Breeding and Rearing Puppies

Breeding from a bitch is not a task to be undertaken lightly. It involves hard work and planning.

It rarely should be undertaken outside of the keeping of pedigree dogs, and this should certainly only happen if advance arrangements are on hand for the rehoming of a substantial number of demanding puppies.

But, a huge 70% of dog and cat pregnancies in the UK are actually unplanned, which is why it is so vital to get yours spayed or neutered ASAP, particularly if they will be in a litter of brothers and sisters.

We do not agree with ‘Puppy Farms’ or the breeding of puppies for profit. Please consider adopting or rehoming a dog from a shelter. This guide exists to inform you how to breed safely in the event you have no alternative

This subject is long and involved, and this article will give but a brief resume of the major facts. If you are at any time in doubt as to the well-being of your bitch or puppies, seek the opinion of your local veterinarian professional.

Pregnancy

The gestation period of a pregnant bitch is around 58-68 days (around 2 months). If you wish to be certain regarding a pregnancy, an ultrasound scan at around 28-35 days will usually confirm the situation, and perhaps give some idea of the size of the litter.

The bitch usually becomes noticeably distended, and increasingly so, during the last 3 weeks of pregnancy. During this period she will require increasing amounts of an appropriate high protein diet.

Feeding

Making up your own diets involves either a degree in nutrition, or a huge amount of homework, or guessing and taking a chance – which we would not recommend in such circumstances.

There are now many high-quality diets available for this purpose. They have been scientifically formulated at great expense, and they do what it says on the bag! Use one, forget the guesswork, and get it right.

These diets are often advised by vets for both their patients and for breeding and are a great option for both the bitch and the puppies. Mum lives on it throughout her pregnancy and the rearing period, and for a few weeks after the pups have gone, in order to regain her normal weight.

The pups start on it, soaked and sloppy, as the first food from around 15-20 days of age. Use a puppy milk replacer for 2-3 days only, just to get the pups lapping well, then straight on with the sloppy food. A couple of weeks later and they start to take the food dry, and their water intake increases.

Whelping

This is the scientific term for giving birth. The bitch will become restless as labour commences. Have a whelping box ready for her.

Something around 1-metre square is fine, with edges about 0.3metre high would be fine for an average bitch. Obviously the exact size depends on your dog.

For hygiene, it’s actually simpler to have a box with no base. This can be placed onto a thick layer of substrate (large tissue, pads or newspaper is fine), then easily moved along with mum and pups onto a new patch with fresh bedding, when required. This approach is a quick & easy one.

Keep the bitch in the box for whelping, then she’ll stay there with her new pups. Once she starts pushing, a pup should appear fairly quickly. The waters burst and a pup should follow. If there is no pup by 2 hours after any evidence of pushing, then the bitch should be taken to see the vet.

Don’t leave it any longer than that or further complications may occur. There are a number of situations which can necessitate a caesarian section, and you must follow your own vet’s guidance at this time.

In the normal course of events however, the puppies will be produced at intervals over a period of several hours. Litter sizes vary enormously from 1 to 20! Larger breeds tend to have bigger litters and vice versa. Once the bitch has had the last puppy, she will seem more relaxed, and will probably wish to go outside to “wee”.

This may occur halfway through the litter as well, so be aware! Assuming everything seems to go well, leave mum with puppies at all times, ensure that all pups get a go at sucking, and take mum and pups to the vet for a check-up within the next 24 hours. Sucking soon after birth is very important, as this ensures that the pup receives colostrum, which is the first milk of the bitch, containing large amounts of disease-preventing antibodies.

For the first couple of weeks, mum will suckle the pups. Then supplementary feeding starts around 15-20 days of age (see above).

Worming

This is very important. The bitch should be wormed during pregnancy and then start worming the pups from 3 weeks of age. Worm in accordance with the product instructions – typically this will be at 3, 5, 7 weeks old & then every 4 weeks until they’re 6 months old.

There are many options available in liquid or granular form, make sure to select one which is safe for puppies. Every time you worm the pups, do the bitch too.

Weaning

This is started by introducing feeding to the puppies. As puppies grow, so bitches become more fed up with them! But they will continue to suckle until the last puppy has left. Puppies can leave to go to their new homes from 6 weeks of age, but 8 weeks old is probably best.

In most cases, there will be a period of a few weeks over which the pups will gradually go, but try to make this period as short as possible by advance advertising of the puppies for sale. Get the new homes lined up & organised.

If you’re registering the puppies, then get the paperwork done as soon as they’re born! The processing often takes a few weeks, and any delay on your part can make things difficult later on for the new owners.

Consider providing a period of puppy insurance with the pups – many organisations including insurance companies, The Kennel Club etc will provide this at no cost to you.

Vaccinations

The bitch should have been up to date with her vaccination booster prior to getting pregnant. Puppy vaccinations can start at 6-9 weeks of age, and are usually completed at 12 weeks.