Mama Dionne cannot hold a candle to the most ordinary dog. The ability of this animal to produce copious “bundles from heaven” surely is one of the many wonders of the world. Dogs have been known to give birth to as many as twenty-six puppies in a single litter. Be that as it may, most dog owners sooner or later will be faced with the problem of pregnancy in their pet. This problem should be met with pleasant anticipation, for there is no reason why, on this account, the operation of an efficient household should be even temporarily disrupted.
The average duration of pregnancy in the dog is from fifty-eight to sixty-five days, with most dogs giving birth on about the sixty-second day. During this period the vigorous animal usually thrives without any special change in its normal routine and gives birth without any assistance. However, there are some principles and suggestions of which every conscientious dog owner should be aware.
The animal should not be bred before it has reached full maturity, that is, not before it is about two years old. The narrowest margin of highest safety in breeding is between the ages of about two and seven years. Animals bred beyond these specified limits are much more prone to the various disease conditions associated with pregnancy. Habitual breeders often may be bred safely after the age of seven because their constitutions have long become accustomed to the rigors of pregnancy. But with the ordinary house pet it is best to re-main within the above mentioned range. This does not imply that animals cannot be bred without danger before the age of two or over the age of seven. Breeding is often accomplished beyond this range with perfectly good results. But the range mentioned is still about the safest for the ordinary house dog.
Female dogs come into heat twice a year, for periods of approximately three weeks. The heat period is easily recognized by the obvious enlargement of the external female organs and the persistent discharge of a variable amount of blood. Meticulous animals constantly clean themselves during this period, so that often no blood is apparent. But the owner will rarely overlook the enlargement of the female organs. During this period dogs also show a certain amount of restlessness and increase in appetite.
The female in heat will most likely accept the male dog during the second week of the heat period. Matings toward the latter part of this week are most likely to result in pregnancy. This means that the best mating time is from about the tenth to the fifteenth day of the heat period.
The male dog has certain peculiar structural characteristics that are related to copulation. There is a bone in the penis of male dogs that assists the animal in achieving and maintaining an erection. There is a so-called “bulb” in the male penis, which after entrance into the female swells enormously and causes these animals to be “locked” together after emission occurs. There is no pain or danger associated with this “locking.” Usually it lasts from a few minutes to a few hours, with the average time being about twenty minutes. The owner should not interfere at this point, but allow nature to take its course. Veterinary intervention is rarely necessary.
During the pregnancy period the animal should be given moderate exercise, and in the first month there should be no drastic change in the normal routine. However, as the abdomen starts to become uncomfortably large, it is advisable to increase the number of feedings while cutting down the quantity of food at each meal. The result will be that the animal will eat more in total quantity, but never too much at any one time. The purpose of this kind of feeding is not to overload the animal at meal time so that it is not made too uncomfortable in carrying its extra burden. The animal should also be given plenty of milk so that it will have sufficient calcium for milk production. It might even be advisable to give the animal a calcium supplement in the form of calcium glu-conate or dicalcium phosphate. The dose will depend on the size of the animal and should be determined by the veterinarian.
Toward the end of the pregnancy the animal will be noted to show a preference for some particular corner of the household. This probably is the spot that the animal has selected as its “lying-in” bed. As a hygienic precaution, and to encourage the animal, the owner may cover this area with newspapers and then shred some more newspapers on it. This should be changed daily.
The labor period of dogs usually lasts only a few hours, and usually the owner will become conscious of its existence only after some of the puppies have been born. The puppies are born with their eyes closed, which is normal. The eyes open when the pup is ten to twelve days old. The average healthy animal not only will give birth without any difficulty, but will maintain its offspring for the five- to six-week nursing period with very creditable neatness and assurance. The owner should assist in making the weaning period gradual. Toward the end of the third or at the beginning of the fourth week, the owner should start to teach the puppies to take milk from a dish. This will lighten the load on the mother dog and will assist in helping the puppy to make its adaptation to artificial feeding when it is finally separated from its mother after five or six weeks.
Though the dog usually endures its pregnancy with no difficulty and maintains its puppies with almost a professional competence, it is almost unnecessary to mention that if any untoward symptoms arise during pregnancy or the nursing period, immediate veterinary consultation is imperative.
The most obvious mishap that can occur is that the dog may not be able to eliminate the pups naturally. This is most commonly due to an improper position of the pups in the womb, or to the fact that the pups may have large heads and the hips of the mother dog may be too narrow to accommodate them. The large head most commonly occurs in the Boston Terrier. If the animal shows signs of straining with no results, a veterinarian should be called upon immediately because, if it is mechanically impossible for the mother dog to give birth naturally, the veterinarian may have to resort to a Caesarean section, which means that the puppies are delivered through an abdominal incision. With most breeds this alternative is rarely necessary. In fact, perhaps ninety-five per cent of all Caesarean operations performed on dogs are done on Boston Terriers.
In addition to difficult birth, or dystocia as it is called medically, two very common and important conditions associated with pregnancy are eclampsia and false pregnancy.
Eclampsia is a condition that may occur within two weeks before giving birth, though it occurs most often in the first two-week period after the offspring are born. It demands immediate treatment, to which the animal generally responds quickly and favorably, though recurrent attacks are not uncommon. Since neglect usually terminates in death, immediate veterinary treatment is imperative.
The symptoms of eclampsia appear suddenly. The animal shows signs of extreme restlessness and the eyes bear an anxious expression. The animal pants heavily and there may be some salivation from the mouth. There usually occur intermittent muscular spasms characterized by stiffening of the legs and falling on the side. In severe cases there may be convulsions characterized by falling on the side, shaking violently over the whole body, champing of the teeth, and copious frothing at the mouth.
The disease is the result of a derangement in calcium metabolism, and the symptoms manifested are those of a hypo-calcemia that is, a lack of calcium in the blood. This appears to be due to the excessive strain placed on the animal in the production of milk.
Treatment consists in the injection of some calcium preparation into the body of the ailing animal and in relieving the mother of the nursing pups. If the veterinarian gives the injection into the vein, relief from the symptoms will be almost immediate. If it is given under the skin, the symptoms will start to disappear after the drug is absorbed. This usually takes from fifteen to twenty minutes. It is safer to use the subcutaneous method because the intravenous method is accompanied by the danger of a possible calcium heart-block, in which case death would result.
The feeding an assimilable calcium supplement during the pregnancy and nursing periods may assist materially in preventing eclampsia. This is one of the reasons why the use of calcium gluconate or dicalcium phosphate was suggested in the general discussion on pregnancy. Eclampsia may be avoided if the pregnant pet is examined periodically by a veterinarian.
False pregnancy is a rather common condition characterized by various symptoms of pregnancy in the unbred, mature female dog or in one that has been bred to a sterile male. It is a normal reaction that usually disappears within ten days to three weeks. It is a minor difficulty that ordinarily needs no special attention, but since it occasionally causes distress, the veterinarian is called upon to administer alleviatory and curative measures to assist the processes of nature.
The most prominent symptom of false pregnacy is the appearance of milk in the breasts. This may or may not be accompanied by loss of appetite and general uneasiness. Often there is an enlargement of the abdomen and the animal presents many outward signs of being pregnant, even to the extent of selecting a “lying-in” bed, thus giving the illusion that it is preparing to give birth. However, as the weeks wear on, the symptoms disappear as mysteriously as they came. The swollen abdomen and breasts reduce in size, the milk is no longer evident, and the animal reacts normally again.
The specific cause of false pregnancy is somewhat obscure though it is definitely related to some sort of hormonal reaction, the details of which are beyond the scope of popular discussion. In treating false pregnancy, the pain and irritation of the swollen breasts may be alleviated by lightly massaging them with camphorated oil.
The veterinarian usually attempts to assist in drying up the milk secretion by means of a drug called stilbestrol, which is nothing more than a synthetic form of female hormone. He administers the drug either in tablet or injectable form, or both. Where the client desires the animal to have rapid relief from the symptoms, repeated injections of stilbestrol or other more potent preparations are given.
Fewer injections combined with moderate tablet doses are sufficient when there is only slight discomfort. Even if the condition goes untreated, the symptoms usually disappear but with veterinary assistance, the time for this may be reduced.