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FAQ Regarding Reproduction:

On occasion at Damonte Ranch Animal Hospital, clients will have questions regarding breeding their pets.  In this section, we wanted to try to address the most frequently asked questions.  Please remember though, while reading this section, when dealing with reproductive issues, we are dealing with hormones and the circumstances of every breeding and birthing process are different.  If you are ever in doubt or something doesn't seem right, call your veterinarian. 

Females and Breeding:

It is recommended that a female not be bred until ideally she is 2 years of age or older.  There are two reasons for this.  First, pregnancy can be a tremendous physical hardship on the body and prior to 2 years of age, this may be too difficult for many females to handle.  Second, females under 2 years of age are oftentimes not emotionally mature enough to raise their offspring sufficiently.  And if they reject their young, that inevitably puts a huge strain on the newborns and the owner that is then forced to "become mom".

Males and Breeding:

Technically speaking, many males are capable of breeding (are fertile) as young as four months of age.  However, that being said, most males are not able to complete the act until they are approximately a year of age simply due to a lack of maturity. 

Heat Cycles in Females:

Typically female dogs of small breed varieties, on average, come into heat around 8 months of age (although some can come into heat as early as 6 months).  Medium to large breed female dogs usually come into heat around 10 to 12 months and giant breeds usually not until after 1 year of age.  Mostly dogs cycle every 6 months but there tends to be a great deal of variety from one individual to the next.  Usually the heat cycle lasts approximately 30 days.  In the first 10 days, there is typically bleeding and vulvar swelling but she will not be receptive to the male's advances and oftentimes will aggressively chase him off.  During the 2nd 10 days, she is receptive to the male and may or may not be having any bleeding any longer.  Ovulation generally happens during this window of time.  Typically during the last 10 days, she will passively loose interest in the male again.


It is possible for a litter of puppies to have more than one father so one must be very when breeding a female not to allow her any contact with any other male dogs other than the desired sire.  Also, ideally it is recommended to breed the female from the time she is displaying "standing heat behavior" daily until she is no longer receptive - or approximately a week.  Carefully controlling breeding dates not only assists in knowing when to expect the whelping process to begin, but also to minimize the likelihood of runts.


A female is pregnant for about two months ... typically between 58 and 63 days. 

How to verify pregnancy:

One option for confirming pregnancy once it is suspected is ultrasound.  Generally puppies can be confirmed by day 28 to 32 days counting from the date of the last breeding.  Not only does ultrasound allow confirmation of the question "if" but also can verify viability seeing heartbeats and measuring size of puppies.  The only thing that ultrasound is not a great tool for is getting an exact head count.  Its simply very easy to miscount with this diagnostic tool. 

There is a blood test for pregnancy that can be utilized after day 32.

Lastly, x-rays can be taken after day 45 post breeding.  At that juncture, puppy skeletons have mineralized and will be visible on the abdominal radiographs.  It is easier to get an accurate head count on radiographs as well as to make some assessment of puppy sizes vs. the size of the female's pelvic canal.  Having that information is very helpful if one is concerned about the possible need for a C-section. 

She's pregnant for sure ... now what?

Important facts to be aware of once you know your female is pregnant ...

1.  It is important to have your pregnant pet on a good quality diet throughout her pregnancy, but it does not need to be changed to a puppy / kitten food until the last 3 weeks of the pregnancy. 

2.  So long as your pregnant pet is on a good quality plane of nutrition, extra supplementation with pre-natal vitamins is not only unnecessary but it  actually can even be harmful, setting up a pregnant pet for a dangerous risk for developing low calcium problems (eclampsia).

3.  Mammary gland enlargement will typically start to become apparent in the last three weeks of pregnancy.  There is even expressible mild in the last 5-7 days prior to delivery.

4.  It is important to keep your female pregnant pet in good physical condition throughout her pregnancy.  Mild to moderate regular exercise is key.  Overweight or obese females are more at risk for whelping complications / requiring C-sections.

5.  It is ideal to check your female's temperature rectally twice daily for the last 7-10 days of pregnancy.  Normal rectal temperature generally falls in the range of 100 to 102.5 degrees.  In most females, about 12 hours prior to the onset of labor, her temperature will drop significantly to 97-98 degrees. 

Labor and Delivery:

Stage 1 ... During this period of time, the female will oftentimes stop eating as well as show signs of anxiousness and nesting behaviors.  It is a pre-labor period and lasts typically up to 24 hours. 

Stage 2 ... This is the phase of "true labor".  Vulvar discharge might be visible.  You should also be able to observe abdominal contractions.  Sometimes she might "vocalize" but not necessarily. 

Stage 3 ... Once actual labor has started, the first puppy or kitten should be delivered within one to two hours.  If active abdominal contractions are happening for that duration of time and no puppy or kitten is delivered, veterinary emergency intervention may likely be needed.  In addition, it is not uncommon that the female could take 1-2 hour "breaks" in between deliveries.  Furthermore, the babies can be born either head first or tail first. 

During the delivery process, the placenta (the sack around the neonate) can come out just before, surrounding, or immediately after the newborn.  If the sack remains around its face, carefully remove it so that the newborn does not suffocate.  Sometimes the mother may eat the placentas - a totally normal animal behavior.  In additon, usually the mother will chew through the umbilical cords separating the offspring from their individual placentas, but if she fails to do so, you can tie the cord off with sewing thread and then cut below it approximately one inch away from the newborn's body.

When is a C-section necessary:

Please note that here at Damonte Ranch Animal Hospital, we do not routinely perform "scheduled C-sections".  This means that we do not perform C-section surgeries simply because a female is 63 days out from her last breeding date.  Because of the chance that actual conception could have occurred later than that, and then consequently the chances of going in surgically and then finding puppies that are not fully enough developed to survive ... rather than take that risk, prior to performing a C-section, we wulod need to feel confident that the female is actually in labor and showing signs that a C-section is necessary.  Of course, that might mean that a C-section is necessary at 3am ... convienent for mom and babies, but not necessarily for the owner and medical staff involved. 


Once the whelping process is over, mom should settle in with her litter and relax.  She should be attentive to her offspring... cleaning them off and encouraging them to nurse.  In the immediate post-partum period, mom may show no interest in eating.  Within the first 12 hours or so, if she seems disinterested, you can continue to offer her food and water but do not be overly concerned.  But if this doesn't turn around after the first 24hrs, you might want to chat with your veterinarian regarding her status.  Be sure to offer food and water regularly as it is important for her to take in adequate calories and water for successful nursing. 

Do not be surprised if mom is having some vaginal discharge post-partum.  It sometimes can last as long as 6 weeks.  The discharge is called "lochia" and will oftentimes have a blood tinged appearance.  It should never have associated with it a bad odor or abnormal yellow or green color.  If you were to notice any of these abnormal possible looking discharges, or if the mom is acting "sick" ... it is important to seek medical attention with your veterinarian.

Lastly, in the first 2 weeks post-partum, mom's litter should be doing one of 3 things - nursing, sleeping and growing.  If they are spending a lot of time crying, or don't seem to be gaining weight each day, that is a concerning reason as well to seek out veterinary care. 

Post-Delivery Complications:

1.  Eclampsia - This is an emergency, potentially life threatening problem in the mom when her blood level of calcium is dangerously too low.  It can happen in the tail end of pregancy, up to approximately 5 weeks thereafter.  As mom's Calcium level abnormally falls, her muscles and nerves lose the ability to function normally.  Seh will become weak, have uncontrollable muscle tremors, and even seizures can ensue.  If you notice any of these symptoms in your pet ... call your veterinarian immediately.  There is nothing you can do at home once this problem begins.  Oral Calcium supplementation is not the answer. 

2.  Mastitis - This is an inflammatory / infection condition that occurs within the mammary tissues.  The very first symptom typically is a firm, painful mammary gland that the mom doesn't want touched.  Oftentimes the gland will be red or purple discolored.  As the condition becomes more serious, sometimes the gland will abscess, rupture and drain.  Or even more dangerous, if bacteria are able to get from the infected gland into the mom's blood stream, she can get life-threateningly ill and even die of a condition called sepsis.  If you are suspicious that your pet is having this problem, it is important to seek veterinary attention immediately.  Seeing this problem early on and getting mom treatment (pain meds, antibiotics) is always better to do before the problem gets really out of hand. 

3.  Pyometra - This medical problem basically translates to mean "a life-threatening infection within the uterus".  Most commonly it occurs after whelping due to a non-viable puppy that wasn't successfully delivered or a retained, non-delivered placenta.  Other times, pyometra happens in a non-pregnant female - usually about 4-7 weeks after she has "come out of heat".  Clinical signs of pyometra - a VERY sick pet - vomiting, anorexia, lethargy, fever, depression, drinking excessively, abdominal distension, foul smelling / foul looking vaginal discharge are all common symptoms to look out for.  Once pyometra occurs, the only way to resolve it, is to spay the mother.  If you are concerned that this problem may be occurring in your pet, call your veterinarian immediately.

4.  Post-Partum Effluvium - This is a hormonal state that typically occurs a couple of months post delivery and causes the mom to completely shed her coat.  The problem is not itchy, but the mom can lose overwhelmingly impressive quantities of hair.  If the problem does occur, there really isn't any treatment ... just know that it is simply a cosmetc issue and her coat will be thin for a while but eventually will grow back in.

Weaning time:

Generally, puppies and kittens are old enough to be offered solid food and start the weaning process at four weeks of age.  As long as they are eating and drinking well, they can typically be weaned off the mother's milk completely by five to six weeks of age.  Initially, try offering a mixture of canned puppy / kitten food mixed with water so that an "pudding" consistency is created.  Place the food in a flat dish, thereby ensuring easy access.  Of course, babies will be babies ... and oftentimes, they will wear as much of the food as they actually consume.  Bath time may need to become a part of the "learning to eat solid food" routine.  But very quickly they will learn that food is delicious - they will get better at eating their food rather than wearing it, and consequently, you can gradually reduce the amount of water added in. 

To assist in the final step of the weaning process, take mom away from her young for 24 hours, as well as cutting back mom's food by half to 100% (water is ok).  This helps mom with the "drying up of her mammary glands".  As the weaning process is underway, be sure to monitor mom closely.  Sometimes mammary glands can become large, swollen, painful and even infected.  Warm compressing can be helpful if the glands seem just a little uncomfortable, however, if there is any signs of serious mastitis, please call your veterinarian immediately.

Finding Homes for Puppies / Kittens:

One very important point to remember, even though puppies and kittens are oftentimes successfully weaned by 5 weeks, they are not ready at that time to go to a new home.  Ideally, to help ensure appropriate puppy / kitten social development, they should stay with mom and their litter mates until 8 weeks of age.  Ideally, this important socialization process aids in the avoidance of behavioral problems later in life.

Puppy / Kitten Veterinary Visits:

It is important that all puppies and kittens get their first veterinary check up before going to their new homes when they are 7-8 weeks of age.  At this visit, they can get their first round of vaccinations as well as getting their first deworming dose of medication.  Nothing is more important than being able to say that you have done everything possible to get each puppy / kitten off on the right "paw" ... sending only healthy, happy babies on to their new homes.  And be sure to communicate clearly to the new owners that they will still need multiple more sets of vaccinations until they are four month of age.  One set of shots is not "it".



“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.” -Anatole France

“Our perfect companions never have fewer than four feet.” - Colette