As a seasoned dog owner, I understand that there are times when the unexpected happens, like your dog accidentally eating chocolate, running loose, or getting pregnant on her first heat and these don’t necessarily make you a lousy dog parent but it is important to exercise caution when it comes to protecting your dog from situations that can put her health or life at risk.
Getting pregnant on the first heat can be problematic for your dog because she is yet to attain the physical and mental maturity required to handle pregnancies and there is a higher risk of complications in early pregnancies. Also, accidental breeding predisposes the litter to genetic disorders and is a common scenario in early pregnancies.
If you suspect accident pregnancy in your dog, do not panic. First confirm your dog’s pregnancy and talk to your vet on whether to keep the pregnancy or resort to abortion.
We’ll discuss in more detail how bad it is for dogs to get pregnant on their first heat, explore what happens if your dog accidentally gets pregnant on her first heat, and delve into ways to help your pregnant canine counterpart.
Is It Bad If Your Dog Gets Pregnant Their First Heat? Is She Too Young?
Though the first heat indicates that dogs have reached sexual maturity, It can be stressful and even dangerous for dogs to get pregnant on their first heat. Also, breeding a dog on her first heat is considered unethical and experts advise that you wait until the third heat to breed dogs in order to get the best outcome and ensure your dog is safe.
When a bitch becomes pregnant on her first heat, this puts her in a tough spot because she has not reached the right size to accommodate puppies and may not be ready to take care of her litter. In fact, every reproductive activity including mating, gestation, delivery, and nursing will come with great physical and emotional stress as well as health risks for the female dog.
As most cases of first-heat pregnancy result from accidental breeding, it is important to take necessary precautions to prevent unwanted pregnancies like keeping them away from male dogs, who, unlike the females, are ready to mate at all times, and using doggie diapers.
What Happens If My Dog Accidentally Gets Pregnant On Her First Heat?
Let’s break down the possible problems or outcomes that can result if your dog Q gets pregnant on her first heat.
1. Physical Stress
Most dogs that get pregnant in their first heat are not prepared for the stress that comes with having a litter and the pain that comes with whelping.
For a dog that is yet to develop proper musculature, carrying the weight of her unborn puppies can be difficult. The abdominal strain during pregnancy and the heavy responsibility of nursing and taking care of the litter might be equally challenging.
This stress can affect the health of the unborn puppies because the level of the stress hormone, cortisol, is so high that some manage to pass through the placenta to the fetus.
Furthermore. If a small dam accidentally bred with a medium or large-sized dog, this can be stressful and unbearable to the point of putting her life at risk. This can happen even when the dog is physically mature to handle pregnancies.
2. Mental Confusion And Lack Of Maternal Instincts
Pregnancy comes with a lot of hormonal fluctuations that can result in behavioral changes. More specifically, dogs tend to be irritable during pregnancy and immature bitches that are not well-built for this condition tend to have more irritable behavior.
Having a litter at an early age is often too much to take in for dogs and they may get confused and not know how to adjust to the new way of life. This is evident in their lack of maternal instincts resulting in the neglect of their litters. The reason for this is that a certain hormone, oxytocin, is not produced in sufficient amounts because the dog is still in the developmental stages of life.
A study lists maternal neglect as one of the contributing factors to the high mortality in canine newborns.
3. Genetic Issues Can Be Passed To Offspring
When a dog is young, she may have certain genetic disorders that are not yet noticeable but can be passed on to her offspring. Hence, breeding dogs in their first heat may produce predispose a litter that is predisposed to genetic diseases.
If the pregnancy results from accidental breeding, they will be equally predisposed to genetic disease because no prior health clearances were done. So, it is just a toss of a coin as to whether or not the parent dogs have any genetic problems that can be inherited by their puppies.
4. The Litter May Have Weaker Immunity
Immunity is classified into innate and adaptive immunity. Adaptive immunity is further classified into passive (maternal) immunity and active immunity. Puppies do not have fully developed immune systems, hence, maternal immunity is required to support their immune system in their early stages of life.
Maternal antibodies are transferred through the placenta to unborn puppies and through breast milk after delivery. The first milk produced by a female dog after giving birth is high in antibodies and is known as colostrum.
As dogs get older they gain active immunity after exposure to infections but a younger dog with fewer exposures often has a relatively weaker immune system. As a result, her maternal antibodies may be unable to provide sufficient support to the pup’s immune system making them highly susceptible to infections.
5. Higher Risks Of Complications From Pregnancy And Delivery
It is reported pregnancies in the first heat cycle of dogs are associated with increased risks of complications that can endanger the life of the mother dog and puppies. Spontaneous abortions and stillbirths as well as congenital abnormalities are not uncommon in such high-risk pregnancies.
Also, the delivery may be difficult for the young dams because they are yet to reach their full body size. This can be even worse or life-threatening in the case where a toy dog is bred with a medium or small-sized dog. Abortion is usually the only option in this case.
6. Puppy Size And Health Can Be Affected
It is common for young momma dogs to give birth to small low-weight puppies because their body size does not leave much room for the fetuses to reach their full size. Immature bitches also tend to go into labor earlier than normal, resulting in the birth of preterm puppies.
Not only do puppies of the young dam have weaker immune systems, but they are also prone to various health conditions that can their overall well-being.
7. A Litter With Undesirable Features Can Be Produced
Most pregnancies in the first heat are a result of accidental breeding as opposed to selective breeding where the parents with the desired traits are picked to produce the best outcome.
When your dog gets pregnant accidentally, you do not get the option to breed certain parents in order to fine-tune the appearance and personality of the litter. This often results in the abandonment of puppies in turn increasing the number of strays and puppies in shelters and rescues.
What Should I Do If My Dog Accidentally Gets Pregnant On Her First Heat?
Methods like spaying, isolation of female dogs in heat, and the use of doggie diapers are effective in preventing pregnancies but in the case, where your dog is already pregnant, it is too late to prevent the accidental pregnancy. There are only a few options left to ensure that your female dog is safe and healthy and it is very important that you take immediate action.
1. Visit Your Vet For Pregnancy Test
While you might have noticed your bitch display various symptoms of pregnancy like swollen belly, breast enlargement, lethargy, weight gain, and irritability, you still need a pregnancy test to confirm the pregnancy and rule out the possibility of false pregnancy.
This is so important because false pregnancy mimics the physical and behavioral changes seen in true pregnancy. There are various ways to detect pregnancy in dogs including abdominal palpation, hormonal test, ultrasonography, and X-ray.
Abdominal Palpation is the least accurate pregnancy assessment technique. It involves feeling the dog’s abdomen with your hand and in this case, to detect swellings.
To tell the difference between a false and true pregnancy, a hormonal blood test or ultrasound is required.
The hormonal test is performed to check the level of a hormone known as relaxin. It can take up to 28 days after conception for this hormone to be detected. The hormonal test and palpation technique do not assess the viability of the fetus.
However, abdominal ultrasound does not only good for detecting and monitoring pregnancies but also doubles up as a technique to detect the viability of the fetus.
2. Seek Medical Advice From A Professional
After the pregnancy tests, the vet will present you with the results. The vet will likely educate you on the risks your dog is exposed to as a result of such early pregnancy.
In most cases of first-heat pregnancy, abortion is recommended because the young dam may not be capable of carrying a healthy pregnancy.
If abortion is not performed, your dog will be at risk of miscarriage and stillbirths, and in cases where there the female dog was impregnated by a disproportionate sire, problems may arise during whelping because the birth canal is too small.
In essence, it is the responsibility of your vet to assess and monitor your dog’s pregnancy and advise you on the best approach to take.
3. Planned Abortion
Planned abortion is the intentional termination of a fetus performed by a medical professional and in this case, a qualified veterinarian.
While abortion is performed in dogs for various reasons like a mismatch, old age or to prevent overpopulation, getting pregnant in the first oestrus cycle can warrant an abortion in dogs.
Pregnancy in dogs can be terminated by several methods but it’s best to talk to your vet to decide which method is feasible for your canine. The most effective abortion method is ovariohysterectomy – the surgical removal of the uterus and the ovaries. It is a great option if you are not planning any future pregnancies for your female dog.
Another method used to end pregnancies in dogs includes oral intake and injection of estrogen, however, this can come with side effects like pyometra and myelosuppression. A safer and more effective method involves the injection of prostaglandin. The adverse effects of this method are mild.
Dexamethasone can also be used in the successful termination of canine pregnancies but it is associated with a number of side effects like diarrhea, nausea, panting, lethargy, increased thirst, and frequent urination.
Most dog owners and breeders know not to breed dogs in their first heat, regardless, cases of accidental breeding never cease to exist because it’s only natural for dogs to be involved in sexual activities.
For the dear life and safety of your canine, you must prevent early pregnancy at all costs and take necessary actions if one happens. Also, accidental pregnancies often do not make the best puppies. Hence, It’s no surprise that many such puppies end up as stray dogs and inhabitants of rescues and shelters.
The ultimate solution to the problem of early pregnancy in dogs would be spaying the female dog. Other methods like isolation and the use of diapers are also effective but it is better to be safe than sorry because you never know the situation in which your female dog may meet a potential mate.