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Breeding and Pre-whelping Management in Dogs

Oestrous cycle:

The average age at the time of puberty in female dogs is 9 – 10 months of age, but can range from 6 to 24 months of age. The time between oestrous cycles, is extremely variable and can range from 4 – 12 months. The oestrous cycle is divided into four components – proestrous and oestrous, dioestrous and anoestrous.

What is involved in a season or heat (pro-oestrous and oestrous):

  • Pro-oestrous: begins with vulval swelling and blood tinged vulval discharge (can last 3 – 17 days)

  • Oestrous: is the acceptance of mating. Each oestrous period can last from 3 – 21 days, with an average of 9 days. During this phase the vulva will be less turgid and the vulval discharge is usually less bloody.

Progesterone assays:      


  • The collection of blood for a progesterone assay, allows us to determine when ovulation has occurred, and  thus the optimal time to breed.

  • Often serial (every 2-3 days) progesterone assays will need to be collected , depending on the initial results.

  • Ovulation occurs when progesterone level is 16 –24nmol/L

  • Fertilisation should occur 2 days after ovulation. (So if the method of artificial insemination is being used we will use progesterone levels to determine the point of ovulation and then recommend artificial insemination 2 days later.)

  • Progesterone levels can also be measured prior to whelping – a caesarean can be performed (to ensure viable pups) if progesterone concentration is below 7.5nmol/L

Artificial insemination (AI)

  • Artificial insemination is carried out to assist in the optimal placement of semen in the vagina

  • Artificial insemination is indicated in dogs that are physically incapable of natural service, or in assisting those who have reduced libido.

  • This process is required when using frozen or chilled semen, to ensure the best chances are taken to obtain a successful pregnancy

  • Semen is collected manually from the male and evaluated prior to insemination

Diagnostic imaging to confirm successful pregnancy/foetal viability include:

  • Ultrasound

    • Can be performed 3.5-4 weeks following mating

  • Radiographs

    • Are used to accurately determine the number of foetuses

    • Must be done after 50 days of pregnancy

    • Only one radiograph study is to be done (excessive radiation exposure can damage the foetuses)

Pregnancy length in dogs depends on the type of mating:

  • With artificial insemination:                            61 days

  • Natural mating (from first mating date):        63 (± 7 days)  


Predicting labour:

  • Transient decrease in rectal temperature in most dogs (by 1.1 – 1.7°C) will usually occur 6-18 hours before parturition.

  • Loss of appetite during the last 24-48 hours of gestation

  • Nesting behaviour

  • Progesterone assays (as mentioned above)


Stages of labour:

  • Stage 1:

    • Signs: nesting, restlessness, shivering, anorexia, panting

    • Can start contractions

    • The cervix dilates during this stage

    • Lasts 6 – 12 hours.


  • Stage 2:

    • Obvious abdominal contractions

    • Passage of amniotic fluid

    • Delivery of puppy

    • Should occur within 3-6 hours, with inter-pup interval of 20-30 minutes. 

  • Stage 3:

    • The placenta should be passed 5-15 minutes after the birth of each neonate. All should be passed in 4-6 hours.

    • The dam removes amniotic membrane and cleans the neonate

    • She will severe the umbilical cord and eat the placenta

    • If she fails to remove the membrane from the neonates face the owner should do so.

    • Cleaning the pup is important for bonding between the dam and neonate.

Dystocia (difficulty whelping)

  • Is most common in chrondrodysplastic (e.g. Dachshunds) and brachycephalic (e.g. bulldogs, Boston terriers) breeds

  • Two most common causes –

    • Uterine inertia – failure to develop and maintain uterine contractions sufficient for normal progression of labour.

    • Foetal mal-presentation

  • Early recognition is very important and to seek veterinary attention if you have any concerns

  • Indicators of dystocia:

    • Stage 1 labour hasn’t progressed to stage 2 within 12 hours

    • First pup hasn’t been born within 2 hours of amniotic fluid

    • Abnormal vulvar discharge (green discolouration, haemorrhage)

    • Foetal membranes

    • Partially delivered foetus for more than 10 minutes.  

    • Dam discomfort – abdominal contractions without progress, vocalisation, signs of pain.

    • More than 1 hour of active labour between births

    • Labour appears to have stopped before entire litter delivered

    • Any sign of illness in full-term female

    • History of previous dystocia



A female dog’s nutrient requirement during lactation is greater than at any other life stage.

During gestation, particularly the last few weeks you should be feeding a good quality (Hills, Royal Canin or Advance) highly energy and protein dense food, such as puppy (growth) food. This should be continued throughout the lactation period.

Husbandry management of pups:

  • If the dam is not producing enough milk, the pups may require supplementary feeding with a milk replacer such as Di Vetelact. Feeding should occur every 2 hours.

  • The pups should be kept in a clean and warm environment.

  • You should start to introduce solid food to the pups at 4-5 weeks of age, using a good quality puppy food (premium brands include Hills, Royal Canin and Advance).

  • The pups should be wormed at 2, 4, 6, 8 weeks of age

  • The pups can be vaccinated and microchipped from 6 weeks of age

If you need further advice on the breeding of your dog, or on her management  during her pregnancy and after whelping, contact us to book an appointment.

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