Breeding dogs and raising puppies can be an extremely rewarding
experience or it may produce frustration and failure. The following
information is provided in order to increase your chances of success.
HOW OFTEN DOES A FEMALE DOG COME INTO HEAT?
The female dog comes into heat (estrus) about every six months, although
very large breeds of dogs may cycle every 8-10 months. The heat period
lasts about three weeks.
WHAT ARE THE SIGNS OF HEAT?
In our many years with Labradors, we have learned to watch for certain signs that might indicate that a female is near her estrus cycle. Subtle changes in behavior can be detected 3 to 4 weeks before she actually will show any physical evidence. Sometimes they become very frisky, running in large circles at a full out run, then suddenly they will scoot around with their tail tucked between their rear legs. This type of running resembles a rabbit, as it darts in and out of a thicket.
Changes in behavior can run the gauntlet of extremes, from mild and loving to moody and aggressive. Caution needs to be taken, since what used to be in expected situations might not be what will occur during the entry into estrus. Scratching and licking themselves will sometimes become pervasive. Rolling over on their backs, scraping their bodies on fences and other objects is also seen. Also, changes in eating might become apparent. The different hormones that are rising in preparation for this biological necessity, will often times stimulate appetite. Some females become very protective of their food bowls during these emerging stages. They should be fed separately so as to not create territorial disputes.
Physical changes will begin as far away as 4 weeks from the actual "bleeding", which is used by many as the "beginning" of the heat cycle. Some females will "balloon up", seemingly to get broader overnight, others will go the other way and look drawn out.
The vagina, which is normally about the size of a nickel, will start to enlarge putting on a "bud", somewhat like a rosebud. It starts out small and very enclosed and then it begins to grow while still retaining the bud-like form. During this stage, which might take a week or so, the vagina lips are still out of sight underneath the body, however as they begin to swell and grow in size they will become apparent when looking at the dog from behind. As the vagina continues to grow, the lips surrounding the opening begin to swell and start to go into a full "bloom". Usually this stage takes about 10 days to 2 weeks.
First blood can occur at anytime during the physical changes that are occurring. We have had females drop blood, without going through the "full bloom" episodes. Others have grown tremendously untill the vagina had grown to the size of a baseball, and was very obvious when looking at the dog from behind or from the side. No longer would it be positioned underneath the body, but rather extruding from between the rear legs and positioned backwards where it was totally exposed from the rear.
Although there are countless ovulation tests available on the market, and many are extremely reliable, we have continued to use the traditional methods for our breeding program. Normally we start counting the first day the female shows any blood. This could be a very slight light colored discharge or heavier reddish droppings of blood.
When the females are brought in at the 8th or 9th day after first blood, they are introduced under supervision to the "stud male". The male is watched for the amount of interest he has in her "smell". Usually if the female is not ready, the male will not proceed in attempting to mount, however if she is ready, then at that time, the actual mating will take place.
WHAT SHOULD I DO TO BE SURE THAT A BREEDING IS ACCOMPLISHED SUCCESSFULLY?
Male dogs are more successful breeders when the environment is familiar.
Therefore, it is preferable to take the female to the male's home for breeding.
The timing for breeding is critical. The most fertile time is considered
the 8th through the 12th days of estrus; however, some dogs will be fertile as
early as the 3rd day and as late as the 18th day. We suggest that you contact us
near days 4-6 to make arrangements for mating.
WHAT SHOULD I EXPECT DURING MY DOG'S PREGNANCY?
Pregnancy, also called the gestation period, ranges from 60 to 67 days,
averaging 63 days. Most dogs deliver (whelp) between days 63 and 65.
The only way to accurately determine the stage of pregnancy is to count days
from the time of breeding. If at all possible, the breeding date(s) should
be recorded. The mother should be examined three weeks after breeding to
confirm her pregnancy.
A pregnant dog should be fed a puppy formulation of a premium brand of dog food
for the duration of the pregnancy and through the nursing period. These
diets are generally available through veterinary hospitals or pet stores.
Puppy diets provide all the extra nutrition needed for the mother and her
litter. If the mother is eating one of these diets, no calcium, vitamin,
or mineral supplements are needed. The puppy formulation is necessary to
provide the extra nutrients for pregnancy and nursing.
During pregnancy, the mother's food consumption will often reach 11/2 times her
level before pregnancy. By the end of the nursing period, it may exceed
two times the pre-pregnancy amount. Do not withhold food; increasing the
number of feedings per day is helpful in allowing her to eat enough for her
needs and those of the puppies.
WHAT SHOULD I DO TO PREPARE FOR WHELPING?
From the time of breeding, many dogs show behavioral changes. Most
develop an unusually sweet and loving disposition and demand more affection and
attention. However, some may become uncharacteristically irritable.
Some experience a few days of vomition ("morning sickness"), followed
by the development of a ravenous appetite which persists throughout the
During the latter stages of pregnancy, the expectant mother begins to look for a
secure place for delivery. Many become uncomfortable being alone and will
cling closely to the owner. At the onset of labor, many nervously seek a
place to make the "nest" or birthing place. If the dog is
attached to her owner, she will not want to be left alone at the time of
delivery. If left alone, she may delay delivery until the owner returns.
Prior to the time of delivery, a whelping box should be selected and placed in a
secluded place, such as a closet or a secluded corner. The box should be
large enough for the dog to move around freely, but have low enough sides so
that she can see out and so you can reach inside to give assistance, if needed.
The bottom of the box should be lined with several layers of newspapers.
These provide a private hiding place for the expectant and delivering mother and
will absorb the birthing fluids. The upper, soiled layers may be removed
with minimal interruption to the mother and her newborn puppies.
WHAT HAPPENS DURING LABOR AND DELIVERY?
Most dogs experience delivery without complications; however, first-time
mothers should be attended by their owners until at least one or two puppies are
born. If these are born quickly and without assistance, further attendance
may not be necessary, although it is desirable. If the owner elects to
leave, care should be taken so that the dog does not try to follow and leave the
The signs of impending labor generally include nervousness and panting.
The dog will often quit eating during the last 24 hours before labor. She
will also usually have a drop in rectal temperature below 100ºF (37.8ºC).
The temperature drop may occur intermittently for several days prior to
delivery, but it will usually be constant for the last 24 hours.
Delivery times will vary. Dogs having slim heads, such as Shelties,
Collies, and Dobermans, may complete delivery in one to two hours. Dogs
having large, round heads generally require longer delivery times. English
Bulldogs, Boston Terriers, and Pekinese puppies tend to have sizable heads that
make delivery more difficult. It is not unusual for these breeds to rest
an hour or more between each puppy. Rarely, a dog may deliver one or two
puppies, then have labor stop for as long as twenty-four hours before the
remainder of the litter is born. However, if labor does not resume within
a few hours after the delivery of the first puppies, examination by a
veterinarian is advised. If labor is interrupted for twenty-four hours or
more, veterinary assistance should definitely be obtained.
Puppies are usually born head first; however, breech presentations, in which the
puppy is delivered tail-end first, occur about 40% of the time and are also
considered normal. Each puppy is enclosed in a sac that is part of the
placenta ("afterbirth"). The placentas usually pass after the
puppies are born. However, any that do not pass will disintegrate and pass
within 24-48 hours after delivery. It is normal for the mother to eat the
If the delivery proceeds normally, a few contractions will discharge the puppy;
it should exit the birth canal within ten minutes of being visible.
Following delivery, the mother should lick the newborn's face. She will
then proceed to wash it and toss it about. Her tongue is used to tear the
sac and expose the mouth and nose. This vigorous washing stimulates
circulation, causing the puppy to cry and begin breathing; it also dries the
newborn's haircoat. The mother will sever the umbilical cord by chewing it
about 3/4 to 1 inch (11/2 to 2 cm) from the body. Next, she will eat the
If the puppy or a fluid-filled bubble is partially visible from the vagina, the
owner should assist delivery. A dampened gauze or thin wash cloth can be
used to break the bubble and grasp the head or feet. When a contraction
occurs, firm traction should be applied in a downward (i.e., toward her rear
feet) direction. If reasonable traction is applied without being able to
remove the puppy, or if the mother cries intensely during this process, the
puppy is probably lodged. A veterinarian's assistance should be sought
It is normal for the mother to remove the placental sac and clean the puppies;
however, first-time mothers may be bewildered by the experience and hesitate to
do so. If the sac is not removed within a few minutes after delivery, the
puppy will suffocate, so you should be prepared to intervene. The puppy's
face should be wiped with a damp wash cloth or gauze to remove the sac and allow
breathing. Vigorous rubbing with a soft, warm towel will stimulate
circulation and dry the hair. The umbilical cord should be tied with cord
(i.e., sewing thread, dental floss) and cut with clean scissors. The cord
should be tied snugly and cut about 1/2 inch (1 cm) from the body so it is
unlikely to be pulled off as the puppy moves around the whelping box.
Newborn puppies may aspirate fluid into the lungs, as evidenced by a raspy noise
during respiration. This fluid can be removed by the following procedure.
First, the puppy should be held in the palm of your hand. The puppy's face
should be cradled between the first two fingers. The head should be held
firmly with this hand, and the body should be held firmly with the other.
Next, a downward swing motion with the hands should make the puppy gasp.
Gravity will help the fluid and mucus to flow out of the lungs. This
process may be tried several times until the lungs sound clear. The tongue
is a reliable indicator of successful respiration. If the puppy is getting
adequate oxygen, it will appear pink to red. A bluish colored tongue
indicates insufficient oxygen to the lungs, signaling that the swinging
procedure should be repeated.
It may be helpful to have a smaller, clean, dry box lined with a warm towel for
the newborn puppies. (A towel can be warmed in a microwave oven.)
After the puppy is stable and the cord has been tied, it should be placed in the
incubator box while the mother is completing delivery. Warmth is essential
so a heating pad or hot water bottle may be placed in the box, or a heat lamp
may be placed nearby. If a heating pad is used, it should be placed on the
low setting and covered with a towel to prevent overheating. A hot water
bottle should be covered with a towel. Remember, the newborn puppies may
be unable to move away from the heat source. Likewise, caution should also
be exercised when using a heat lamp.
Once delivery is completed, the soiled newspapers should be removed from the
whelping box. The box should be lined with soft bedding prior to the
puppies' return. The mother should accept the puppies readily and recline
The mother and her litter should be examined by a veterinarian within 24 hours
after the delivery is completed. This visit is to check the mother for
complete delivery and to check the newborn puppies. The mother may receive
an injection to contract the uterus and stimulate milk production.
The mother will have a bloody vaginal discharge for 3-7 days following delivery.
If it continues for longer than one week, she should be examined by a
veterinarian for possible problems.
WHAT HAPPENS IF MY DOG HAS TROUBLE DELIVERING HER PUPPIES?
Although most dogs deliver without need for assistance, problems do arise
which require the attention of a veterinarian. Professional assistance
should be sought if any of the following occur:
1) Twenty minutes of intense labor occurs without a puppy being delivered.
2) Ten minutes of intense labor occurs when a puppy or a fluid-filled
bubble is visible in the birth canal.
3) The mother experiences sudden depression or marked lethargy.
4) The mother's body temperature exceeds 103ºF (39.4ºC) (via a rectal
5) Fresh blood discharges from the vagina for more than 10 minutes.
Difficulty delivering (dystocia) may be managed with or without surgery.
The condition of the mother, size of the litter, and size of the puppies are
factors used in making that decision.
IS PREMATURE DELIVERY A LIKELY PROBLEM?
Occasionally, a mother will deliver a litter several days premature.
The puppies may be small, thin, and have little or no hair. It is possible
for them to survive, but they require an enormous amount of care, since they are
subject to chilling and are frequently very weak and unable to swallow.
Some may be able to nurse but are so weak that they must be held next to the
mother. Puppies that do not nurse can be fed with a small syringe, bottle,
or stomach tube. The equipment and instructions for these procedures are
available from a veterinarian. Premature puppies must be kept warm.
The mother can provide sufficient radiant heat from her body if she will stay
close to them. If she refuses, heat can be provided with a heat lamp,
heating pad, or hot water bottle. Excessive heat can be just as harmful as
chilling, so any form of artificial heat must be controlled. The
temperature in the box should be maintained at 85º to 90( F (29.4( to 32.2( C),
but the box should be large enough so the puppies can move away from the heat if
it becomes uncomfortable.
IS IT LIKELY THAT ONE OR MORE PUPPIES WILL BE STILLBORN?
It is not uncommon for one or two puppies in a litter to be stillborn.
Sometimes, a stillborn puppy will disrupt labor, resulting in dystocia. At
other times, the dead puppy will be born normally. Although there is
always a cause for this occurrence, it is often not easily determined without an
autopsy that includes cultures and the submission of tissues to a pathologist.
This is only recommended in special circumstances.