Pregnancy puts a huge strain on an animal. Her body will undergo some dramatic changes and she'll need lots of extra care and attention. So before mating your bitch, you will need to bear these changes in mind and decide whether you are prepared to cope with them. If you are planning to breed from your bitch, it’s always a good idea to contact your vet or a registered breeder to discuss the pros and cons prior to mating.
Feeding and nutrition
A basic adult-formula dog food won't provide the extra nutrients your dog requires, particularly if she has a large litter of puppies. The ideal solution is to switch her back to a high-quality, commercially manufactured puppy formula, from immediately before mating until some weeks after birth, depending on body condition and any medical problems. Puppy foods are richer in key nutrients, have a higher energy value and are more easily digestible; supporting her through all stages of the breeding cycle. Select a puppy food, wet or dry, appropriate to your dog’s breed and size. If your dog prefers wet food, it may be advisable to mix some dry food into her meals to reduce the volume of food required, as dry food contains more calories per gram than wet food. Always ensure a fresh bowl of drinking water is available and consult your vet to discuss feeding options during this important time.
As with the transition to any new food, moving to a different formula should be done on a gradual basis. Progressively substitute a little of the new food for the old over a period of about a week, until your pet is eating only the new food. As long as mum is on a complete diet, any further supplements will be unnecessary.
Remember also that obesity can be a dangerous problem for pregnant dogs, although pregnancy is not the time to introduce a weight-loss programme. Your vet will help guide you in choosing the right nutrition plan for your pet.
Regular walking helps the expectant mother keep up her strength, although intensive training, showing, or even obedience schooling is probably too stressful (and inadvertent knocks to the body could damage the unborn puppies). By staying fit, she will be much more capable of handling the labour. Your pregnant bitch won’t be particularly delicate at first, but as pregnancy continues walking will become increasingly tiring and uncomfortable. The answer is to reduce the duration but increase the frequency of exercise.
Ideally, your bitch will be up to date with all vaccines before mating. Healthy mothers pass on their immunity to puppies in the first milk they produce, so it's good to ensure antibody levels are at their peak. If she is overdue for vaccines, chat to your vet: some vaccines can be used during gestation but the safety needs to be carefully examined.
Flea control and worming are especially important, both during pregnancy and after the puppies are born, so seek your vet’s advice. Roundworms and hookworms can be transmitted from the pregnant mother to her unborn puppies, so take preventative measures with pregnancy-safe products that have a veterinary license. Discuss the protocol with your vet, as the puppies may also need worming regularly during their first weeks.
Building a ‘nest’
During the final two weeks, build the mother a ‘nest’ where she can feel warm, comfortable and safe for the delivery. A cardboard box filled with blankets, sheets or old towels works particularly well. Place the nest in a quiet spot where she won't be disturbed, ideally close to a radiator or a warm boiler. The ideal temperature is 25-30°C for the first few days, but the heat can then be reduced to 22°C as long as there are no draughts.