Feeding your pregnant bitch

99.9% of the bitches I see where pregnancy is confirmed are noticeably fussy with food, even more so if fed a dry complete kibble. Bitches in whelp seem to prefer 'wet' food be it tinned, home cooked or raw.

All my dogs have really good appetites, but one girl in particular was particularly fussy during her pregnancy, I now feed raw and have not had a problem since, but at that time I was trying just about anything and once visited the local pet store buying a sample of everything they had on their shelf.

People often ask the best food to feed a bitch, and often they have been told to feed a puppy food as it is higher in protein. I never have, tried it once and it came the dam a terrible upset tummy, so have not gone down that route again. You may find they go off food at around five weeks, or when puppies start to grow and fill the abdomen. It may be you will just have to try a variety of foods and feed her what she will eat. To keep things more nutritious, I recommend you vary her meals between things chicken beef and fish with the addition of eggs a few times a week.

Check the ingredients on your food, I see many people who believe there is nothing any better than some of the popular well known tinned meats, or the meat rolls they sell in the supermarket- Read the ingredients, do your research and make your own mind up. Dogs are carnivores, at least 60% of their diet should be meat, not unknown animal derivatives, chicken fat, cereals, corn, gluten, what and salt to name a few of the ingredients seen in a lot of processed diets.

Common mistakes that first time breeders make when feeding a pregnant or nursing dog, are to feed too much, too early in the pregnancy, and then not enough during lactation.

Food should not be increased until the bitch is at least six weeks into her pregnancy, and you should be guided by how many puppies have been seen on the ultrasound. Obviously a bitch only carrying one or two puppies will not need the same amount of food than one who is carrying six plus. Generally food should be increased by around 50% for a litter of 4 - 6 puppies.

For each puppy she has, your dog will require a 25% increase in her caloric intake, up to around a 200% increase in calories. Even if she has 10 or 12 puppies it’s often difficult for dogs to eat much more than this and maintain normal digestive functions.

With a full litter of puppies on the way, your dog is naturally going to gain weight during her pregnancy. However, it’s essential for her continued health – and the safe delivery of her puppies – that she doesn’t put on too much weight. Depending on the size and breed of your dog, she should only put on up to 25 - 30% of her original weight during pregnancy. The best way to control this is to weigh her each week while she’s pregnant and adjust the portion size of her food to reflect her changing weight.

If you are planning a litter, ensure you have contingencies in place -

1. It is a good idea to advise your vet of the impending birth, and have their out of hours telephone number in the case of an emergency.

2. Check what happens if your bitch needs a C Section - The average price is between £900/2000 in the West Midlands area as at May 2023. From feedback I have received a lot of vets will not operate if you do not pay money up front, even in the even of an emergency. Some vets have installment plans, some will agree to perform a C Section if they spay bitch at same time (which is not always wise anyway), if you agree to pay within 7 days, but not all, so be prepared.

3. Have your car ready to go or transport on hand 24 hours a day in case you need to get to the surgery quickly.

4. Try to have another experienced dog owner available 'on call' to help you if needs be.

5. If you have children or any other pets to think about, you may need someone who can look after them if you need to accompany your bitch to the vet.

Unfortunately I see many bitches who have failed to conceive, most, but not all, have either not had a progestertone test, or have been mated by Artificial Insemination. A progestertone test tells you when your bitch has ovulated, and the prime time for her to be mated. Without this you will be purely guessing, a good stud dog will know when the bitch is ready, but if you are going down the Artificial Insemination route, using frozen semen, or travelling a long distance to use a stud dog, it is even more important you know when your bitch has ovulated.

Failure to ovulate during the first season is quite common. This is usually followed by a short inter-oestrus period and a normal season. Breeders refer to it as 'split heat'. The first season will not always be fertile, as ovulation does not take place.

When trying to find causes for an unsuccessful mating it is important to discuss the mating itself. A tie will improve the chances of conception, although so called 'slip matings' can often result in puppies. When a mating has not been achieved the possibility of lack of libido or incompatibility should be considered. If the dog was very keen and intromission could not be achieved the bitch should be checked for a possible stricture or persistent hymen. Inexperienced owners in combination with inexperienced dogs can make it difficult to achieve a successful mating.

Herpes caninum, although proven to be the cause of neonatal losses, is more difficult to identify as a cause for abortions. It can be transmitted through any dog-to-dog contact and is very difficult to test for. If there is any question about its involvement the vaccination that is now available should be used.

A compromised endometrium or a cervix that remains patent during pregnancy will allow organisms such as Escherichia coli, streptococci and Campylobacter to ascend and invade from the vagina into the uterus and can cause resorptions or abortions. Premating swabs will not give any useful information, as most cultured bacteria are commensals and not pathogens. Many of the diseases we routinely vaccinate for (distemper, parvovirus, leptospirosis, canine adenovirus) can cause resorption or abortions and bitches should not be vaccinated after being mated and you should wait until after the puppies have been fully weaned.

Some breeders will use wheatgerm oil in the months leading up to a bitch being mated to improve fertility, and if you can find no other reason for infertility, you may want to discuss with your vet a thyroid test.

Breeding dogs is both rewarding as well as time consuming, expensive and occasionally heartbreaking, and breeders of purebred dogs will ultimately breed to improve the breed rather than increase its numbers.

There is a trend now for mixed-breed dogs which some people believe are healthier than their purebred counterparts. On the surface, it makes sense as breeders believe if we dip too often into a shallow gene pool the pet is more likely to inherit health problems. So mixing things up between breeds should create healthier genetic hybrids, right? Sadly no, mixed breeds can inherit both sets of genetic disorders from both parents.

Lets look at just one of the popular crossbreeds, the Labradoodle.   If you cross a Labrador that has hip dysplasia with a Poodle that has hip dysplasia, what do you get? Chances are, a Labradoodle with hip dysplasia. In addition to hip problems, Labradoodles are now being diagnosed with Addison’s disease (a deficiency in adrenal hormones) and elbow dysplasia, two genetic disorders that are common to purebred Labradors and Poodles. Unfortunately, Poodles and Labs are also predisposed to inherited eye diseases such as cataracts and prcd-Progressive Retinal Atrophy. Sebaceous Adenitis is not the most common form of dog dermatitis, but it is the most smelly and Poodles are prone to this congenital autoimmune skin disorder and can pass it on to a 'Doodle' puppy. 

Labradoodles became popular because of their coat which many believed were non shedding - unfortunately this is not always the case, and the coat can be unruly at best. On bad days, it is a groomer's nightmare. The long, coarse hair can become like Velcro, picking up burrs and debris everywhere the pup goes. It mats easily and must be brushed frequently. If you wait too long, your groomer may need to shave your shaggy beast. Caring for the coat is clearly not as critical as Labradoodle health problems, but it is a task that takes constant attention.



Raising puppies is a full-time job. During the first couple of weeks the dam normally takes care of the puppies' needs, but a lot of breeders want to be around the litter 24/7 to avoid any puppies being squashed, trod on etc and you also have complications, such as a dam with no milk or an orphaned litter, so you need to be aware that you may not get much sleep, for the first few weeks anyway! You will need to provide a safe, warm, dry place for the puppies away from other dogs and young children, together with good nutrition for the bitch.

Puppies are even more work (and more fun!) when they are weaned. The extra feeding, cleanup, grooming, training, and veterinary care adds up to a lot of hours, and not much free time for you.

Another factor that you must consider is the financial cost of having a litter of puppies. From the genetic screening and health tests before breeding to the extra food, supplies, and medical care required after the puppies are born, the cost of whelping and raising puppies can be very high, especially if complications arise.

Responsible breeders make sure that their puppy goes to an owner who will provide it with the same love and devotion for life that the breeder has provided. This means careful screening and evaluation of each person or family interested in getting a puppy.

Responsible breeders learn everything they can about their breed and know all the pros and cons of ownership. It is important to share this information, including the negative aspects with prospective puppy owners. You should be ready to explain why a dog requiring a lot of coat care or training may not be the best match for a workaholic or why a tiny dog may not be appropriate for a family with small, active children. You should be committed to placing puppies with owners who will provide excellent care, and take them back at any time during their life if the owners circumstance should change.



One month before breeding, you may want your bitch to have a thorough pre-breeding physical examination by a veterinarian, or if you plan to have progesterone testing, your vet will usually carry out an examination at that stage to ensure she is suitable for mating. Her vaccinations should be current, and she should be tested and treated for worms.

The age at which dogs reach sexual maturity depends to a large extent on their breed. Small breeds tend to mature faster than large breeds. On average, however, males become fertile after six months of age and reach full sexual maturity by 12 to 15 months. Healthy stud dogs may remain sexually active and fertile to old age. Adult males are able to mate at any time.

Bitches have their first season after six months of age, although it can occur as late as 18 months to two years of age. Most breeders generally do not breed a bitch at the first season to avoid imposing the stress of pregnancy and lactation on a young, growing animal. It is also customary to avoid breeding a bitch on consecutive heats to allow sufficient time for recuperation between pregnancies.

The bitch's cycle is divided into four periods.

The bitch attracts males, has a bloody vaginal discharge, and her vulva is swollen. Proestrus lasts approximately nine days; the bitch, however, will not allow breeding at this time.

 During this period, which also lasts approximately nine days, the bitch will accept the male and is fertile. Ovulation usually occurs in the first 48 hours; however, this can vary greatly.

 Lasting 60 to 90 days, diestrus is the period when the reproductive tract is under the control of the hormone progesterone. This occurs whether or not the bitch becomes pregnant. False pregnancy, a condition in which the bitch shows symptoms of being pregnant although she has not conceived, is occasionally seen during diestrus.

 No sexual activity takes place. Anestrus lasts between three and four months.


You can have an extremely easy delivery, right out of the book, but you may also have situations which require experience.

Dystocia is the medical term used to diagnose a difficult birthing experience. 


More than 30 minutes of persistent, strong, abdominal contractions without expulsion of offspring
More than four hours from the onset of stage two to delivery of first offspring
More than two hours between delivery of offspring
Failure to commence labor within 24 hours of the drop in rectal temperature - below 99° F (37.2° C)
Female cries, displays signs of pain, and constantly licks the vulva when contracting
Prolonged gestation - more than 72 days from the day of first mating
A greenish black discharge preceding the birth of the first puppy by more than two hours, indicative of premature placental separation
Presence of bloody discharge prior to delivery of the first offspring or between fetuses vaginal wall to elicit abdominal straining, this could indicate uterine inertia

Pre-eclampsia/eclampsia normally can happen ten days after whelping, but can also happen with a large litter, and more in toy breeds in the last few days of pregnancy. (Hypocalcimic shaking and pre-labor shaking can seem the same at first), but if dam is hypocalcimic, and gets eclampsia, the shaking quickly turns to convulsions, muscle weakness, muscle tremors, spasms, rigidity and twitching needing immediate vet assistance before seizures, coma and death. It is wise to give your dam calcium when puppies are five days old (for the next few weeks). Eclampsia (sometimes referred to as Milk Fever) is a very serious condition, and can come on suddenly. It is caused from a shortage of calcium in the bloodstream.

Uterine inertia can also happen with a large litter or large pups. The dam will fail with weak attempts to deliver the pups. She may not even show contractions as her uterus is too stretched. The biggest cause of this is from too much calcium in the diet while pregnant. You should limit the amount of calcium given during pregnancy and give it during, or after puppies are born.

Rupture of the uterus, torsion or hemorrhage can happen. The dam will pass heavy, ongoing flow of blood from vulva. This is a medical vet emergency.

Green discharge, before puppy birth, means early separation of placentas. Call the vet. Sometimes this is okay, if the puppy is to come soon, sometimes not. You You should not see a green discharge until after a puppy is born.

If two puppies try and come out at the same time, it is physically impossible. This may be a cause for concern. This presentation is best discussed with your vet. It could be a medical emergency, or things could just fix themselves if you are comfortable waiting. Call your vet for his advice, as every situation is different. This situation needs an experienced hand. Delivery could progress uneventful, or delivery could get held up and stop.

If after the dam has strained for some time only one foot appears, it may be that the puppy is in an abnormal position, an inexperienced person should NOT attempt to remove the puppy. Call your vet, any delay could risk the life of the puppy and the dam.

It is very important to know how to revive puppies and get them breathing. Not all puppies come out, cry and start breathing. This also takes experience. Puppies need to be rubbed vigorously till they cry and start moving. Some are born and cry easily, but very often they need extra help, and it sure feels good when you know what to do. You will need to get your vet to show you how to get the fluid out of the pup’s nose and throat. A centrifugal force drop done by swinging the puppy down between your legs (holding head VERY secure) is a very useful tool to learn. You do not shake the puppy, nor flick it. The movement is not jerky, but a smooth down-swing with a slow stop. Constant exchanging of warm blankets is also needed. If puppies get chilled in the first days of life, there is a good chance they will not survive. The box needs to be 85 degrees. Puppies are very susceptible to heat/cold. Have your heat pad on, and hot water bottles filled.


I see a lot of people who are breeding for the first time...... during October/November, 75% of the dogs I scanned were pregnant due to accidental matings - bitches left with family members while the owners go on annual holiday, not realising the bitch was in season and get back from holiday to be told she has been 'tied' to a male dog several times before anyone realised.

Whilst some owners are happy their bitch is pregnant, I also see owners in utter panic, they either work full time, or have young children, nowhere to raise a litter and don't know how they will cope. Three bitches I saw in one month alone were under only 8 months of age, one was very immature and natural instincts did not kick in - she didn't produce any milk and had no idea what to do with her puppies leaving the owners hand rearing them. Another young mother went into labour, became totally exhausted after a few hours, had to be rushed into the vets out of hours for an emergency c section, four puppies were already dead, and the other two were very small, again needing hand rearing - both owners being totally unprepared in more ways than one.

Fortuntely, the majority of litters are born and everything goes by the book, but before having a litter, it is wise to know what can go wrong so you are prepared and know the signs and when to contact a vet.

Another sad story came from a lady who's bitch gave birth to one puppy with the intestines on the outside, that died a few moments after birth, the bitch became restless, had a few contractions and the owner realised the next puppy was stuck. She rushed her to the vets for an emergency C section, of the remaining three puppies, two were already dead and had started to decompose, and the third was malformed and put to sleep.

Canine Maternal Hydrops or Excess Fetal Membrane Fluid

Premature Placental Separation - Placental Abruption
The bitch was on day 56 (to the first mating), and had a dark green discharge. Clearly this wasn't normal and the bitch was rushed to the vets, she had an open cervix, but no other signs of labour. She was scanned and all but one puppy had viable heart beats, some stronger than others. The vet did a C Section hoping to save any live puppies, but unfortunately they were all very premature, and it is likely that the bitch conceived on her second mating making the puppies around 52 days. Unfortunately due to the stress, the bitch had a heart attack and she died along with her litter.

I scanned a Great Dane bitch a while ago, first litter for the bitch and the owner - the bitch was 7 years of age and the owner believed she had such an exceptional temperament, she wanted to reproduce this in puppies so they could keep one within the family. The bitch, and the stud dog were both blue merles, and neither the owner of the bitch or the stud were aware that blue merle matings could result in puppies being double merle, and being blind as well as deaf. Unfortunately, the mother and puppies died during an emergency C section.

A popular mis conception with new breeders is that they want a puppy 'exactly' like their mother. Dogs, like people, and vary greatly. No matter how careful you are in selection of a mate, there is no guarantee that you will get the puppy of your dreams. Is it really worth risking up to twelve or more additional lives? I hear of many people who say that Uncle John and best friend Fred and Matilda down the road want a puppy, but unfortunately, there is a great difference between initial enthusiasm and final acceptance of the puppy. Many people change their mind in the period between birth and weaning and even more lose their enthusiasm when they have to deal with housetraining a puppy.

Remember your puppies will all need to be microchipped before they go to their new homes.

Even after the whelping is finished and you have a healthy litter, problems can come. A new mom may have doubts about these puppy things, especially if she had a hard whelping The faster you get all the pups nursing the better. They will get the needed colostrums, and the dam will produce hormones that will actually turn her into a better loving mom. Keep her fluids up, and give her a bowl of warm broth. Some puppies do not take to nursing; you must be prepared to be up around the clock, 24/7. To feeding a slow starting puppy that just will not nurse, have a Puppy milk replacer on hand. Hand feeding one puppy happens, but the worst one must prepare for is feeding an orphaned litter.

Are you prepared to do this as a breeder?
There are so many questions to ask yourself before you breed your dam, as very frequently things go wrong, and being prepared and educated can save your dam and puppies’ lives.


SHOW DOGS and STUD DOGS Stud dog of the week can be a huge disservice to your breed!! But every once in a great while there is that dog who can be bred to multiple styles of bitches and produce well!! Choose wisely my friends. by Richard G. (Rick) Beauchamp: “Show Dogs and Stud Dogs A stud dog is not simply a male dog. Neither do show records or championships have anything to do with a dog’s producing ability. Winning in the show ring proves the dog has the quality necessary to win. Siring outstanding offspring is the only thing that proves a sire’s ability. These are two entirely different qualities. A dog can be a truly great show dog and a poor sire. A dog can hate the show ring and never win a point and be an outstanding sire. It is just as simple as that. The biggest mistake breeders, novice or veteran, can make is to confuse their show dogs with their breeding dogs. They can be the same.

We hope they will be the same. Often they are not There are those who say show wins are the indicator of a dog’s value to the breed. In other words, if many judges agree a particular dog is the current ideal in its breed, the dog should be bred to. I agree - but only to a degree. You can get every judge in the country to agree that the dog of the hour is the dog of the hour, but that same dog can be a complete disappointment in the breeding department. If a dog’s quality is not realized in the whelping box, all we have is a box full of ribbons and nothing more. This is not to say a winning dog cannot also be an outstanding producer. Records prove otherwise.

But I cannot stress strongly enough that it is the producing ability that must be looked to and not the show record! Even the outstanding sire can be misused. Most breeds have had those truly wonderful show dogs who develop records that become the envy of one and all. Unfortunately, they become the envy of too many who feel if a dog is good enough to win every award in sight, it must be good enough to breed every bitch in sight. In a way, the popular stud dog that produces well only with certain bitch lines can be very destructive to a breed.

A few excellent youngsters emerge from the right combination and the parade begins. Every bitch that can see lightning and hear thunder is bred to the dog, but the percentage of quality produced is minuscule. The breed takes a big step backward. This is actually not the fault of the sire, but of the owners of the many bitches who follow the parade to the popular sire, regardless of the fact that he would in fact be the last choice for their particular bitch. Truly great sires are really few and far between. There’s an old saying I heard somewhere along the way that goes something like, “You can breed that one to a fence post and you’ll still get good pups.” They are the rare ones, the ones that any breed is lucky to have, but it is highly doubtful that any breed will have such a dog any more than once in any breeder’s lifetime. This no doubt all sounds perfectly logical, but I could write whole books on the excuses young breeders make for not breeding to the correct dog for their bitch: snow storms, rain storms, typhoons and earthquakes; the correct dog’s third cousin lives down the street; it’s just her first season and I’m “proving” her; etc., etc., etc.

There is only one breeding worth making - the right one.

When it comes time to breed your quality bitch, stop and think, what if this turns out to be the only litter she will ever have!”


progesterone testing

Telephone: 01384 270762 / 07977 155642

I also provide a Pedigree Certificate printing service (any breed)
Please find more details on my Breed website



©Site designed and maintained by Julie Growcott