Being the pet parents of a male or a female puppy always comes with different experiences. The care and management of female pups are not limited to the right feeding and well exercising like male pups but it also includes understanding her behaviours during various phases of her reproductive life, especially for breeders and kennel keepers. This article emphasizes the essentialities of female dogs’ reproductive behaviours.
Age of puberty in Female Dog
The most common age for puberty is 6 to 9 months but due to considerable breed variations existing in a wide variety of canine breeds, the age of puberty is attained over a wide age range from 3 to 24 months. Smaller dog breeds tend to reach puberty at an earlier age than larger breeds.
Generally, the first estrus is observed to be irregular. The first proestrus signs may end abruptly without leading to a standing estrus.
The reproductive cycle in Female Dogs
Female dogs are having unique estrus cycles as compared to domestic animals as every phase is prolonged in them. The female dog is categorized as dioestrus(coming into heat twice a year) and has around 1 to 3 oestrous periods each year. Although an average oestrous cycle is about to last 6 months but this duration sometimes varies between 4 to 12 months. No fixed pattern of cyclic behaviour exists in general, but several breeds (in Indian climatic conditions) have a slight tendency to come in estrus in the mid-November to February months of the year.
- Proestrus lasts on average for 9 days but may last from 3-17 days.
- External signs include valvular swelling, bloody discharge, and an unwillingness towards the male’s mounting advances.
- Vaginal bleeding continues from proestrus until the first week of estrus in most cases.
- During proestrus, a female dog is even found to show aggressiveness when the male tries to mount.
- Increased urination frequency.
2) Estrus behaviours
- The word estrus comes from the Greek word oistros, which means “frenzied passion”.
- Estrus on an average span of 9 days but occasionally it may last from 3 to 21 days.
- Premating exploration and communication take place which includes searching for males, increased vocalization, and restlessness.
- The behaviour of female dogs in estrus results in courtship and mating.
- The prominent change observed is submissive behaviour and the female dog ‘flagging’ her tail, as if exposing her vulva for courtship.
- Variations in behaviour are more likely to happen during the first estrus period than in subsequent ones based on age, season, malnourishment and hormonal imbalances.
3) Dioestrus Behaviours
- On the onset of dioestrus, the bitch again becomes unreceptive to males refusing male advances. The dioestrus lasts for about 60 days, same for the pregnant as well as non-pregnant female dogs.
- Anestrus is the inactive period until the start of the next estrus and this generally spans for around 80-100 days.
Natural mating: when naturally crossed, put both the male and female dog together for the entire oestrous period (about for a week) or allow them to mate every day as long as the female allows (or receptive). It’s adequate if at least three matings happen in the first 6 days after ovulation. Ovulation occurs 24-48 hours after LH surge (day 3-4 of estrus). First oestrous should always be avoided for mating.
- As the pregnancy approaches its end, appreciable behavioural changes are observed:
- Seeking isolation in a quiet place with some bedding material around.
- An innate behaviour of digging is present for nest building.
- As the female becomes more restless, activities like rearranging bedding material will become more frequent as the parturition approaches.
- Decreased appetite.
- Uneasy behaviour, going in and out when placed indoors, getting up and lying down, and postures for urination now and then.
- Her cuddling increases towards favoured individuals whereas becomes defensive against strangers.
Parturition (whelping) – Giving Birth
The Contraction Phase
- Marked by decreased activity with the dog mostly sitting or lying on her side.
- Respiratory fluctuations from 100 to 150 breaths per minute (lasting a minute or two) alternated with normal rates of 18 to 25 breaths per minute and an intermediate rate of 40 to 60 breaths per minute.
The Emergence Phase
- Acutely seen as shivering and strong uterine contractions, the puppy is lodged into the birth canal in a squatting or lying position.
- Externally, a bulge (puppy along with amniotic membranes) appears above the vulva. The chorioallantoic membranes start protruding from the vulva and rupture releasing watery contents. This phase usually lasts for a few seconds but when prolonged, the bitch herself starts removing the foetal membranes by licking and it is natural.
The Delivery phase
- The mother immediately starts licking the foetal fluids and remaining membranes from the puppy which initiates respiration.
- The bitch will chew the umbilical cord and eat the foetal membranes and care should be taken that she should not be allowed to chew it wildly, harming the puppies.
The Placenta expulsion Phase
- Expulsion of the placenta occurs when uterine contractions resume after delivery of foetuses. Canine females have an innate habit of eating the expelled placenta but this behaviour is not necessarily observed in dogs reared indoors.
- During parturition, care should be taken to minimise the disturbances. When disturbances occur while the female dog is in labour, the puppy or puppies may not be expelled. Prolonged disturbances disrupt or halt the labour as the mother becomes fearful and anxious.
- In the initial 12 hours after the parturition, the mother spends the whole time with puppies licking them, protecting them
- She allows regularly familiar people to come near puppies, handling her puppies but remains vigilant for them.
- For the first 7 to 10 days, most of the time she spends nursing them without leaving the site for a longer time. By the end of 2 weeks, her outing time increases.
- The continuous presence of the mother with the newborns helps them maintain body temperature which they are not capable of doing on their own at that stage of life.
- When puppies require intense nursing and warmth in the initial days, the mother stays at the same place where they were whelped instead of switching to another nesting site.
- When the puppies are approximately one month age, their behaviour towards them changes signalling fewer attempts to nurse and reduced frequency of feeding. She starts spending more time away from them.
- She also practices inhibited bites to avoid excess feeding and attachment.
This article aims to meet several goals. Firstly, the intention is to help veterinarians, pet owners and dog breeders gain further insights into the female dog’s communicative, social, sexual, and sensory behaviours during the reproductive phase. Secondly, to provide practical information to pet owners for proper care of the mother before, during and after whelping. Lastly, but not least, I hope it provides interesting information to fellow dog enthusiasts.