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By Walker Miller, MRCVS, BVMS, DBR (Walkon Boxers)
Published in Boxer Quarterly March 95'

When the bitch gets to 4 weeks post-mating, to enable us to know whether we have a pregnant bitch or not I palpate the abdomen and if she is pregnant, then I feel a row of round balls about 3cm in size. If your bitch is unsure of the vet and is tender to the touch then there is a blood test which can be undertaken at about 28 days. After 35 days, it is very difficult to palpate a pregnant bitch easily, as all the foeti and fluid join up and give a fluid filled tube which is very awkward to feel. By the time a bitch reaches 50 days and if the owner is still unsure then an x-ray will show the calcified bone of the foeti. One other method of pregnancy diagnosis is ultrasound which can be carried out from day 25 when the foetal heart beat can be heard.

During pregnancy I give no extra food for the first six weeks, after that I increase the protein content of the meal. By the time gestation arrives, the ideal weight increase for a normal sized litter is 35%. I give no extra minerals or vitamins during pregnancy and just feed a balanced ration. The only additive I give is raspberry leaf tablet (twice daily) from 4 weeks after mating until 4 days after whelping and although I don’t use a lot of herbal treatments, I do believe it causes easier whelping and less chance of retained after births.

The average gestation period for a single mating is 57-68 days, with a mean being 63 days. Following multiple matings the average is 57-72 days. The first sign of the first stage of labour is that the bitch’s temperature drops and this happens 12-36 hours before whelping. I believe that once a bitch’s temperature drops below 98.8°F that parturition will occur within 12-24 hours. The normal temperature for a bitch is 101°F and it will drop and rise for a few days pre-whelping but once it falls below 99°F whelping will occur within 12-24 hours in 90% of bitches. The temperature returns to normal before parturition occurs in most bitches and will then rise slightly for a few days post whelping. The bitch will then become very restless and will start nesting and puffing and panting. She will also start to scratch and claw at the bedding and this why I put plenty of newspapers in the bottom of the whelping bed so that the bitch can make her own nest. I also put a piece of vet-bed in as well so that, as the puppies are born, they dry of quicker and all fluid is soaked through into the underlying newspaper.

First stage labour can last from 6-12 hours and during this period the uterus starts contracting but no abdominal contractions occur.

Second stage labour starts with the dilation of the cervix or neck of the womb, and is then followed by the pushing of the first puppy into the pelvic canal and all this involves contractions of the womb and abdominal muscles. Once visible, abdominal contractions start when the first puppy should have been delivered within two hours and if not, please phone your vet immediately as he/she may be busy and take a while to come. If this is case then take your bitch to the surgery for quicker attention. Please, please inform your vet that your bitch is pregnant so he/she can be prepared for an emergency. Remember we are busy people but if we are aware of an impending event then we will be prepared.

Puppies should appear on a regular basis after the first puppy has arrived, but if more than two hours lapses between puppies then please phone your vet and get them to check that everything is okay. If inertia has occurred then an injection of pituitary plus or minus Monzaldon (which I always give) should be given and if no pup appears within 30 minutes, then after examination and no abnormalities found the injection should be repeated. Cases of inertia are caused by malpresentation of a pup or puppies, presentation of an oversized pup, blockage of the canal by afterbirths or just inertia of the uterus due to oversize or exhaustion. If no pup appears after two injections of pituitary then I believe a caesarean should be performed within 60-90 minutes if a viable litter is required. On the subject of caesarean , please make sure your vet uses a gaseous anaesthetic only applied by mask and this will not pass to the puppies and they will be born full of life an not anaesthetised and sedated and the bitch will recover much quicker. If your vet insists on using an injectable anaesthetic before putting the bitch onto gas anaesthetic then make sure they use one of the modern ones which does not sedate and anaesthetise the puppies as well.

Following each pup or along with each pup, there should be an afterbirth. If the puppy is born with this attached to the umbilical cord then either let the bitch chew it off or break it leaving 1-2 inches of cord on the puppy. If an afterbirth does not appear with or after each pup, then do not panic as they will usually come later. I have found it very rare for an afterbirth which is retained to cause a problem. To prevent this from happening I give my bitch Pituitary about 2-4 hours after the last pup to make sure she has one final series of contractions of the uterus to evacuate all afterbirths. I always give her an injection of antibiotic to reduce any chance of infection and I do not believe this crosses into the milk and cause problems with the pups.

A final few tips if I have not lost you already, is to make sure there is a good source of heat over the whelping bed so if the bitch or pups are cold they can move under it, or if they are to warm, away from it. An overhead heat source is therefore better than an under bed one. The correct temperature of a whelping environment is room temperature of 20o C. If the pups are kept in too cold an environment then hypothermia will occur leading to a high chance of fading puppy syndrome. If the whelping room is too hot then the bitch will have to puff and pant and this could lead to a calcium shortage. Please make sure the whelping bed has a pig rail all the way round to prevent overlying of the puppies. Another very important thing is to ensure the bitch and puppies have a dry, clean bed to lie on at all times, and this is only achieved by changing the bedding twice daily or else you could get mastitis in the bitch or a naval infection in the puppies.

Finally please give your bitch the opportunity to have a drink during whelping of preferably warm milk and glucose to give her energy to continue.

If I have confused you I apologise but I hope you have learned a little and if you disagree, and you have your own winning combination then continue with that but please remember to keep in contact with your own vet and let them know the progress as they are the people who have all the experience and you must trust them at all times. Happy Whelping.

Hip Dysplasia

By Walker Miller BVMS DBR MRCVS (Walkon Boxers)
Published in Boxer Quarterly July 2001

To Download a Copy of Hip Dysplasia in Dogs  A Guide for Dog Owners by John Foster Click Here

This is a disease that affects the hip joints of larger dogs. Certain breeds seem to be more susceptible than others and those that come to mind are, GSD, Labradors, Rottweillers and Golden Retrievers. In my opinion it is not a major problem in the British Boxer but it is always talked about.

Let’s begin by eliminating some of the myths that have existed over the last 50 years. Unilateral or one-sided HD does not exist as a disease therefore can only be due to an injury. For many years it was believed that HD was a totally hereditary problem, well this is not true, I am sure there is genetic impact from both parents but there is also a huge environmental influence as well. Therefore whether or not HD is genetic or not, it does have systematic or environmental implications as well which means it can be prevented and controlled.

HD is characterised by abnormal development (dysplasia) of the hip joint, which consists of the round ball of the femoral head, which fits into the socket of the pelvis called the acetabulum. The rounder the femoral head can be and the deeper the acetabulum are the two major advantages to a good hip joint, which will last the wear and tear of the dog’s life.


Other factors come into this such as the angle that the two components meet and also the type of edge (in length and depth) the curve of the acetabulum has. The disease is caused by a mismatch of growth of the hip joint and the soft tissue, i.e. non-bony structure, round about the joint, which holds the joint together as one unit. There is a joint capsule that is an envelope of connective tissue (strong collagen or stringy fibres) round the acetabulum and femoral head. The strength and tightness of this also has a strong bearing on the function of the joint. If the dog is unfortunate enough to dislocate its hip this round ligament must break and the joint capsule will stretch and then the function of the joint is impared for the rest of the dogs life and arthritis is much more likely to set in, in older age. The mechanical strength of the joint capsule is related to the collagen content and the composition of it. In children with congenital hip joint dislocation the collagen composition of the joint capsule has been shown to be abnormal and I’m sure this is one of the causes of HD in dogs. There are different type of collagen and dogs which have a high collagen type III : I ratio in the joint capsule have weak capsules. A study was done, albeit a small study, and the collagen type was examined between two groups of dogs. One of the groups were breeds with a high prevalence of HD on x-ray and the other group were greyhounds, it was found that was found that the greyhounds had a much lower content of type III : I than the other group. One theory is therefore that a major factor in HD is poor quality, low strength collagen in the joint capsule and ligaments. This is thought to be caused by too little ascorbic acid or vitamin C.

In eight litters of dysplastic German Shepherd parents or parents that had produced dysplastic offspring, there were no signs of HD when the bitches were given mega doses of ascorbate during pregnancy and the pups were kept on a similar regime until they reached a year old. I must establish the actual dose for the boxer.

We have now established that HD is a genetically mediated disease which is also majorly influenced by environmental factors such as the size and breed of the dog, rate of growth, type of feeding used, type and duration of exercise and also other existing skeletal disorders, e.g. back deformities, pelvic disorders, injury and bone or joint abnormalities of the fore limbs.

The disease is diagnosed by signs of lameness, pain, abnormal gait, inability to climb stairs easily, falling over when turning quickly and also of course, by x-ray of the hips. The hips are best x-rayed with the dog sedated and lying on its back with both hind legs extended straight out behind and rotated slightly inward. This is the position used by the kennel club for interpretation of the kennel club hip dysplasia scheme. One thing that has been established is that there is no correlation between radiographic appearance of the hip joints and degree of lameness or disability.

HD is usually a gradual, progressive disease in young dogs with a reduced range of joint movement. The muscles of the forequarters are usually well muscled due to the shifting the majority of the weight forward. A bunny hopping gait is quite characteristic of the disease as it is a bilateral condition. Acute signs are seen in affected animals less than one year old and more chronic signs are seen in older animals.

The pain in the hip is caused by inflammation of the joint by erosion of the cartilage of both the femoral head and acetabulum. There is an increase of fluid within the joint and thickening of its joint capsule and this encourages joint stability. There are a number of preparations available on the market and these do help the healing of the joint in the young animal and in some cases I have seen, these have certainly helped greatly. One product I have used is Synoquin and have had very good results along with strict rest and very little exercise. The muscle development over the quarters and rear end is very slow due to most of the weight on the front end and this causes poorer soft tissue support of the joint and makes the condition worse. The femoral head and the neck of the bone are remodelled due to the abnormal stress on the joint and one gets a very flattened femoral head and a thick neck to the femur with extra bone being laid down there. As said before if there is gross remodelling of the hip joint there is no certainty that the dog will show any signs of lameness in its lifetime.

Treatment is usually conservative to begin with and this means strict cage rest and very little exercise, certainly only in the back garden. This prevents too much remodelling of the hip joint as it develops and allows a better hip joint to form. High doses of vitamin C as mentioned could help and also some Synoquin to allow proper development of the joint fluid and bone. Be very careful with feeding, feed a well balanced food and do not allow the dog to become fat, as this will add extra stress to the joints. Non-steroidal, anti – inflammatory drugs can be used to ease the pain such as Metacam or Rimadyl. I find the latter to be more useful for this condition in young dogs, but in older dogs I use the former. It may be that Rimadyl is used twice daily so the owner of a young dog thinks it will help to medicate twice daily and it is the owners reasoning only. In older dogs over eighteen months old if the animal is very lame and pained then surgery can be preferred. A complete hip joint replacement can be done but this is a specialist job and is therefore expensive. Careful immediate after care is essential following surgery. One hip only is operated on at any one time the other can be operated on six to twelve months later if required.

Prevention can of course be carried out and therefore x-raying of both parents is a good start and only breed from low scored parents, certainly those with hip scores less than twenty in the kennel club hip dysplasia scheme. Extra vitamin C to pregnant bitches and young pups is certainly worth a try. Reduced exercise, certainly in early life is a good idea to allow correct joint development of all the joints and prevent abnormal remodelling of the more stressful joint such as the hip joint. Starting training and full exercise at twelve months of age and not six months will help. With conservative treatment about 75% of lame dogs become sound to satisfactory by twelve to fifteen months of age. If corrective surgery is required a significant improvement will be seen in 70% of dogs.

I hope this helps you understand this complicated disease, which I am sure is not fully researched. My opinion is that it is still not a major problem in our breed but lets be cautious. The boxer is a very muscular breed and this will hide a lot of problems for a while. Try vitamin C in pregnant bitches and let’s see what this does to hind movement.

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