"We thought it would be nice to breed our cocker spaniel… just let her have one litter, before spaying her. There’s obviously a lot to read up on before we pursue it, but what are the most important things to know about pregnancy"? – Lola
That’s exciting Lola! It’s always lovely to have a litter of puppies in the house, but do make sure you do your research first because there’s so much to consider. I could write a book on it, so this is hardly going to touch on the subject, but it’s a good starting point.
Firstly, make sure your little cocker is ok to breed. She shouldn’t be bred on her first season, and she should be fully grown, which for some dogs, takes over 18 months. It is worth letting her have a couple of seasons prior to breeding, so that you know how long a gap there is between them. That way you can be prepared for the third or fourth season, which is when you would take her to the stud dog.
Next, make sure she’s healthy enough. There are quite a few genetic tests which your vet can do, to ensure she doesn’t have any hereditary diseases which might get passed down to the puppies. At the very least, your vet should take radiographs of her elbows and hips, to ensure she doesn’t have elbow or hip dysplasia. Other genetic tests to consider are Progressive Retinal Atrophy, Adult Onset Neuropathy, Familial Neuropathy and Acral Mutilation Syndrome. These can all be arranged through the Kennel Club.
So, assuming she’s fine, and assuming she mates and falls pregnant, she will be pregnant for an average of 63 days. A pregnancy can be confirmed with a blood test after day 22 or by day 42 via an ultrasound scan. It is impossible to be certain how many puppies are in the mother unless an x-ray is carried out after day 45, which is when the puppies’ bones have calcified, however this can be harmful to the development of the puppies and so is not routinely done.
Signs of pregnancy include the mother acting sleepy, grooming herself more than usual, and gathering items to make a nest. Her abdomen may feel firmer than usual, and towards the end start to bulge, and the nipples will rapidly grow. After four weeks, her appetite will increase and it is important to feed her more, as she will be using a lot of energy to provide the puppies with all the nutrients they need. She will also gain roughly 30% of her ideal weight during pregnancy.
During pregnancy, everyone who comes into contact with the mother should be very gentle with her. She should have a warm and comfy area to rest, where it is quiet and she will not be disturbed. She should still be encouraged to exercise, however a 15 to 20-minute walk with limited jumping and running is all that is needed.
Towards the end of her pregnancy, her temperature will suddenly drop to below 37.7 degrees Celsius. This means that she is about to give birth in the next 24 hours. Most dogs can manage by themselves and you just need to monitor from a distance, but it is important to know when things are going wrong, and be quick to act if there are complications. These scenarios can include being pregnant for more than 70 days, being more than 24 hours since the temperature dropped and there have not been any puppies, one puppy has come out and it has been over two hours and no more have made an appearance (if you know there is more than one puppy), the mother is in extreme pain, there is excessive blood or she is showing signs of weakness or extreme distress. In any of these cases, she must immediately be rushed to an emergency veterinarian. It may be the case that a caesarean section will be needed to remove the puppies surgically.
The best thing to do, is do your research, and have a long conversation with your veterinarian. He will be very knowledgeable about the whole process, and will be more than happy to help. Breeding is certainly not for the faint hearted, and so ensure you know all there is to know before even taking your girl to the stud dog. Good luck!