The best way to find out if your bitch is pregnant is an ultrasound scan. This is usually carried out four weeks after mating/insemination. At Millhouse we use a scanner which has colour Doppler, we can give you a good idea of how many pups to expect and an indication of potential problems (and send you an image of the scan if you would like one!) Follow up scans can be very useful if there are a small number of pups or if problems have occurred in previous pregnancies eg resorbed or mummified puppies. It is also useful to check progesterone levels if resorption has occurred previously (progesterone levels have to remain above a certain level or the foetuses will be lost).
We can also discuss the use of herpes vaccination during pregnancy. Herpes infection during pregnancy can lead to infertility, small litters and weak/fading puppies. Herpes vaccinations (one given at the start of pregnancy and one towards the end) have proved beneficial in kennels where herpes virus has previously been diagnosed or suspected.
Despite the complications mentioned above, most bitches have few problems during pregnancy. Very large or very small numbers of puppies are the main concern. If only one or two puppies are present then there may not be enough stimulus for the natural birth process to begin (single puppy syndrome), and a small number of pups usually means each one is bigger and so more difficult to pass out.
A large litter can cause a very distended abdomen (stretching the belly muscles) which makes delivery more difficult, and a prolonged whelping can lead to exhaustion.
Deciding when to intervene and carry out a Caesarian section is not always easy, knowing how many puppies are expected and knowing exactly when the bitch ovulated will help greatly, whelping usually occurs 63 days (+/- 1) after ovulation regardless of the day(s) of mating. The rectal temperature of the bitch usually drops 24hours prior to whelping and if taken regularly (and accurately) is a good guide. The temperature decrease is directly related to the progesterone level so once again a progesterone blood test can give us useful information and indicate if whelping is imminent.Knowing when the puppies should be born and being present at the birth can save lives.
Sometimes an elective Caesarian is the best option to produce live puppies, for example if there is a history of inertia or prolonged whelpings or if only one pup is present
Millhouse veterinary surgeon, Karen Davies, is fortunate to be able to perform Caesarian sections at the local hospital practice where she has worked for the previous 24 years, Maesglas Vets operates 24 hours a day and has excellent theatre facilities.