For the love of you pet: Knowing more about pregnancy in dogs

Prior to breeding a female dog, there are some things to keep in mind. She should be well-conditioned and at optimal weight prior to breeding.

Obesity can lead to infertility, dystocia (inability to give birth) and poor lactation (milk production). She should be up to date on vaccines as well as parasite control for both internal (worms) and external parasites (fleas and ticks).

It is very important to maintain optimal condition during pregnancy by providing a good diet and exercise. During the first three weeks of pregnancy, your dog's weight will notably increase. During the third and fourth week of pregnancy, some females experience anorexia and even vomiting.

If this does occur, you should offer her a more palatable diet and possibly even force-feed her. During the last four weeks of pregnancy, your dog's energy demand is higher. She will require an increased amount of protein and carbohydrates. Most puppy foods provide an increase in both of these vital ingredients.

Any dietary change should be done over a period of one week. If your female dog has a greatly distended abdomen during the very end of gestation, then small amounts of meals frequently may be needed.

The administration of unnecessary drugs and medications should be avoided during pregnancy. You should consult with your veterinarian before giving anything over the counter.

As your dog gets closer to her due date, her rectal temperature should be checked two to three times a day. You will also want to monitor for vaginal discharge and check the mammary glands for fullness and early lactation. There are three stages to labor. The first stage includes heavy panting, nesting behavior, a drop in rectal temperature and anorexia.

The uterus begins to contract, and the cervix begins to dilate. This stage can last anywhere from six to 36 hours. During the second stage, the cervix is fully dilated, and the puppies begin to progress through the birth canal.

This stage typically lasts from two to four hours. The third stage of labor is defined as the passage of fetal membranes. Once the female starts to pass puppies, subsequent puppies will come in up to two-hour intervals.

A difficult birthing process is also known as a dystocia. There are various types of dystocia, which include persistent, strong abdominal contractions with no expulsion of offspring for more than 30 minutes, more than four hours from the onset of second-stage labor without expulsion of a fetus, more than two hours between puppies and a puppy visually stuck in the birth canal.

Causes of a dystocia include: deformed pelvic canal, fetal death, infection of the uterus or placenta, uterine torsion or rupture, previous C-section and very large puppies.

Dystocia is a medical emergency. Medical treatment is typically attempted first and involves manual manipulation of the fetus, drug administration and supportive care. If this plan does not work, the female has been in labor for too long, then a C-section is the treatment of choice.

There is a higher incidence of dystocia in small-breed and miniature dogs. Short-snouted dogs, known as brachycephalics, are also more likely to have a difficult pregnancy. This includes bulldogs, Boston terriers and pugs.

If you have any questions regarding pregnancy in dogs, please contact me at drshanabohac@hotmail.com.

Dr. Shana Bohac has a veterinary practice at Hillcrest Animal Hospital in Victoria. She works on both small animals and equine patients. Submit questions to drshanabohac@hotmail.com.