Care of the Breeding Bitch
Once she has been successfully mated, there is little need to change any of your bitch's routine for the first four to five weeks of pregnancy. Any variation in her routine may be a cause of stress, which in turn may be detrimental to the pregnancy.
Feeding during the first month of pregnancy should be of the same kind and quality as the bitch has become accustomed. A common mistake is to increase food intake too early in the pregnancy. Any excessive weight gain during this period may lead to possible whelping problems.
So, if the bitch has a good-quality, well-balanced diet there is no reason to change it or administer dietary supplements.
To ensure adequate nutritional status of the bitch prior to breeding, a simple blood test can be done to determine the risk of anemia and the level of blood protein. If necessary, the bitch should be transitioned approximately two weeks prior to breeding to a diet consisting of high-quality and highly digestible meat (30%) and 20% of lipids (fat) mixed with the usual complement, which should contain high amounts of soluble carbohydrates and a low fiber content to avoid hypoglycemia. See also our article about the feeding of the pregnant bitch and the potential benefits and risks of giving dietary supplements to the pregnant bitch.
The correct time to do an ultrasonic scanning to confirm pregnancy is around four weeks. Very few physical changes occur until the fifth week of pregnancy. A blood test done can also be done about the same time, but it should be noted that smaller litters may result in a false negative result. By the fifth week, the nipples and mammary glands swell and darken in color. By the sixth or seventh week, the dam will begin to thicken along the flanks due to the growth of the pups.
Between sixth and seven weeks a pregnant bitch requires additional food to support the growth of the foetuses and milk production to feed the pups after birth. You can start feeding a little extra, increasing the amount of food gradually so that by whelping time she is eating about 1.5 times her maintenance diet. For example, if she is normally fed 400 grams, this should be increased by 100 to 200 grams and divided over two meals. If the bitch is on a quality diet, calcium supplementation is not necessary and may even be detrimental. Therefore, do not exaggerate mineral calcium supply as overdosing may do more harm than good ! Indeed, calcium supplementation during pregnancy does not prevent calcium depletion during lactation (eclampsia) and oversupplementation may actually compound the problem. More about the role of calcium in the diet of the pregnant bitch. If your bitch is accustomed to home-prepared meals, cottage cheese may constitute a good and natural source of calcium and phosphorus. Natural calcium is more easily assimilated by the bitches body. Commercial Premium food specially formulated for pregnancy and lactation already contains the necessary levels of Calcium and Phosphorus. More about the nutritional management of the pregnant bitch and calcium supplementation during pregnancy.
At eight weeks, her meal should be divided into three meals per day so as to avoid bloating and pressure. Omega-3 supplements in the form of a teaspoonful of codliver oil may also be given about three times weekly. If the dam should become constipated, small amounts of mineral oil added to her food may proof useful. During the last week of pregnancy the puppies may take up so much room that the mother may prefer to eat small meals every 3 to 4 hours.
While carrying puppies, the female should of course be given regular exercise, neither too violent nor too prolonged, preferably early in the morning and in the late afternoon during the hot season. It is important that the dam should not become corpulent as a fat, floppy dam is much more likely to experience whelping problems.
From the time she is bred, do not use any flea treatment on her of any kind, as this could have a disastrous effect on the puppies. If the pregnant bitch has fleas, use a flea comb and rub her with alcohol.
A bitch infected with hook or round worms may infect her puppies, so it is a good thing to administer a wormer before mating, or ask your vet for advice on a wormer that is safe to give once your Bulldog is in whelp.
About a week before the estimated date of parturition, the bitch should be introduced to the whelping area and the whelping box. The whelping area should be quiet, secluded, warm and dry.
Following the fifty-ninth day, she should be carefully watched for signs of whelping. The gestation period normally lasts nine weeks, although it may vary from sixty-one to sixty-five days. During the last week of pregnancy the bitch will have to urinate much more often than normal and it is important to let her out more frequently so she can eliminate any excess fluid. She will also appear more nervous or uncomfortable, while she is in fact looking for the right spot to whelp. She may begin vomiting, shivering or panting, and scratch or tear up paper or blankets, trying to nest. Two or three days before the expected day of parturition, the bitch's temperature should be charted. Approximately 12 to 24 hours before labor begins, the rectal temperature drops from a normal 101.5° F (38.6° C) to 99° F (37° C). The drop in temperature indicates the forthcoming whelping.
Unless an emergency C-section is required, the choice for free-whelping or an elective caesarean should ideally have been made beforehand. There are pros and cons regarding elective caesarean sections versus letting bulldog bitches free-whelp. See also: Caesarean section.
However, the choice ultimately should be made by the owner of the bitch. Whatever the decision, it is always best to take your bitch to the veterinarian at the presumed end of the pregnancy to have her examined and have the puppies checked at the same time. In case a natural delivery is chosen, it is particularly important to have an ultrasound scan made to count the puppies. Knowing how many puppies to expect will tell when the bitch is finished delivering.
As a final remark we would like to add that although the bitch comes into season, on average, every six to eight months, this does not mean that she should be bred at each season ! She should be allowed the time to recover from the effects of the previous pregnancy and whelping. In practice this means she should not be bred more than once a year, as would be the case in nature; in the wild, canine bitches ovulate only once a year. This is especially true if her previous litter was delivered by cesarian section. It is further advisable not to have the bitch undergo a C-section more than three times in her lifetime.
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