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Pregnancy Management in the Bitch

Updated: Nov 28, 2021

What is pregnancy?


Pregnancy is the period from conception to delivery and usually takes about 63-65 days.

Pregnancy may be:

  1. Planned and natural,

  2. The result of artificial insemination

  3. Accidental (Mesalliance).

How is pregnancy in the bitch determined?


Trans-abdominal palpitation:- Useful technique but lacks sensitivity and specificity.

Ultrasonography (Ultrasound):- Uterine ultrasonography (ultrasound) is the method of choice. First reliable at 25 days of pregnancy, straightforward at 30 days of pregnancy.

Radiology (X-ray):- Valuable for determining/confirming the number of puppies near term.

Diagnostic testing:- Relaxin assay is specific for placental tissue, used 25 days post gestation. False negatives can occur with small litter size; does not evaluate fetal viability or give litter size.

What is the rationale of pregnancy diagnosis?


Pregnancy diagnosis and consequent examinations are important because:

  1. Owners can sell puppies while they are still in utero.

  2. The fertility of a stud dog can be proven.

  3. Normal gestation and fetal health can be confirmed.

  4. Stud fees can be paid on the basis of a positive pregnancy diagnosis.

  5. The owner can prepare for the parturition.

  6. Single puppy syndrome can be confirmed and managed appropriately.

  7. Non-pregnant females need not be treated unnecessarily to terminate a pregnancy.

  8. Differentiate failure to conceive vs. resorption.

  9. Permits therapy as indicated or uterine irritability/pre-term labour in conjunction with tocodynamometry.

  10. Permit early evaluation for failure to conceive.

How is the diet of a pregnant bitch managed?


Pregnant bitches have special dietary requirements. If the bitch doesn't feed well and becomes underweight, she will not meet her own nutritional needs and those of the developing foetuses. This will lead to low puppy birth weight that increases neonatal (newborn) mortality. On the other hand, an overweight female may have huge foetuses and an increased risk of dystocia (difficult delivery).

What are the diet guidelines for the bitch?


The bitch should be fed a high-quality and highly digestible diet, and any diet change should be done before the bitch gets on heat (pro-oestrus). The diet should meet increased needs without excessive feeding as bitches have reduced appetite in late gestation due to foetal distension of the abdomen.

As a rule of thumb, the amount of food should b increased by 10% each week from the 5th week of pregnancy. Puppy food may be introduced from the third trimester as it has highly concentrated nutrients, which will help with decreasing abdominal space in late pregnancy and has a good Ca:P ratio.

Does a pregnant bitch require supplementation?


Supplementation is not required if the bitch is receiving a complete and well-balanced, high-quality commercial ration. Increased intake of a regular diet during pregnancy provides higher calcium and phosphorous requirement. Excess calcium or Vitamin D may cause soft-tissue calcification and physical deformities in developing fetuses.

What are the early signs of parturition (delivery) in the bitch?


1. Mammary glands development and lactation begin 1-5 days before delivery.

2. Vulvar enlargement is noticed.

3. Mucous vaginal discharged is observed.

4. Relaxation of the pelvic ligaments

5. Food may be refused within 12 hours.

What disease conditions are common in pregnant bitches?


The main disease conditions common in pregnant bitches are those that can cause abortions or stillbirths. These include:-

1. Toxoplasmosis (Toxoplasma gondii)

2. Campylobacteriosis (Campylobacter jejuni).

3. Salmonellosis (Salmonella spp).

4. Escherichia coli.

5. Canine herpesvirus disease.

6. Brucellosis (Brucella canis).

7. Streptococcosis (Streptococcus canis).

8. Skin conditions because of hormonal changes and stress of pregnancy e.g. hair loss, mange (demodicosis)

What other problems are associated with pregnancy in the bitch?


The other problems that are associated with pregnancy in the bitch include:-

1. Pseudopregnancy (false pregnancy or pseudocyesis).

2. Parturition (delivery) may not occur spontaneously and may require induction.

3. Difficult delivery due to problems associated with the foetus, the bitch or a combination of both.

What behavioural changes are there during pregnancy?


1. A number of behavioural changes occur during pregnancy, becoming most evident towards the end of pregnancy (delivery) and this may include aggression.

2. Behavioral changes of pseudopregnancy (false pregnancy) can mimic those of pregnancy.

Figure 1:1 Bruce W. Christensen /Pregnancy in Dogs



Almeida, V. T., Uscategui, R. A., Camacho, A. A., Sousa, M. G., Santos, V. J., Maronezi, M. C., . . . Feliciano, M. A. (2018, May). Influence of estrous cycle and gestation on cardiovascular system of bitches. Animal reproduction science, 192(35-43). doi:10.1016/j.anireprosci.2018.02.006

Arlt, S. P. (2020). The bitch around parturition. Theriogenology, 150, 452-457.

Christensen, B. W. (2018, August). Pregnancy in Dogs. Retrieved from Clinician's Brief:

Kustritz, M. V. (2005). Pregnancy diagnosis and abnormalities of pregnancy in the dog. Theriogenology, 64(3), 755-765.

Lopate, C. (2018, July). Gestational Aging and Determination of Parturition Date in the Bitch and Queen Using Ultrasonography and Radiography. Veterinary Clinics: Small Animal Practice, 48(4), 617-638. doi:10.1016/j.cvsm.2018.02.008

Whitacre, M. D. (1992). Detection of intravaginal spermatozoa after natural mating in the bitch. . Veterinary clinical pathology, 21(3), 85-87.

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