day is almost here. Your bitch has been bred to a great sire and you
have nurtured her through almost 9 weeks of pregnancy. She will deliver
her puppies anywhere between 59 and 70 days from that first breeding,
but the most common average is 63 days. Hopefully, the previous two
articles about breeding and canine pregnancy have helped get your bitch
successfully to where she is now – about to deliver a litter of
her X-rayed a few days ago and the best you and your vet can determine
is that she has 4 puppies in the “hopper.” There might be
one more but you cannot be certain. Your bitch has been nesting all
day, her temperature has gradually dropped over the past 24 hours to
98.4 degrees Fahrenheit and she seems to have to pee every ten minutes.
She is apparently getting close. You have a location all picked out
for her to be when delivering her puppies. You have a supply of rags
or old towels and perhaps an old blanket or quilt in the whelping area.
Other useful items to have on hand are a small aspirator, a thermometer,
a jar of Vaseline to lubricate the thermometer, two sterile gloves,
dental floss (in case an umbilical cord needs to be tied to stop bleeding),
a small pair of scissors, a heating pad and a bottle of alcohol (for
sterilization not consumption!) That kind of alcohol can come later
when the whelping is completed. All of your reference books are nearby
and you just called your vet to inform him/her that your bitch is getting
close. Since you know it may take a while, you have something to sit
on or you may even have a sleeping bag and pillow on the floor beside
the whelping area plus a good book or magazine to read.
does not intend to go into the very technical, medical aspects of what
triggers parturition (giving birth) but rather will try to help breeders
with the practical side of understanding and assisting the bitch to
deliver live, healthy puppies. The first stage of labor is when the
cervix dilates, but only trained personnel can really determine if this
has happened. The progesterone levels will drop abruptly causing the
bitch’s temperature to drop, but again only a vet or trained technician
can determine the progesterone change. However, most deliveries can
be expected to start within 24 hours, or at the most 30 hours, after
the temperature drops. But since most breeders only check the bitch’s
temperature every 12 hours, the lapsed time could vary since exact timing
of temperature drop will not be known. In fact, for an occasional bitch,
the temperature will not drop much at all. Most bitches will usually
refuse a meal during this time but will otherwise act normally. Nesting
may take place with the bitch shredding papers or bedding and rearranging
it by pushing it around with their noses. It is during this time that
the cervix starts dilating.
aspect of first-stage labor usually involves steadily increasing discomfort.
The bitch will rest at intervals, pant, move around, change positions,
pant some more, perhaps lie on her back and generally appear uneasy.
This stage may last several hours. Or, it is possible that the bitch
may not exhibit any of these signs of coming delivery. But, it ALWAYS
seems like delivery occurs during the wee hours of the night or even
all night and part of the next day so be prepared to be working with
the bitch for a long time.
watch her closely, at some point you may be able to detect the first
labor contractions signaling the onset of the next stage of parturition
(giving birth). She will display an abdominal press or tightening of
her stomach muscles, her tail may appear to quiver or shake momentarily
or she may make a small sound. She may rush to the door and ask to go
out presumably to have a bowel movement or pee. It appears that the
sensation of a puppy entering the birth canal is much like that of a
bowel movement or at least some bitches seem to interpret it that way.
It is strongly recommended that a leash be attached when she goes out
to avoid her disappearing under the deck or porch looking for a better
location in which to whelp her puppies. She usually squats as if to
eliminate, but after the first trip out, she probably won’t pass
much. Some bitches may even vomit their last meal or if it has been
awhile since she ate, just a small amount of stomach fluid will come
at first usually come at intervals of around ten minutes. They usually
come in waves of three to five contractions followed by a period of
rest. She may assume all sorts of positions (sitting, squatting, lying
on her side, standing or even arching her back) trying to relieve the
pain. Some will make noises and others will be very stoic and quiet
about the whole ordeal. All of this is serving to move the first puppy
into the birth canal and its presence puts pressure on the dorsal wall
of the vagina, further stimulating harder contractions. Since there
are two horns to the uterus each containing puppies, it is conceivable
that two puppies will try to emerge at once, but hopefully they will
“take turns”. As a puppy moves down the canal, contractions
will become stronger and more frequent. A discharge of mucus, presumably
the cervical mucous plug, will be passed but is rarely noticed since
the bitch frequently licks her vulva area.
bitch undergoes contractions for more than two hours with no results,
better call your vet. for advice. Possibly her contractions are not
strong enough to accomplish delivery or there may be any number of other
problems that will require veterinary assistance. Some of the more frequent
problems will be discussed later, but entire books have been written
on this subject. So, the reader is best advised to purchase any one
of several excellent books on Canine Reproduction or rely on their veterinarian
first puppy reaches the vulva, its outer fluid-filled sac, the amniotic
sac, pushes through the vulva and will look like a dark colored bubble
which eventually will rupture - usually with no sign of a puppy. The
area just above the bitch’s vulva will bulge as birthing gets
closer because of the presence of the puppy in the canal as contractions
force the puppy over the rim of the pelvis. Rupture of the amniotic
sac is not a problem unless it ruptures very early and the delivery
is delayed long enough for the vaginal lining to become dry since these
fluids are important for lubrication.
during this time, the bitch is vigorously licking her vulva and often
will move around the birthing area. If there are sides on the whelping
area, she may even cram her rear up against the sides and she should
be gently moved so the puppy can even come out. Eventually the bitch’s
contractions will push the puppy out her vulva appearing as another
bubble at first and after several more strong contractions, the puppy
may actually “squirt” out. About 60% of the time, the puppy
will be delivered anterior presentation (head first) and once the head
is clear, the puppy usually seems to slide out quickly.
- especially with posterior presentation (hind end first which occurs
approximately 40% of the time) – a small portion of the puppy
will appear to move in and out with each contraction and emerges no
further after several more contractions. Presumably in this case, the
head may be sort of “hung up” on the bitch’s pelvis
and the contractions are having trouble pushing the puppy over this
hump or her contractions just may not be strong enough to push the puppy
entirely out. Using a soft cloth, perhaps a handkerchief or cheese cloth
since the amniotic fluids make the sack containing the puppy very slippery,
gently grasp the puppy (usually the feet or head as that is probably
all you can reach) and GENTLY tug during each contraction to help the
bitch extract the puppy.
The bitch will normally begin licking up the amniotic fluid, lick herself,
and lick the puppy in almost a random manner. Her licking serves to
break the allantoic membrane which covers the pup if it has not already
ruptured during the delivery. Licking also stimulates the puppy and
helps remove fluid from around its head facilitating its breathing.
The breeder may want to help this allantoic membrane rupture and make
certain the puppy’s head is not still enclosed. Sometimes it is
wise to gently insert one finger into the puppy’s mouth as well
as roll the puppy around a bit to help stimulate breathing.
placenta is delivered with the puppy, the bitch will usually grab and
swallow it immediately. At virtually the same time, she will begin to
chew the umbilical cord since the placenta is attached to the umbilical
cord as well. The bitch may be a bit rough and actually lift the puppy
off the ground while working on the umbilical cord but this usually
will not cause an umbilical hernia and actually appears to stimulate
the puppy’s breathing via nervous system feedback. But sometimes
it is wise to hold the umbilical cord close to the puppy to keep the
bitch from tugging too hard as she chews the cord or to make sure she
doesn’t accidentally chew one of the puppy’s legs instead.
Do let her chew the umbilical cord with her cheek teeth because this
seems to crush or pinch-off blood vessels in the cord and reduce danger
a moment or two, the puppy is not breathing or moving then you should
help by holding the puppy by its tail while it is lying on a soft surface
and rubbing it vigorously with a towel until it begins to respond. Check
the puppy’s mouth to see if there is fluid or perhaps its tongue
is rolled back into the throat.
puppy is making gurgling noises as it tries to breath, use the small
aspirator, sterile cloth or cotton swab to remove as much fluid as you
can. If an aspirator is used, be gentle to avoid causing too much suction
that could damage internal organs. You may have to perform what is called
“shaking a puppy down” to remove fluids from the lungs.
Wrap the puppy in a small towel and hold it with its spine down along
your fingers and with its head away from you being careful to fully
support the puppy’s head with your fingers. Stand slightly straddle-legged
and think of the puppy as a delicate but large mercury thermometer that
you must shake down. Rapidly move the puppy down from about shoulder
height to almost between your legs stopping abruptly at the bottom.
Sometimes fluid can even be seen flying out of the puppy’s nose.
Repeat several times and then put the puppy up near your ear and listen
to see if the gurgling has stopped. Most puppies likely will let you
know when they have had enough as the gurgling will change into a lusty
cry. Observe this puppy frequently to be certain the gurgling doesn’t
puppies that have been too long in the birth canal will appear to be
still-born. However, many can be resuscitated if worked with. Rub such
a puppy briskly with a towel for a few seconds as was described earlier
to see if there is any response. Listen to see if there is any gurgling
sound and “shake the puppy down” a few times. Using your
fingers gently squeeze the puppy’s chest a few times in hopes
of stimulating the puppy’s heart. Quickly follow the squeezing
of the puppy’s chest by covering the puppy’s muzzle and
mouth with your own mouth and blow gently, forcing air into the puppy’s
lungs but not so hard as to damage the newborn’s delicate lung
tissues. Use your cheeks to do this blowing as this air will be more
oxygen rich than would air expelled from your own lungs. Repeat this
procedure a few times and in between sessions again rub the puppy vigorously
with a towel.
puppy’s color after four or five minutes of the above efforts
to revive it to see if the puppy’s nose, legs, paw pads and gums
are white, pink or blue. If they are white or almost white, you may
have lost the puppy, but if they are pink or even bluish colored, there
is usually life still there and you should continue working with that
puppy. Occasionally a puppy will even respond after an hour of such
work so don’t give up too quickly. This is good reason to have
more than one person available during whelping so the bitch doesn’t
go completely unattended while efforts are underway to revive a puppy.
Some breeders have a small oxygen tank available and put gasping puppies
in a little tent made with a plastic bag or Saran wrap over a box to
provide oxygen enriched air for the struggling puppy to breath.
It is very
important to keep new-born puppies WARM. If a puppy is not kept warm
enough, its entire system, including digestion, could shut down and
that puppy could die or develop future complications, ie., pneumonia.
Puppies should be kept at about 85 degrees Fahrenheit for the first
10 days of life. BUT, avoid over heating puppies as this could cause
severe dehydration if they are panting all the time. Keep the heat source
general for the entire area or keep a heating pad entirely underneath
the whelping box.
between puppies varies from a few minutes to several hours with the
average delay being 30 minutes to one hour. The bitch will alternately
rest and lick to clean her puppy. Sometimes it seems she is intent on
licking all the hair off of the puppy and is so happy with that one
puppy that she seems to forget all about delivering any others. Try
to get the one puppy already delivered to nurse as this tends to stimulate
further contractions from the bitch thus speeding up the entire birthing
procedure. Usually puppies have strong instincts as to where to go and
how to suckle. Others may be a bit slower and may require assistance
or the bitch’s licking of her puppies may be so intense that she
actually prevents the puppies from nursing.
the puppies are delivered randomly from the two uterine horns. If more
than two hours elapse between deliveries, you should contact your vet
for advice and/or suggestions. The vet may suggest something as simple
as taking the bitch for a walk on a leash to see if that stimulates
more contractions from the bitch. Or, perhaps a trip to the vet office
will be recommended. The vet may do any one of many things ranging from
an injection of pituitary oxytocin hormone to stimulate contractions
or manipulation of the pup(s) in the uterine track to see if perhaps
two are stuck trying to enter the birth canal at the same time. In extreme
cases, the vet may be forced to perform a Cesarean Section.
whelping record recording the bitch’s temperature chart, her actions
pre-labor and what she does during labor. Then record the time of each
birth, the sex of each puppy and anything pertinent about that delivery
as well as any identification markings that can help later to identify
each puppy. Especially important is to weigh each puppy with an accurate
cooking type scale (accurate to the ¼ oz) because that will become
an important benchmark for monitoring growth of the puppies over the
next few days.
References: “Dog Breeding for Professionals”, by Dr. Herbert
Richards, published by T.F.H. Publications, Inc. and ‘The Mating
and Whelping of Dogs” by R. Portman –Graham L.D.S., R.C.S.
(Eng), published by Popular Dogs in London.