What to expect when you are expecting
The Smiths were in with Harriet and Bosco, their two new puppies from the neighbor who had a surprise litter. They looked good and we talked about their health maintenance needs for the next year. I asked them if they were planning on spaying and neutering. “Oh, no, we won’t need to do that.” was the response. I asked them if they were intending to breed the dogs. “No, but they are brother and sister, so they won’t do THAT. Besides she doesn’t really even like him.”
I hear a lot of ridiculous reasons why people think spaying or neutering is not necessary, but this one was exceptional in its genius. I told the Smiths that if two intact dogs are living in the same household the odds are essentially 100% that he will get her pregnant at some point, and probably at multiple points, no matter how careful they were. “OK, we’ll keep them separate when she is in heat.” was their solution.
About seven months later we got a call from the Smiths. They had come home from work and found Harriet and Bosco “stuck together” in the back yard and wanted to know what to do.
Of course at this point Harriet is likely to be pregnant. The first option would be to spay her immediately to not only prevent this unwanted litter, but to prevent this from happening every time Harriet goes into heat, but of course that was not what the Smiths wanted to do.
It is difficult to determine if a dog is pregnant until a minimum of 21 days after breeding, so the next option is to wait and recheck at that point to see if there are puppies coming or not. We can either do a blood test or use an ultrasound to see. Sometimes we can get a feel for the number of puppies to expect with the ultrasound, but it is difficult to count accurately, so I rarely make solid predictions.
Harriet was indeed pregnant when we checked 3 weeks after the “stuck together” incident, so now it was time to prepare for whelping, delivery of the puppies, that should happen 63-65 days after breeding. Of course there is some individual variation that is normal, and when there have been multiple breeding episodes it can be hard to tell which one took.
After 45 days of gestation the skeletons of the puppies are mineralized enough that we can see them on an x-ray. It is easier to count the number of puppies accurately on an x-ray, and although it is not absolutely necessary, it is helpful to know what to be expecting. Single puppies and very large litters are higher risk for difficulties with delivery. Sometimes we miss hidden puppies on the x-ray count, but if we know for sure that she has at least 6 puppies and she only delivers two and quits we will know that there is a problem that needs to be dealt with.
At whelping time the mother will start to become restless and seem a little uncomfortable, and her body temperature will drop to 99 degrees within an hour or so of delivery.
When the puppies start coming they should come out within about 20 minutes of active pushing with 20 minutes to an hour of resting in between, once again with a certain amount of normal individual variation. A placenta needs to come out with each puppy. If any of those membranes are retained inside the uterus they will rot and cause life-threatening infection. If mom is straining and straining and not producing a puppy, or if there is an excessively long time between puppies it may be time for a caesarian section. Of course all this activity tends to happen in the middle of the night, so the surgery might have to be handled by one of our very qualified overnight emergency clinics.
Unfortunately Harriet had a single puppy that was too large for her to deliver, and by the time the Smiths brought her in for caesarian section the puppy had died. At least the $2000 surgery saved Harriet’s life. By the way, a simple spay when she was young would have cost less than $300 and would have avoided all the drama.