Pregnancy & Whelping
In the early stage of dog pregnancy, or about two weeks after a female dog has copulated, her nipples start to get larger in size. It will be necessary to her to the vet for a check up. The vet should be able to notice the presence of the puppies by touching her stomach. In this stage blood tests can also confirm the pregnancy.
Her impregnation will last about 63 - 65 days. Around the 6th week of gestation, begin feeding your dog more food since by now her nutritional needs have increased dramatically. She should be getting about 50% more food than normal. Feed her balanced meals. Ask the vet to help plan a balanced diet you can follow. If there's going to be a lot of puppies, you'll notice her abdomen growing, but some dogs don't start gaining weight until the final week or so. Dogs that have a lot of puppies, they often tend to be born premature.
Whelping: the final stages of pregnancy
(Whelping is the act of giving birth to puppies)
Let me suggest that you forget about using a thermometer to aid in guessing when the pups are on the way. Some bitches' temperature will drop from a normal range (101 to 102.5 degrees) to a degree or so below normal a few hours prior to whelping... but many don't. Don't panic if there's no drop in temperature.
The first sign that the new family is on the way usually is signaled by a lack of interest in food about 24 hours before whelping. You may notice she'll lick at her vulva and maybe have some cramping. Abdominal contractions become more frequent... about a 1/2 hour apart. You may notice a shiny, grayish sac suddenly droop through the vulva; it looks like a gray water balloon. She may walk around with this hanging out. She'll often open the "water sac" and a clear fluid will run out.
The pup's on the way!
In most cases the pup will be delivered within an hour of this sac being presented. The first pup is now in the pelvic canal. This first pup is often the most difficult for her to pass. She may strain quite hard and even moan a bit. Don't panic yet. (Although, it is a good idea to call your veterinarian and announce proudly "she's havin' 'em!". Now the entire animal hospital staff will be on the alert that you'll be calling every fifteen minutes with updates on her progress.) If she hasn't passed the pup within one hour of the "water sac" showing, do call your vet and discuss the need for her to be seen right away to help pass the pup.
When the pup passes through the pelvic canal and into our world it will be covered in a thin membrane that looks surprisingly like plastic wrap. If mom doesn't lick and nip this membrane away from the puppy right away (most do) you should remove it so the pup can breathe. The pup has about 6 minutes of before it must breathe, otherwise brain damage or death will occur. Give the mother a few seconds to remove this membrane; if she doesn't, you do it.
You'll notice that the pup is attached to a mass of tissue by the umbilical cord. You can separate the pup from this blackish-green tissue, which is the afterbirth. The afterbirth is the tissue that attaches very closely to the lining of the uterus. Through the afterbirth the pup breathes and acquires nourishment via the umbilical cord; now that the pup is born, though, there's no need for this process any more and it can be discarded. There's no real benefit for the mother to eat all the afterbirths. In fact, some dogs can get digestive upsets from consuming a large number of afterbirths.
Licking and cleaning the new pup is mother's first order of business now that the membrane is removed and the umbilical cord is chewed through (or separated about an inch away from the pup by you). If she ignores the pup, take a clean towel and rub the puppy dry; this stimulates it to breathe, and it will protest a bit. While doting over the new pup the mother will probably start the process over and soon present another one. While the new pup's brothers and sisters are yet to see the light of day, the first pup, having found a nipple, is already having breakfast.
In any litter the entire process of whelping can take anywhere from two to twenty hours. She might have 3 pups in the 1st hour, take a break for several more hours, have a few more, take another break, have 1 more, take another break and finish up sometime the next day.
However, if the mother is really straining, with contractions coming every minute or so and no pup is presented within a 1/2 hour, get the veterinarian on the phone. She may often seem to be doing nothing for a few hours even though you're sure there are more pups to be delivered. She can be energized to have more contractions by a brisk walk. She may not want to leave the pups but fresh air and a short run or walk will get things started again. Have food and water available for her, too.
Sometimes the litter will be so large, either in numbers of pups or size of pups, that a problem with Uterine Inertia can occur. In these situations the mother will fail in weak attempts to pass the pups. She may not even show any visible signs of contraction. This is a good example of why you should keep good records of dates and times of breeding.
If she has progressed to day 65 after breeding and still no pups, there's a problem! If the uterus has been so stretched and fatigued by a large litter or large size of the puppies, she may not be able to pass them. Uterine Inertia also is common when an dog has a single fetus that doesn't stimulate the uterus enough to begin contractions. Your vet must be consulted. Medical intervention will be tried first, an x-ray may be taken (don't worry, a single x-ray in full term pups presents practically zero risk) and if medications don't induce labor... surgery may be required.
It is much better to prepare yourself ahead of time by reading and talking to an experienced breeder if this is your first time at breeding a dog. Be certain that your female is wormed or has a negative fecal exam, be certain that her diet is excellent... not just "good". Avoid the notion that you must supplement the diet because of the "stress" on the mother. The real stress nutritionally comes after the pregnancy when the pups are between 2 and 4 weeks of age. That's the time they are extracting the largest amounts of nutrients from the mother, and making all that milk can really tap nutrient reserves. Over-supplementing is a mistake. A high quality diet containing large amounts of quality protein and fat is important; high fat, high protein and low carbohydrates (grain) is best.
It's a good idea to get a small postal scale and weigh the new pups daily. After the day 2 they should gain steadily every day. If you notice a pup that is slower, colder, softer or whinier than the others, take special care of that one. It just may need your help to survive. Each day the pups should put on a bit of weight; one that is not may be a "poor doer" and could need veterinary care.