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What to expect when expecting

A short guide to Canine Breeding and Pregnancy

Breeding – Are you prepared?

Breeding your bitch can be rewarding, but it can also be a lot of hard work and sometimes heartbreaking. Your bitch may require a caesarian section or may lose her pups at or shortly after birth which can be costly and emotionally draining. The pups may need to be hand reared and need feeding every few hours throughout the day and night. Even when all goes to plan there is still a lot of work, mess and noise to deal with! Then you will have to find suitable homes for the puppies. Are you prepared for all of this? If so carry on reading!

As a responsible breeder, it is important to make sure that both the bitch and dog are healthy and won’t pass on any hereditary problems to their puppies. There are various different health screening tests such as hip and elbow scoring, musculoskeletal disorders, eye and heart problems. The kennel club website (www.thekennelclub.org.uk) provides a good list of relevant tests to consider for each breed.

When to breed:

We would recommend waiting until your bitch is around 2 years of age before breeding and ideally she would have her first litter before 4 years old. We would not recommend having more than one litter per year. Your bitch is most fertile and therefore most receptive to being mated 10-14 days after starting her season. To improve the chances of a successful mating we would suggest trying to mate her at least twice 48hrs apart. The stud dog fee can often be costly so you may want to consider progesterone testing (a quick and simple blood test) to help make sure the bitch is mated when she is likely to be ovulating.

Herpes Vaccinations:

A large number of adult dogs carry Herpes virus – up to 50%. In adult dogs, you rarely see any signs or you may see a mild respiratory infection when they first get it. They can catch it from close contact with other dogs for example being in kennels, out walking, dog shows or shooting. It is also thought that it can be sexually transmitted at matings. Once infected, dogs carry the virus for life (hiding in their nerve endings). At times of stress or other illness, they can shed the virus and infect others.

This is not normally a problem except during pregnancy. Herpes virus can cause abortion, small weakly litters, infertility and ‘fading puppy syndrome’ typically seen in puppies up to 3-4 weeks of age when it often results in the acute death of otherwise seemingly healthy puppies. The puppies are normally infected prior to birth. Some will fight it off with antibodies in the bitches milk and others may not become infected.

The Herpes virus vaccine is aimed at protecting the puppies. The first vaccine is given during heat and up to 7-10 days post mating and a second vaccine is given 1-2 weeks before the expected whelping date. Bitches should be vaccinated at each pregnancy.

We have a high number of puppy deaths compared to other countries, a lot of which are presumed to be due to Herpes virus. The vaccine itself is very safe.


Once mating has been carried out, we would recommend that your bitch has an ultrasound to confirm her pregnancy. This can be done from 28 days after the final mating but is most accurate from 35 days.


Panacur should be given to the pregnant bitch from day 42 of pregnancy until 2 days post whelping in order to decrease the worm burden passed from the bitch to the puppies via the placenta and through the milk.


Proper feeding during pregnancy is very important as it increases the strength and survival of the pups as well as helping the bitch cope with pregnancy, birth and lactation.

For the first four weeks of pregnancy we recommend feeding a normal quantitiy of a complete balanced dog food.

From four weeks of pregnancy onwards, ideally you should be feeding a small amount of a complete balanced puppy food in with their own diet, changing it completely over 7 days. This should be continued up until 2 weeks post whelping when adult food should be slowly reintroduced. For the last two to three weeks, the quantity being fed should be increased so your bitch is getting approximately 25% more than normal by the time of whelping. You may need to increase the frequency of feeding as it may be difficult to eat the required volume at one or two sittings. After whelping and during the first two weeks of lactation, your bitch may need to eat up to three times what she would normally. When the puppies are weaning, you should gradually reduce the amount of food the bitch is eating.

Preparation for whelping:

Prepare an enclosed area or large whelping box which your bitch can get used to a few weeks before whelping. It should be in a familiar area that gives privacy to the bitch and is free from draughts. Access in and out should be easy for the bitch. Old towels and sheets are ideal as bedding as they can be easily laundered.


Pregnancy can last from 57-73 days, but on average it lasts 63 days (9 weeks), so it is important to be vigilant around this time. When in the first stages of labour, your bitch may become more clingy, restless and look for seclusion. This can continue for up to three days before whelping starts. Your dog may stop eating and may start intermittently panting, shivering and vomiting. She may also start to make nests obsessively. Look for a clear, slippery (mucoid) discharge from the vulva and a drop in body temperature of up to 1oC in the 24hrs prior to whelping.

True whelping begins with strong uterine contractions, licking of the vulva and the first pups being born. The first pup is usually born within two hours after the strong contractions start. It is born within a sac which may break during parturition or the bitch will have to tear open, if however this doesn’t happen you must break open the sac and clear it away from the pup’s nose and mouth so it can breathe. The cord doesn’t need to be tied.

Between each pup, there can be a delay of anything between 5 minutes and 4 hours. It should be noted that continuously straining for more than 30 minutes at a time is not normal. The bitch will normally clean the pups and encourage them to suckle, if she doesn’t, you can dry them off with a clean towel and try to plug them on to one of her nipples to suckle. When the bitch has finished whelping, she will normally relax and allow the pups to nurse.

Most bitches have a vulval discharge after whelping for several weeks.

When to worry and contact us as soon as possible:

  • If a green discharge is seen prior to the first puppy.

  • Continuous straining for 30 minutes with no puppies being born.

  • Exhaustion.

  • Longer than 4 hours between puppies.

  • Part of a pup protruding but not completely born within 10 minutes.

  • Eclampsia (milk fever). This is caused by calcium depletion during lactation. It is most common in small to medium sized dogs with large litters. If your bitch is panting, weak or twitching, she will need to be seen quickly as she may need emergency treatment.

Hand rearing:

Sometimes sadly things don’t go to plan. Some bitches may not allow their pups to suckle or may not have enough milk, especially if they have a large litter. In these instances, you will have to take over feeding the pups with a commercial dog milk replacement, which is available to purchase from the practice. In the early days, the pups will need to be fed every few hours throughout the day and night so it is pretty much a full time job. Puppies need to be kept warm as they can’t regulate their own body temperature. Heat lamps or hot water bottles can be used to try and keep them at about 30°C for the first week and 27°C thereafter. Pups will also need to be toileted after eating by gently rubbing their bottom and genitals with moist cotton wool.


Weaning should start from 3-4 weeks of age, but it will take about 2 weeks to complete. They should be fed wet food or soaked biscuits that are mixed with water into a thick soup. By 6 weeks of age, the water in the food can be cut down gradually so they are eating proper solids.

If there are any concerns at all in any stage of pregnancy, then please do not hesitate to give us a call on 01285 861090.

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