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Pregnant dog care

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With the right medical and nutritional support, every dog can have a healthy pregnancy. (© Hemera / Thinkstock) With the right medical and nutritional support, every dog can have a healthy pregnancy. (© Hemera / Thinkstock)

By Rose Springer
 

Virginia-based veterinarian Dr. Katy Nelson has three words of advice for dog owners thinking about breeding their dogs: Don't do it. "Just because your dog is cute and your neighbor's dog is cute does not mean they should get together to make puppies," says Nelson. "You need experience and know-how to breed. It's not something to be taken lightly."

Nelson suggests spaying and neutering to avoid unplanned pregnancies. If you do find yourself tasked with the care of a pregnant dog, there are important steps you can take to ensure a healthy pregnancy and delivery. Below, Nelson weighs in on how to provide the best prenatal and postnatal care for your pet.

Veterinary Visits
When you first suspect your dog is expecting, it's important that her veterinarian examine her in order to confirm the diagnosis. "Infections to the uterus can mimic pregnancy, with an enlarged midsection and discharge," says Nelson. "These infections can be life-threatening, so it's important to rule this out."

Once your vet establishes your dog is indeed pregnant, her vaccination schedule should be checked to make sure she is up-to-date. "Maternal antibodies last 12 weeks in puppies," explains Nelson, adding that the puppies "benefit from having a fully vaccinated mother."

Dogs gestate their babies for nine weeks. Your dog will see her doctor two or three times during this period. The veterinarian can help you to anticipate what to expect during labor, especially if your breed has notoriously difficult deliveries. "Dogs with large heads and small butts often have labor complications," says Nelson. "For example, bulldogs almost always need C-sections."

Nutrition and Exercise
Because her most pressing need during pregnancy is for more calories, a pregnant dog should be fed a nutrient-dense puppy formula beginning immediately after her status as a mother-to-be is confirmed. Make sure, however, that the formula you choose is for small- to medium-sized pups, as large-breed puppy food contains fewer calories in order to slow growth.

Like a pregnant human, a pregnant dog can benefit from regular exercise. Stick with low-impact exercise, such as walking and chasing. If her muscles stay toned, she'll have a safer labor and delivery."

Labor Day
In advance, prepare a private, quiet place for the birth to occur. "Like human females, a female dog doesn't want 10 people in the room when she's in labor," says Nelson. She suggests providing your pet with a birthing area -- a comfortable bed or box. Nelson also suggests a room with a tiled floor to make cleanup easier.

Your veterinarian should speak with you about the signs that your dog is going into labor. "She may become very aloof, or on the flip side, very clingy," says Nelson. Follow your dog's lead: If she doesn't want company, don't force it on her. "Her hormones are raging. She's very protective of these arriving babies. Read her body language and take it seriously."

Postpartum
As with your pregnant dog, the most important consideration for your new mother is nutrition, specifically a higher caloric intake. She should continue to eat puppy food until her puppies have weaned (about eight weeks after birth). "Especially if the litter is big -- more than three puppies -- intense nutritional support is in order," says Nelson. Consult your dog's veterinarian about how much food she'll need.

You should also be tuned in to the mother's overall health. Postpartum dogs can develop eclampsia, which results from a calcium imbalance and can be life-threatening. It usually happens within a week of delivery, and signs include shaking, seizures and lethargy. If your dog exhibits these, get her to the vet immediately.

With the right medical and nutritional support, every dog can have a healthy pregnancy.

Rose Springer is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in The New York Times and Rolling Stone. She lives in Brooklyn, N.Y., with the prettiest pup dog in the five boroughs.

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