Care of the Breeding Bitch

Compiled by Pam Kaye

Before Breeding:

  • Before breeding a bitch, the breeder should be sure that there are homes for all of the expected puppies.
  • The breeder should also consider the amount of work involved in caring for a litter of between six and twelve puppies once they get to be over four weeks of age. They will require adequate space, lots of clean-up, and a huge amount of attention focused on preparing them to arrive at their new homes ready to become well-adjusted family members.
  • It is recommended that the bitch should be at least two years old before whelping.
  • The breeder should have confirmed that the bitch is suitable for breeding by arranging for a hip x-rays (OFA or PennHIP), MDR1 testing, brucellosis testing and CERF testing.  Knowledgeable stud owners and puppy buyers will want to see the results of these tests.
  • Only healthy females without medical conditions such as hypothyroidism, severe allergies, seizures, etc. should be used for breeding.
  • The bitch should be in optimal physical condition. Proper weight is especially important.
  • The bitch should be under the care of a vet for any pregnancy-related problems.  A pre-breeding exam is recommended. Dogs can have miscarriages. Illnesses, diseases, or infestations that the bitch picks up during her pregnancy can affect the puppies. Difficulties during whelping are entirely possible.  You must be prepared to get her to the vet quickly in an emergency. Dogs sometimes need c-sections. Puppies are sometimes stillborn, or ill when born. The bitch may even die during whelping. The breeder should consider carefully the potential costs and risks before deciding to breed.
  • Be sure the bitch is up to date on all her vaccinations before she is bred.  She should NOT be vaccinated during pregnancy.
  • Roundworms and hookworms can both be transmitted from the pregnant mother dog to her unborn puppies. If you have concerns about internal parasites for the puppies, speak to your vet about worm control. Daily medication will be needed but it is possible for worm free puppies to be born.
  • If the expectant mother uses a heartworm preventive product normally, she may continue to do so during pregnancy. Please consult with your vet to determine which products are safe for pregnant and lactating bitches.
  • Flea control in endemic areas is important during pregnancy, though it is more important after the puppies are born. Since some treatments are topical and others are given orally, please consult with your vet to determine which products are safe for pregnant and lactating bitches.
  • Canine Herpes virus infection causes a minor cold in adult dogs but can cause abortion in pregnancy as well as death in newborn puppies. No contact with outside dogs is your best prevention in this matter.

During Pregnancy:

  • Calcium supplementation may be tempting but it can cause life threatening problems for the bitch.
  • The benefit of dietary supplements is highly controversial. There is anecdotal evidence to support the use of folic acid in breeding bitches to prevent cleft palates and other birth defects.
  • As the bitch’s weight and food intake increase, begin offering small, frequent meals to spare her the discomfort that larger meals can cause.
  • Some breeders advocate supplementation with a protein source such as evaporated milk, eggs, meat or liver. These supplements should never represent more than 10% of the bitch’s daily food intake.
  • Feed her the usual maintenance diet for the first 4 weeks of pregnancy. Then gradually increase the amount of food so that by whelping time she is eating about 1 ½ times her maintenance diet.
  • Consider switching to a dog food that is specifically formulated for pregnancy and lactation. It should contain at least 29% protein, at least 17% dietary fat and less than 5% dietary fiber.
  • Due to possible whelping problems, make sure that the bitch does not gain any excessive weight during this period.

 Weeks One Through Three

  • Continue with normal feeding and exercise.
  • Bitch may exhibit morning sickness or nausea at feeding times.
  • There may be some changes in her personality – may become more loving or clingy.
  • There are no outwards signs of pregnancy during this time.
  • Embryos implant in the uterus wall around day 19.

Weeks Four Through Six

  • A vet can palpate the abdomen between days 28-30, and can also do an ultrasound around the same time to confirm pregnancy.
  • Organogenesis occurs during these three weeks. Embryos are at their most susceptibility to developing defects within these three weeks.
  • Signs of pregnancy will include a loss of tuck in the belly area and the beginning of mammary development.
  • The switch to puppy food should take place during the 5th week with a slight increase in food.

Weeks Seven Through Nine

  • Organogenesis is complete and fetuses are just growing larger from now until the delivery.
  • Between the seventh and eighth week, you should be able to feel movement of the litter, when the bitch is at rest.
  • Bitch will shed most of her abdomen hair. Nipples and mammary glands will be pronounced as she will continue to grow larger.
  • Bitch may exhibit nesting behavior as she gets closer to the delivery date. She might also eat less at any given meal, so it is recommended that you feed 3 smaller meals during the day.
  • Set up a whelping pen and assemble all the whelping supplies in one area.
  • Begin taking her temperature two to three times daily during the last week before her due date. Normal temperature in a dog is between 101-102.5.  As she gets closer to the due date, her temperature will begin to be lower than the normal temperature. It might be low at the morning reading, but be back up around 99-100 degrees later in the day. When it drops to around 98 degrees and stays low, this is usually the indication that pups will be born within the next 24 hours.

 After Whelping:

  • Nutritional deficiencies are most likely to occur after birth when the bitch’s body must cope with the stress placed on it by the demands of lactation
  • Since the bitch’s appetite returns within 24 hours after whelping, she should be fed a highly palatable food (puppy or lactation formula), usually, but not always moistened with water. At about 20 to 30 days after whelping, the bitch needs three to four times more food than normal. By 4 to 6 weeks of age, puppies are meeting most of their requirements with dry food. By this time there is less demand on the bitch’s milk, and her food intake should be reduced. This initiates the process of stopping milk production.
  • Although it is not unusual for a bitch with newborn pups to eat a scanty amount of food for the first week, failure to eat a normal amount for longer than 7 days suggests problems. If the bitch fails to eat, even during that first week, the owner should carefully examine her for other problems such as fever, foul smelling vaginal discharge, pale gums, or dehydration. Ideally, the bitch’s temperature should be taken daily for the first week after birth.
  • It is normal for a bitch to lose some body weight during lactation but ideally, the amount lost should not exceed 10% of her original weight.
  • Clean, dry facilities are important. Daily exercise and fresh air can make the nursing process more pleasant for the dam, too. Daily examination of the dog’s mammary glands allows early detection of infection in the breasts, allowing prompt treatment. Of course, a plentiful supply of clean water is very important to the well being of the dam.
  • Take rectal temperature twice daily for 10 days. If temperature is over 102, see your vet immediately, as this can indicate a potentially serious infection.


  1. The Care and Feeding of the Breeding Bitch (Kathleen Hefner, DVM)
  2. AKC Website – Responsible Breeding Steps
  3. Canine Breeding and Reproduction (Julio A Correa, Alabama A&M University Associate Professor, Food and Animal Sciences)
  4. Breeding, Whelping and Rearing Puppies (Liza Lee Miller – 2002)
  5. Mar Vista Animal Medical Center Home Page (updated 2005)
  6. Care and Feeding of the Lactating Bitch (Martin Coffman, DVM – 2001)
  7. Feeding of the Breeding Bitch (and Pro and Cons of Dietary Supplements) (Bulldog information, referencing Kelley and Hefner)
  8. Nutritional Management of the Bitch: Pre-breeding to Whelping (Russ Kelley, MS, 2001)