it provides the extra calories, vitamins, and nutrients moms need.

Due to the decrease in abdominal space,  pregnant woofers can’t hold as much food as they once did. You may need to split your dog’s meals into several smaller meals throughout the day to ensure she’s getting enough calories. 

Exercise

It may be tempting to let your pregnant fur-baby lounge around as much as they want during her pregnancy, but you might be doing her a disservice. Exercise is crucial for maintaining the muscle mass your pet needs to support them during pregnancy and breastfeeding. You should choose low-impact forms of exercise like walks and gentle play. Avoid rough play with your mother-to-be.

Grooming

You’ll also need to keep up with grooming and bathing of your pregnant dog. When grooming, pay close attention to her hind end, clipping excess hair to prevent matting during the birthing process. 

Preparing for birth

Lastly, you’ll need to set up a birthing area a couple of weeks before your dog’s estimated due date. The birthing area and whelping box should be in a quiet area of your home, away from children and other pets. Whelping boxes are available for purchase online, but they’re easy to DIY using tutorials.

There are a few things you should look for when selecting or building a whelping box. First, the box should be open at the top and have an opening that's short enough for the mom to enter and exit with ease. The whelping box should also have an interior rail that juts out from the sides of the box and protects the pups from getting trapped by their mother.

Lastly, the box should be nonporous and easy to clean. Most breeders line their whelping boxes with plastic and newspaper for easy clean-up. You can also use blankets and towels, though these will need to be removed and washed regularly.


Caring for a pregnant dog can get expensive fast.

Considering breeding your dog? Most pet insurance companies offer wellness add-ons that cover vet costs related to pregnancy and breeding. Start comparing wellness plans today to find the “pawfect” option for your fur-baby.


How to care for a pregnant dog during labor

Dogs can usually navigate the birthing process by themselves, though pet parents should educate themselves on the process to know when to assist. The first thing pet parents should know is the signs of impending labor.

Prior to labor, dogs will begin the nesting phase. During the nesting phase, dogs may pace and become destructive, trying to make a suitable birthing place for their young. Around this time, dogs tend to lose their appetite, and their body temperature drops slightly. As labor progresses, your dog may become nauseous, restless, and whimper in pain. Try to keep your dog comfortable during this time by petting her and offering water.

When contractions start and the puppies begin to emerge, watch your dog carefully. Puppies should not stay in the birth canal for longer than 60 minutes. If a pup is partially out and seems lodged, you can guide them out, pulling with gentle downward pressure.

When the puppy emerges, you can help the mother by breaking the amniotic sac and cleaning and suctioning the puppy’s mouth and nose. Don't be surprised if the mother eats the placenta or sac — this is completely normal. You may also need to snip the umbilical cord using a sterile pair of scissors and tie it off with a clean piece of thread.

Call your vet immediately if:

  • Your dog is experiencing green vaginal discharge prior to birth
  • A puppy is lodged in the birth canal for longer than 60 minutes
  • If your dog is shaking or showing signs of exhaustion
  • Your dog goes longer than 2 hours between births
  • Your dog hasn’t given birth by 64 days post-mating
  • Your dog hasn’t given birth within a day of her temperature dropping


how to care for a pregnant dog

How to care for a postpartum dog

After birth, keep the mama and babies in a quiet place away from other dogs or animals. Although your mama dog will likely want some space, you should watch her closely and offer supportive care as needed. The mom may become protective or “snappy” over her babies. Your dog is not becoming aggressive — she's just doing what mother nature intended her to do.

One of the most important things you can do for your mother dog is keep her whelping box clean and sanitary. A clean space will prevent infection and illness in the mother and the puppies. 

Make puppy kibble available to your dog at all times, and don’t be surprised if you’re filling the bowl more often than usual. Postpartum dogs need as much as 3 times their normal food amount to keep up with the demands of nursing.

Speaking of nursing, you should also know and watch for the signs of mastitis. Tell your vet if your dog has discolored, swollen, or hot teets or if they refuse to nurse. These may be signs that your dog has mastitis, a life-threatening infection of the breast tissue.

When the puppies start getting teeth, it’s time to help mom with the weaning process. Begin by offering wet food watered down with milk replacer formula. After the pups get accustomed to eating, you can offer puppy kibble softened with milk replacer. After 7 to 8 weeks, the puppies’ diets should consist entirely of dry puppy food.

Related: How to Prevent Mastitis in Your Whelping Dog


Caring for a postpartum dog after a cesarian section

If your dog gives birth via C-section, she’ll need a little extra care and monitoring. When you first get her home, be sure to supervise her with the pups until she's completely conscious. You may need to assist Mom by bottle feeding her pups the first few days after surgery if she's unable to.

Check your dog’s incision site daily to make sure it’s healing properly and doesn’t look inflamed or infected. Seek immediate veterinary care if your dog’s incision site begins to ooze or bleed or if the mom becomes lethargic, feverish, or refuses food and water.

For more information on caring for new moms, check out this postpartum after-care guide.

If you’re planning on breeding your dog, it might be a good idea to get pet insurance first. There's always a risk of health complications when breeding a female dog, even if she’s had successful births in the past. Some pet insurance companies offer wellness plans that will help pay for emergency c-sections and treatment for birthing complications if they arise.


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