Whelping can be a very stressful time for both the owner and the bitch. Gestation in the bitch is approximately 9 weeks. We highly recommend an X-ray at 8 weeks of gestation to determine the number of puppies and their size. This helps us address any potential complications that may arise during the actual whelping process. There are many signs indicating that whelping time is near (within 12-24 hours), such as:
- Drop in temperature-we typically have the owners take the rectal temperature of the bitch every 12 hours starting 5-7 days prior to anticipated due date. Usually 8-24 hours prior to delivery, the temperature will have a significant drop of 2 degrees to 97-98° F.
- Loose stools or vomiting
- Decrease in appetite
- Increased mucoid vaginal discharge
- Milk in mammary glands
Signs that there is a problem during the whelping (and indicate you should contact a veterinarian) are:
- You think the female is OVERDUE and nothing is happening
- *>63 days from ovulation (NOT from breeding)
- *>24 hours from dropped rectal temperature (~98° F)
- Bitch has been panting, pacing, and/or digging for longer than 12 hours and no other impending signs of labor
- Water breaks and no signs of puppies or impending labor within 2 hours
- Dam is pushing hard for 30 minutes and no puppy is seen or palpated in canal or puppy not progressing through birth canal
- Longer than 60–90 minutes in between puppies
- She stops labor and you know there are more puppies to deliver (based on previous X-ray or ultrasound)
- Vaginal discharge is:
- EXCESSIVELY BRIGHT RED—Hemorrhage
- BROWN and malodorous—Possible infection
- Something just doesn’t seem right!
Often times, the start of the whelping process will be indicated by a large clear fluid discharge (“water breaking”). The bitch will start pushing as a puppy enters the birth canal and the intervals between contractions will lessen as the strength of the contractions increase. It is good to keep people and other animals away from the dam during delivery to keep stress at a minimum.
A puppy is born surrounded by a sac that looks like a clear water balloon. The mother usually breaks this sac and stimulates the puppy to breath by licking it. Often, a first-time bitch doesn’t do this, so you need to break the sac gently and remove all membranes from the nose of the puppy.
Then, suction out the mouth and nose with the pediatric bulb syringe and rub the puppy vigorously with a warm towel to stimulate it to breathe. You can also pinch it on the top of the neck behind the head to help it take a deep breath. Do not swing the puppy – this can cause brain damage similar to shaken baby syndrome.
Once the puppy is crying and breathing well, if the bitch has not already bitten the umbilical cord, tie it off about ¾ inch from the body and then again about 1 inch from the body with a monofilament (single strand, NOT braided) dental floss. Cut the cord in between your 2 ties and dip the cord in iodine solution.
It is important to let the bitch lick the puppy so she bonds with it. Then put the puppy on the mammary gland. Nursing the first milk, called colostrum, gives the puppy antibody protection and stimulates more uterine contractions to assist the bitch with continued whelping and uterine contraction.
You want to be certain that all of the puppies have been delivered when she appears to be done. If you are unsure, you should bring her in for an X-ray to confirm that all the puppies have been born.
Most animals give birth without any complications. However, mothers occasionally need help with delivery. We usually attempt to resolve the problem using medical therapy first, but when that doesn’t solve the issue, we will perform a caesarian section.
During a c-section, the mother is given an anesthetic. An incision is then made along her abdomen and through the uterus to retrieve unborn puppies or kittens. In some situations, we may recommend that the mother be spayed during this procedure, usually to prevent future problems of this nature