Dog breeding can be a fascinating and educational experience for the whole family if it is preceded by a little planning. It can also be a disappointing and distressing time if entered into without forethought.
Female dogs should not be mated in their first season, which usually occurs when the bitch is 8 or 9 months old. At this time she is not fully mature, either physically or temperamentally, so that she is unlikely to be able to adequately look after a large litter and be able to give the puppies the early guidance which is so important if they are to develop into well-adjusted pets.
The bitch is usually mated about the 12th day after the commencement of her season. It is best to keep her confined during the early phase of the season, to avoid the attention of other male dogs in the neighborhood. Two matings on succeeding days are usually allowed, as ovulation tends to occur towards the end of the period of acceptance rather than at the beginning.
For the first 3 to 4 weeks of the pregnancy little special care is necessary. The amount of food given to the bitch is usually increased gradually from the third week onwards until about double the usual amount is being fed by the end of the gestation period of 9 weeks or 63 days.
It is advisable to treat the bitch for roundworms during this first month, to prevent subsequent infection of the litter. Your veterinarian can advise you which preparations are safe to use at this time and if the bitch is taken for examination a month after mating, the pregnancy can be confirmed.
Extra calcium should be supplied by increasing the amount of milk or cheese fed. In the case of large breeds, with possible large litters, it is usual to give extra calcium in the form of calcium carbonate as tablets or powders.
In the second half of the pregnancy, it is wise to give two or three small meals a day rather than one large meal, as the space within the abdomen is becoming cramped. Exercise should be continued until the dog shows signs of distress. A healthy, well-muscled dog is less likely to have complications during birth than an overweight, lazy dog.
In recent years litters of puppies have been lost through infection in the first four weeks of life, with parvovirus disease. This is a virus disease which can attack the heart muscle of very young puppies, causing sudden death.
In older puppies, a gastroenteritis form is more common. To protect the litter for the first six weeks of life the bitch should be vaccinated in the early weeks of her pregnancy. As the vaccine used is a killed-virus vaccine, there is no danger to the developing puppies.
Before mating, it is wise to make sure that the bitch is up to date with her distemper and hepatitis vaccinations. As this vaccine is a live-virus vaccine, it is not advisable to administer the vaccine to a dog in the first few weeks of her pregnancy.
In the next article, we will discuss preparations for the birth and the actual whelping process.