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The work behind whelping

The mental and physical health of your breeding female is critical to her success as a mother, and to the health of the puppies

My last column was all about breeding – accidental or otherwise – so I thought I’d better follow on with preparations for whelping or birth.

Breeding is a time-consuming, costly experience which is not for the faint-hearted (ask any breeder) but one which, when done right, can be extremely satisfying.

The mental and physical health of your breeding female is critical to her success as a mother, and to the health of the puppies. If she is stressed or frightened during her pregnancy, the puppies will be negatively affected, and may have lifelong behavioural issues.

She must be at optimal weight and fitness, and up to date on vaccinations and deworming before she is bred. A breeder’s licence is a legal requirement for all dog breeding in Bermuda so contact the animal wardens to arrange that first. You should have a list of good potential homes for the puppies before you consider breeding.

After mating, pregnancy can be confirmed by an ultrasound from around three weeks.

The gestation period is roughly 63 days, but puppies can arrive from 58 to 68 days, which doesn’t give you long to prepare. It is essential that she has a good quality, nutritionally-balanced diet and, from 40 days onwards she will need to be eating a higher-calorie puppy food to support her increased energy needs and the lactation period after the puppies are born.

You will need to provide a whelping box that is large enough for her to move around in, with high sides to stop the puppies climbing out, but low enough to let her out for a break. There are some great designs online so be sure to be prepared. You will need a stack of newspapers or suitable absorbent material to line the box with, and a clean, quiet area to put it where she feels safe and secure.

I always ask the owner to take the mother’s temperature daily from day 55 onwards. Her body temperature will drop by 0.5 to 1 degree Celsius when whelping is imminent. She will also be restless, panting and start nesting and her appetite will drop off at this time. The first puppy is usually born within two hours of the start of strong abdominal contractions.

Keep an eye on her but try not to fuss. She will lick each puppy to stimulate circulation and breathing and the newborn pups will quickly be crying and looking for milk from her. The suckling action causes the release of oxytocin, which stimulates further contractions and helps the next puppy to be born.

There are some excellent videos online showing normal whelping so be sure to get as informed as you can before the event. If you are concerned at all during whelping contact your vet. In some cases, the mother cannot give birth naturally and a Caesarean section has to be performed. You may decide to have her spayed at this time to avoid further pregnancies.

Breeding females vary in their mothering capabilities. Some take to it very easily and others struggle and need some help. You must be prepared to invest the time needed to help her rear the pups, even if this means bottle feeding them every two hours, day and night. You are responsible for the health and wellbeing of every puppy until they go to their new homes at around eight to ten weeks old. You will have them all vaccinated, dewormed, given flea and heartworm prevention, and microchipped before they leave your care. That way you will send them out to their new homes in tip-top health and ready to face the world. Watch out for my next column on tips for bringing home your new puppy.

Lucy Richardson graduated from Edinburgh University in 2005. She started CedarTree Vets in August 2012 with her husband, Mark. They live at the practice with their two children, Ray and Stella, and their dog, two cats and two guinea pigs. Dr Lucy is also the FEI national head veterinarian for Bermuda

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Published February 23, 2023 at 7:59 am (Updated March 23, 2023 at 6:35 am)

The work behind whelping

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