Know Your Pooch
The writer is former director, GSI, and an avid animal lover. His understanding of man's best friend comes from over six decades of dedicated association with it…
So finally, you decided to get your bitch covered with a suitable dog and you are keeping your fingers crossed to know whether she has conceived or not? Well, it is quite normal to be anxious, after all you are going to be a first-time pet parent! But before this when the dam was in season and 21 days after getting her covered it is vital to get her dewormed. It is better to keep in regular touch with a Vet and do medication as per his advice. Deworming is essential at this stage. How significant it is can be understood by the fact that the puppies delivered by such a bitch are really very healthy. My Labrador retriever puppies at the age of eight weeks were 9 to 12 kg in weight, because by virtue of proper deworming they were quite healthy even when they were born. A brood bitch can pass many worms to her off-springs while in whelp. Which is why deworming is recommended.
Some people start feeding their bitch ‘extra’ from the next day after mating. It is not required. For the first 35 days you need not add unnecessary stuff in her diet. The best is to increase her number of feeds two weeks after she has been covered. If she is in two feeds per day, make it three, but keep the total quantity of food the same. Gradually increase the protein content in food and increase the number of feeds as the time passes to five feeds per day by about 10 days before she is to deliver. Some people believe that giving her more milk in her diet, she will produce more milk for her puppies. It is a fallacy. Actually, milk is not required for an adult dog. They are carnivores, hence plenty of proteins are important.
The gestation period among dogs is 58 to 62 days. If a bitch has conceived, she will start showing many tell-tale signs, like she will begin to look more attractive, filled up. Her nipples will get larger. Her gait would change. Though some bitches tend to remain frisky even till the last day. Please do not start to prod her in the hope of locating her puppies in the womb. They are very tiny and difficult to locate. This may be left to a Vet or a person who is a very experienced breeder. At around 50 days a careful observer can feel the movement of the puppies. Especially when she is sleeping sideways after a meal, if you place your palm gently near the diaphragm, you may feel as if a fish has jumped in a pond. By about 53 days their movement can be easily felt. However, an ultrasound will give a clear picture. Thus leave all that on your Vet.
Many times, bitches show none of the signs and one fine morning you suddenly find her nursing a tiny pup. And the worst thing happens when after all the signs she delivers nothing! That is why I suggest leave all those worries for your Vet. Generally bitch starts ‘making a nest’ in some corner of the house, which she considers as safe at around four to five days before she is due. It is best to provide her with a proper whelping box, from day one after mating; irrespective of the fact whether she has conceived or not. It takes time for her to change from her usual bed to a whelping box. For a breed like a Labrador retriever or a German shepherd a whelping box of 4’ by 4’ is ideal. It is a wooden box with six-inch-high walls on all sides. The front wall is attached with a hinge to the floor, so that it can be opened a laid flat on the ground. About one inch above the floor of the box a ‘puppy guard rail’ of a wooden baton about one inch square may be fixed. This saves the puppies from being accidentally crushed by the dam.
Nature prompts the bitches to dig before and even during the labour. This is an age-old instinct, as the dogs lived in lairs and they dug through the leaves to make a safe bed cum hiding place for the litter. I found it practical to use thick gunny cloth and tightly tie it at the corners with the wooden floor of the whelping box. You may try that. As the time approaches, dams begin to whine, get restless, and even go off food a day or two before the due date. Comfort her and do not show any anxiety as this will alarm her further. Always keep in regular touch with your vet and request him to pick up your phone, may be even at odd hours! However, in addition you should be prepared and well equipped, because some bitches deliver much before the due date. Yu must keep lots of cotton wool, a sterilized scissors, surgical gloves, a comfortable chair, a thermos of coffee or tea (if you prefer) and a book to read (if you like). Normally a labour may take 30 minutes to seven, eight hours. Depending upon size of the litter and health of the bitch, the time may vary.
A few minutes before whelping she may dig and turn round and round and pant a lot. She keeps changing her position, may sit and try to push. A good tip here is that in case her labour is taking lots of effort, just comfort her and make her stand. She will deliver, but then you will have to receive the new born covered by a caul in your palms. Then make her sit. Once a pup is delivered, a bitch feverishly tries to clean it and also sever the cord with her teeth-people often believe that ‘she was trying to ingest her puppy…’ Nothing of that sort happens. Even a first-time bitch severs the cord with her teeth expertly. But in case she is tired or her bite is uneven and her teeth are not able to do so, you will have to help. Hold the cord between your thumb and fore finger of hand about two inches away and cut with a sharp scissors. She will do the rest of the job. If she can’t then you have to clean up the mess with cotton wool, pretty fast. Everything has to be done in front of her, without any sign of anxiety on your face. However, redeeming fact is that this situation arises very rarely. Between the two puppies or even before the arrival of the first pup, you may have to wait what may appear to be endless and tiring. During that time the chair, coffee and the book comes handy. And mind you during the whelping period no one should be around, except yourself!
In case she makes effort and is not able to deliver anything and nothing works, then please do not hesitate to call your Vet, as further delay may be hazardous for the dam. Once the whelping is over, the dam sleeps peacefully. Yes, during the whelping she may eat all the placenta. Some people are against that. However, I have found that it is a nature’s provision to give extra protein to a dam who has not eaten anything for past 36 hours or even more. Once everything is over, you can relax too and catch some sleep, as you have to do lots of work in the next two days, which you will read in the next issue.