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Care Of Bitch During Pregnancy

Dietary supplementation of the pregnant bitches’ usual food with vitamins and other minerals is a practice discouraged by veterinarians in recent years. It is now recognized that many vitamins and minerals may actually be harmful to the developing fetuses or produce serious pregnancy-related complications in the bitch. For example, excess vitamin A is associated with congenital defects such as cleft palate, and vitamin D may compromise the calcium mobilization within the bitch. Excess vitamin C may interfere with normal processes of bone development, and because dogs produce sufficient amounts of this vitamin, supplementation with vitamin C is simply unnecessary. Some breeders insist upon administering calcium supplements to their pregnant bitches, which is an extremely dangerous practice. Although bitches do need to increase their calcium intake, this added source of calcium will be attained by simply increasing the quantity of food they consume. Excessive levels of calcium in the body, which usually occurs when a bitch is supplemented with calcium above the amount found in a high-quality dog food, interferes with the normal processes of calcium storage and metabolism by suppressing parathyroid hormone production. Ironically, therefore, calcium supplementation actually has the opposite effect of its intended purpose because excess calcium interferes with calcium storage and places the bitch at risk for developing hypocalcemia (pre-eclampsia or eclampsia), an often fatal metabolic disorder caused by insufficient calcium availability in pregnant and nursing bitches, respectively.

Exercise is essential for maintaining fitness. Pregnant bitches that are maintained in good physical condition have fewer complications during whelping. Walking is considered the ideal form of exercise for the pregnant bitch. Late in pregnancy, however, length of walks should be shortened because the bitch will usually tire easily, especially when carrying large litters.

Though low-impact exercise is recommended, more demanding physical exertion, such as is required of working bitches used in hunting, herding, agility, or advanced obedience, is discouraged. These forms of high-impact exercise increase risk for abdominal trauma and may induce stress to the fetuses. Indeed, studies exploring the environmental stimuli experienced by the bitch in regard to effects on developing fetuses indicate that even mild forms of stress such as handling and restraint, show exhibition, classes and performance events induce effects on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis of the fetuses. As such, puppies born of bitches exposed to stress during pregnancy demonstrate a permanent condition of hypersensitivity to stress stimuli demonstrated by increased and prolonged cortisol production when encountering stimuli in their own environments. Therefore, it is advantageous to the physical well being of the offspring to avoid factors that may produce stress in a pregnant bitch. * Pamela A. Davol

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