Confirming the pregnancy - About three or four weeks after mating you will need to take your bitch to the vet to get the pregnancy confirmed. Tell your vet the date on which mating occurred. He should be able to confirm whether is was a successful mating by feeling around the bitch's womb, but otherwise there are a number of tests available. Let your vet advise you. Do not be tempted to feel around the bitch's abdominal area yourself. As with humans, the early stages of pregnancy are critical in the development of healthy offspring.
Ultrasound imaging equipment can be used from about three weeks into the pregnancy to detect foetal heartbeats.
X-rays are not commonly used because the foetal skeletons do not become visible until the sixth week of pregnancy.
Health - After conception, your bitch's personality may change slightly, it is important that you carry on as normal.
Don't increase her food too much too soon. She will make good use of a continued stable diet. About halfway through her pregnancy you can start to increase her intake. A gradual build up each week, working up to about 50% extra is fine. She probably won't want large helpings towards the end of her pregnancy, so little and often is advised.
Do not give your bitch vitamin or mineral supplements unless advised by your vet.
Exercise is very important for your bitch, but follow her lead, she will get slower and walk less as the pregnancy progresses. She will be quite large and start to slow down around the sixth or seventh week. Like with the feeding, little and often is advised.
Keep her away from other dogs and bitches you do not want her picking up any viruses or illnesses. She probably won't take too kindly to other dogs sniffing around her anyway.
Your bitch will need to be wormed during her pregnancy to make sure she does not infect the unborn puppies. Worming should continue after whelping so that the puppies cannot contract any infections from the Bitch's milk. Roundworm (Toxocara Canis) is a parasite that can be passed on to humans, especially children. Your vet will be able to advise the best treatment. See Dog Health for more information.
Constipation can cause problems during the whelping stage. If you suspect your bitch is constipated you must seek medical advice. See Dog Health for more information.
About halfway through the pregnancy your bitch may get a vaginal discharge, if this becomes blood stained you will need to take her to a vet quickly.
Prepare a whelping area - The whelping area needs to be prepared soon after the pregnancy is confirmed. Your bitch should move into it about halfway through the pregnancy, so she will have time to settle in. The area needs to be enclosed, but not too small - it needs to house your bitch and all her pups. Your bitch needs room to move about and stretch out. It needs to be warm, comfortable and airy (but not draughty). If your bitch usually lives in the house, don't move her out. She still wants to feel like a part of the family, although a part of the house where she will receive fewer interruptions is wise.
Toy breeds are extra sensitive when whelping, so a peaceful area is really important. Puppies of toy breeds are also more likely to suffer from hypothermia so it is especially important to maintain a constant room temperature, no lower than 24 degrees centigrade (75 degrees Fahrenheit) and no higher than 27 degrees centigrade (80 degrees Fahrenheit).
If your bitch usually lives outside then make sure the area is safe, warm and dry, and within hearing distance from your house. You will need to buy a heat lamp and maybe a baby monitor.
Newborn puppies cannot regulate their own body temperature until they are about a week old, so extra warmth for them is essential. If the whelping box is in your own home, you can increase the temperature by a few degrees to a cosy 24-26 degrees centigrade (75-78 degrees Fahrenheit). But if the whelping box is in an exterior building, a heat lamp or other safe mode of heating in the area is essential. If you buy a heat lamp or other source of heating make sure you follow the instructions for use carefully.
Your puppies will not open their eyes for two or more weeks. It is preferable that unnatural light be kept low so that the puppies can get accustomed to it gently. Your bitch will be more relaxed with subdued lighting too.
Don't forget when preparing the whelping area that it needs to be cleaned and disinfected regularly. It is a good idea to have a box that the puppies can't escape from to put them in while you clean and change their bedding. Newspaper is an ideal lining for a whelping box as it can be scooped up and thrown away when messy. Blankets are warm and cosy, but they require thorough washing and drying before reusing.
The whelping area must have a table and adequate handwashing facilities close by. Lay out the equipment you may need neatly, this way you will have everything to hand and won't fumble at an inopportune moment.
Whelping Area Checklist:
Whelping Box - This needs to be big enough that your bitch can lie out flat. Guardrails, sometimes called pig rails, are a good idea, this will stop your bitch from rolling onto any of the pups.
Spare box - You will have to move the pups to safety when your bitch starts whelping again. It will also be used to put the pups in while you clean the whelping area. A clean washing basket is great, lined with newspaper, make sure it has warmth, you could put a hot water bottle under some bedding, or buy a heat pad.
Newspapers - To line the whelping area. These can be scooped up and thrown away afterwards. You will need a lot, whelping is a messy business.
Heating Lamp - Only required if your whelping box is in an exterior building or a room with no heat control.
Blankets (or Whelping Pads) - Old, clean blankets are great to line the whelping box once the pups have been born. Initially the bitch will clean up after her little ones, but even so, things will still get messy so the blankets must be washed regularly.
Old Clean Towels - For drying each puppy as it is born.
Scales - Household scales are sufficient enough to weigh the pups when they are born and to continually monitor the growth rate.
Table Top Checklist
Anal Thermometer - This can be useful for monitoring the temperature of your bitch prior to delivery.
Scissors - For cutting the umbilical cords.
Latex Gloves - Whelping is messy anyway, but also your bitch may need your help.
Reel of Cotton or Fishing Line - To tie off the umbilical cord, before cutting.
Antiseptic Solution - To clean the area around the umbilical cord once cut and tied. Check which brand your vet recommends.
Bulb Syringe - For clearing the puppy's airways should any problems occur.
Torch - Your bitch will need to urinate during the whelping period, which may be at night. A good torch is essential to make sure she hasn't accidentally dropped a puppy.
Telephone - Have your vet's number to hand, or even better, save it in your mobile.
Pen and Paper - To record information regarding the weight and sex of each pup as well as the time and order in which they were born. Details regarding birthing complications are important, as your vet will need to know such information.
Digital or Polaroid Camera - To take a picture of each puppy as it is born for identification purposes.
Also, your car needs to be ready to go to the vets at short notice. Line your boot (or wherever your dog usually travels) with newspaper and bedding. Be prepared to load your bitch and her puppies into your vehicle, you may have to get to the vet swiftly. Make sure you have fuel, you don't want to be making any stops. Bear in mind that you may need assistance lifting your bitch into the back of the car. It is a good idea to have a family member close by, somebody that the bitch knows.
Allowing time for the birth - The gestation period for a bitch is a lot shorter than that of a human (just 62 days) therefore the due date can be calculated more precisely, although not exactly. You will need to prepare yourself and, if relevant, make sure you have some time off work to assist in the birth and the period immediately after the birth.
To estimate your bitch's due date, download our whelping calendar (PDF 42KB).