Posts Tagged ‘whelping’

Whelping Survival Guide Part 2: All About Whelping

In Part 1 of this blog, we looked at how to care for your dog during her pregnancy. In this second part, we’ll look in more detail at the whelping process, what to watch out for, and when to call for help.

What does normal whelping look like?

In most cases, the bitch will know when labour is imminent (although sometimes she may be mistaken, especially if she’s very young). 2-4 days before whelping down, she will become restless, and will seek out a secluded space to give birth – if you’ve set it up and introduced her to it properly, it will hopefully be your whelping area! In the 24 hours before whelping, her body temperature will drop quite markedly (as a result, it’s always useful to be checking her temperature several times during the day to get a “heads up”).

She will then go and nest in her preferred area and go into true labour. There are three stages in the bitch:

Stage 1 During this phase, the bitch is lining up the puppies, ready to come out. It usually lasts 12-24 hours, but although her uterus is starting to contract, this isn’t visible from the outside. Usually, she’ll be firmly ensconced in her nest, refusing food at this point; and as it progresses, there may be a watery vaginal discharge as her cervix opens.

Stage 2 this is the actual delivery of the puppy! There are visible and strong contractions, and she may pant or yelp. It shouldn’t last more than 2 hours, and in most cases less than one. The vaginal discharge in Stage 2 varies from clear, to red, to green – all are potentially normal! Often, Stage 2 contractions are weak and intermittent to begin with, but should then get progressively stronger and stronger.

Stage 3 delivery of the placenta, or afterbirth, follows. In many cases, the bitch will eat this, although contrary to popular opinion it isn’t actually that important to her nutritionally. We’d normally expect this to take place about 15 minutes after the puppy.

Most bitches, most of the time, will deliver a puppy, then it’s placenta, then another puppy, then it’s placenta and so on. However, it’s not uncommon to get 2 or 3 puppies, then 2 or 3 placentas, then another puppy etc. It is important not to lose count – if you’ve got more puppies than placentas, it means one is still inside, and if not passed, it could establish a dangerous infection.

What complications might there be?

The vast majority of births go very smoothly. However, there are three common problems that you need to watch out for, as they are potentially fatal to puppies, and/or the bitch.

Uterine Inertia this occurs when the puppies reach full term, the cervix opens… and then the bitch fails to push. There are a number of possible causes, including very small litter sizes (which may be why this is more common in smaller dogs). It can also be caused by slightly low calcium levels, or exhaustion, but whatever the cause, needs veterinary intervention.

Dystocia failure to give birth, usually due to a puppy being stuck. This is a life-threatening emergency, and requires URGENT veterinary intervention to save the puppies and the bitch.

Eclampsia dangerously low blood calcium. In most cases, this occurs a few weeks after whelping, but it may occur at the time, and trigger uterine inertia or dystocia. A key cause is excessive calcium in the diet in pregnancy, which means that the bitch’s body doesn’t regulate calcium as efficiently around the whelping and suckling periods, and allows it to fall too far. This presents as panting and restlessness, and so can be missed immediately before labour; it then, however, progresses to tremors, shaking, collapse and seizures or fits, and needs URGENT veterinary intervention.

What signs of trouble do I need to look for?

As a general rule of thumb, CALL US IMMEDIATELY if the bitch…

  • Strains without producing any puppies for over an hour
  • Fails to produce a pup two hours after the last one
  • Hasn’t produced any puppies two days after her temperature dropped
  • Is having forceful but intermittent contractions
  • Seems exhausted or unhappy

How do I look after the puppies?

You shouldn’t have to – the bitch should normally know what she’s doing. If necessary, rub them gently with a towel to warm them up, but be careful – some bitches are very suspicious of people “stealing” their new puppies! Also do not shake them to get fluid out of their lungs (you can injure them), but if they aren’t breathing, gently tap their chests and CALL US for advice over the phone.

Make sure they all stay warm and on suck, and let the mother do her job; only if she isn’t may you have to intervene – in that case, call us IMMEDIATELY.

If you’ve got any other questions, feel free to call us for advice. If you think something’s going wrong, call us any time, 24/7, and talk to one of our vets.

Whelping Survival Guide Part 1: All about Pregnancy

So, your bitch has met with the stud dog – hooray! But what happens next? What do you have to do? Is there anything to watch out for? No need to worry – read on for all the answers you need!

How long is her pregnancy?

The average pregnancy is 63 days from the first mating; however, the bitch’s season is quite long, sperm can survive inside for quite a while, and so there is always some natural variability. We certainly wouldn’t expect her to produce any puppies before 56 days, and if she’s reached 73 without anything, that suggests a problem with the dates, or uterine inertia.

How do I know if she’s pregnant?

Diagnosing pregnancy in the bitch is not as easy as in humans. This is mainly because the bitch’s body prepares for pregnancy after every season, whether or not there are actually any pups present. So, a progesterone test (for example) is essentially useless – the bitch thinks she’s pregnant anyway, every single time! There is one slightly dubious and two reliable and widely available methods we can use to determine pregnancy:

Palpationan experienced vet can sometimes feel the puppies between 25 and 30 days after conception – however, a fat, tense or anxious, or large breed bitch can make this really difficult. As a result, you can get false negatives, and occasionally even false positives. We do not, therefore, recommend it!

Relaxin Blood Test although progesterone tests are useless, there are other hormones in pregnancy! The Relaxin test is reliable and accurate, and can be used from 25-30 days post conception.

Ultrasound Scan this is the most common and most reliable method. It is first reliable at 25-30 days and at this time the heartbeats can usually be seen quite clearly. In the hands of an experienced vet, sometimes it’s possible to say that she is in pup from three weeks, but it’s impossible to say with certainty that she isn’t at this age. Ultrasound scans also allow us to measure the size of the puppies, and work out how old they are. This can help us narrow down the due date if a bitch was mated several times! However, the ultrasound scan can only give you a rough idea of the numbers – an accurate count of foetuses is not possible.

Are there any health precautions I need to take?

You want the puppies to be as healthy as possible, so making sure she has a good diet and suitable preventative care are really important.

Dieta suitable fully balanced diet is ideal; we’d generally recommend against a raw food diet in pregnancy as it’s very hard to get the nutrient levels right. We also STRONGLY advise against giving any calcium supplementation – doing so, ironically, increases the risk of eclampsia (see in Part 2). In terms of volume, she doesn’t really need any more calories until the last 2 weeks or so and, if you overfeed, there’s a risk that she’ll be too fat, or the pups will be too big, for her to give birth normally. Of course, after birth, she needs more or less as much as she can get to make milk for her puppies!

Vaccination puppies are protected for the first 4-6 weeks of life by their mother’s immune system, so it’s important that she is fully up to date with vaccinations, ideally before she gets pregnant. If her vaccination status will lapse during her pregnancy, you can give her a booster, but it’s probably better to boost her 3-4 weeks before she goes to the dog. If Canine Herpes (a nasty infection that is usually fatal to puppies) is a problem, there is a short-acting vaccine given in pregnancy that will protect them – but we don’t think it’s usually necessary.

Wormingsome nasty roundworms can invade a puppy through the placenta, and also through the milk. During pregnancy, dormant worms may wake up and become active, so worming with a puppy-safe wormer during pregnancy is vitally important. Talk to us for advice on the dosage because it’s a bit different from normal 3-monthly doses!

How should I prepare as she gets near her time?

In the last couple of weeks of pregnancy, introduce her to the area where you want her to whelp. Remember, she’ll only whelp down somewhere she feels comfortable, safe and secure! Ideally, a box she can hide away in, with comfortable bedding (towels are good – they’re going to get messy! – and newspaper underneath is a must), nice and warm and free from draughts.

In Part 2, we’ll look at the whelping process itself.

If you’ve got any other questions, feel free to call us for advice. If you think something’s going wrong, call us any time, 24/7, and talk to one of our vets.