Let’s continue with the matter of pregnancy in our companion animals. In last week’s column we listed the gestation periods (lengths of pregnancy) of many animals. However, as we mentioned, you must understand that these numbers, which were documented, are not cast in stone. Biology is not like mathematics.
In the latter 2+2 is always equal to 4 (the smart ones among us could argue that, even in this case, there are exceptions to the rule). In biology however, the gestation lengths can vary. In humans, you will know that although we speak of a 9-month pregnancy, women can give birth at 8½ months, 8¾ months, 9 ¼ months after conception. So, when we say that the gestation length in the bitch is two months, she can actually give birth anywhere between 56-64 days after conception.
How do we know if
the dog is pregnant?
First of all, one must know that the uterus (womb) of the dog (and cat) is not like that of a woman. The uterus is Y-shaped. In other words it has two branches (called horns), and the puppies develop in both branches. A good veterinarian can determine pregnancy by palpating the abdomen and feeling the foetuses 3 weeks (even less) after conception. You, the owner, can also palpate the abdomen. Place the dog on her side; try to relax her by stroking her and using soothing words to her.
Place one hand at the top and the other at the bottom of her abdomen. Press your fingers along the abdomen. If she is a month pregnant, you should be able to feel several small, firm lumps. Those are actually the puppies in the uterine horns.
Now, I must hasten to add that in some breeds (especially the larger ones) the pregnant bitch’s uterine horns are ‘hidden’ in the front part of her abdomen and are therefore difficult to palpate. So, if you don’t feel the puppies, it does not always mean that the bitch isn’t pregnant. Also, I should refer to that condition known as ‘false pregnancy’ which was discussed last month (see March 24 column).
Any time between 4 weeks and 7 weeks, even though the puppies in the womb are bigger, one might not be able to feel the foetuses because the womb is filled with fluid.
Later, as full-term is approaching, the nipples and breasts become enlarged, and if you squeeze the nipples, a white milk-like liquid will emerge.
The other signs of pregnancy are:
– increase in weight
– increase in the size of the abdomen
– increase in the dog’s appetite
Of course, if you want to be completely sure that your ‘Fifi’ is pregnant, you can send her for an X-ray or an Ultra Sound. Forget blood and urine tests (the way it can be done in humans).
Dogs, like humans can suffer from morning sickness. Usually this happens during the third to fourth week of pregnancy.
It is due to hormonal changes, in addition to the stretching and distension of the uterus. You may notice that your bitch appears a little depressed; she may be off her feed or vomit from time to time. Morning sickness lasts only a few days. Unless you are usually attentive, you may not even notice it.
If your female seems to be suffering from morning sickness, feed her several smaller meals spaced throughout the day. Your veterinarian may want to prescribe a drug to relax her uterus. Vitamins B and C may be given.
Pre-natal check ups
Before you breed your bitch it is a good idea to take her to your veterinarian to see if she has any physical abnormalities which should be treated, and to find out if there is a problem which might prevent normal mating or delivery.
Be sure to have her checked for periodontitis and dental infections. Bacteria from the mouth can be passed on to new born puppies during the biting of the umbilical cord. This is one cause of serious navel infections.
Two to three weeks prior to her expected date of confinement, make an appointment to have her thoroughly checked over again.
Your veterinarian will want to discuss with you the normal delivery procedures, alert you to the signs of impending problems, and give you instructions for the care of the newborn.
Be sure to ask where you can get the help (emergency service), if needed, after hours.