In the last couple of days of pregnancy the bitches body prepares for going into labour. Her body temperature drops ,lessening the shock to the pups of leaving a warm womb for the outside world. Her mammary glands fill with milk, her pelvic ligaments soften and her cervix and vagina relax to facilitate the birth process.
The first stage of labour is characterised by nesting behaviour. The bitch will pant and scratch around with her bedding, becomingly increasingly frantic. It is worth providing lots of newspaper for her to shred.She will probably refuse to eat and may vomit.This stage may only last a short while or may continue for 12 hours or more, even 24 on occasion. If this goes on for too long she may exhaust herself and have difficulty with the next stage. I would suggest phoning your vet for advice if the frantic nesting goes on for more than 6-7 hours and no progress is seen.
Second stage labour, the delivery of the pups, should now follow. There may or may not be an obvious “breaking of her waters”. If there is, expect serious activity within 2 hours.She should now show obvious contractions. As the pup presses against the cervix these contractions become more powerful, pushing it into the birth canal and towards the outside world.The bitch’s tail will be arched away from her body and the pup, probably still within it’s membranes, will start to appear at the vulval lips.A final, powerful push and hopefully the pup is out. Most bitches lie down to expel their pups but some may deliver them standing or even squatting.
As soon as the pup has been delivered the bitch should turn and start cleaning it.If she doesn’t clean the head immediately do so yourself. If the membranes aren’t removed from the face and mouth the pup will suffocate. Only interfere if the bitch is slow on the uptake.Every puppy should be accompanied by a placenta (afterbirth). This is usually still attached to the pup, sometimes passed later. Keep a note of the number passed as any retained could cause problems.If the umbilical cord didn’t break as the pup came out the bitch will chew through it, usually followed by her eating the placenta. Should the mother fail to bite through the cord get it between finger and thumb about 1cm from the pup and tear it rather than cutting.Eating the afterbirth helps stimulate milk production though it is quite common for the bitch to vomit some of them back up.
The mother will vigorously lick the newborn, cleaning it and stimulating breathing.Some bitches allow pups to suckle within minutes of birth others won’t permit suckling until the whole litter has been delivered. The interval between pups may be as short as ten minutes or as long as two hours or more.
When the second and subsequent pups are being delivered it may be necessary to put any pups already born in a small box if the bitch is frantic. Some kick pups out of the way, others are very careful. Mine tend to be the former sort so pups are placed into a vetbed lined plasic box during each delivery.
When all of the pups have arrived the dam should settle and allow them to suckle.Colostrum, the milk produced in the first 24-48 hours, contains antibodies which help to protect the whelps against infection. It is very important that all pups get this as without it their chance of survival is greatly reduced.
About a third of puppies are born in a posterior presentation i.e bum first.This isn’t a problem and is not the same as a breech birth.In a breech presentation only the tail is presented, both hindlegs pointing forwards into the dam.A breech birth will usually require veterinary intervention.
Whelping a bitch can be a very stressfull experience and if this is your first litter it helps to have an experienced friend present. Most bitches will whelp unaided but it is important that you are there, lest problems develop.Try and stay calm—if you’re stressed, the bitch will be too!!Be there, but only interfere if needed. The majority of births occur at night—no drinking to steady your nerves as if anything does go wrong it is up to you to get your bitch to the vet.Have his/her phone number handy and if possible let them know when your bitch goes into labour. By this I mean phone the practice if she starts during working hours. If she starts overnight only phone if there is a problem.
No two whelpings are the same but among the circumstances which might warrant a call to the vet, even if only for reassurance are;
Waters burst for 2 hours and no sign of contractions
Vigorous contractions for more than an hour and no sign of a pup
Two hours elapsed since birth of previous pup and nothing happening
It is never a good idea for novice owners to do internal examinations of their bitches during labour.The one situation where you may usefully help your bitch is when a pup has become stuck when coming through the birth canal and has partly come through the vulval lips.Grasp it in paper towel and, as the bitch contracts,pull gently in a downward manner. Pull with her contractions but if the pup doesn’t slide out desist and call the vet.
Sometimes if a bitch is taking a while between pups it can help to take her out to urinate—I assume it is easier to push on an empty bladder! Should you take her out, follow her with a torch in case she drops a pup or tries to get somewhere inaccessible.
Don’t offer the bitch food during labour—if she eats it she will only throw it back up! Also, should things go wrong and a caesarean be required it is best she has an empty stomach. Some bitches appreciate small drinks of water, most want nothing.
When she has finished, is relaxed and feeding her pups,replace the bedding and offer her something light to eat e.g scrambled egg. Have mother and pups checked within 24 hours—mum for any sign of retained afterbirth or infection, pups for cleft palates or imperforate anus.
For the first few days her appetite may not be great and there may be a lot of vulval discharge.She will probably have to be coaxed away from the pups 3 times a day to empty herself. This is normal and if she is lying quietly with her pups and they are quiet with rounded tummies, all is probably well. If in doubt, consult your vet.