The big day is getting close! Here are some tips for preparing for labor & delivery to help ensure all goes smoothly.
Prior to Labor
Set up the whelping area around a week or so prior to whelping, and allow the pregnant dog to check it out. Whelping areas need to be out of the normal traffic flow, warm, and dry. All materials need to be able to be cleaned thoroughly. Good hygiene is vital to controlling infection early in the puppies’ lives.
Key Whelping Box Characteristics:
- Easy to keep scrupulously clean.
- Nonporous surface.
- Added warmth – with a cooler side and a warmer side.
- Prevention of fire hazards.
- Bitch is able to enter and exit easily, while still containing the puppies.
- Internal rail to protect a puppy from being compressed against the side.
Knowing the number of puppies in the litter helps you to prepare the materials you will need. We recommend a radiograph one week prior to the due date. It is best if the she has not been fed and has defecated, because this makes it easier to see all the pups. A radiograph also allows a final estimate of the due date based on the fetal development, and assessment of the size of the pups relative to the dam.
- A small scale such as a kitchen scale for weighing puppies
- Colored ribbons or collars to help label & identify individual puppies.
- Notebook to record time of birth, weight and identifying features of each puppy. Also useful for tracking weight and other notes as puppies grow.
- Plenty of small, clean towels for the whelping.
- Unwaxed dental floss to tie off umbilical cords.
- Mild antiseptic, such as betadine, to dab on the umbilical stumps.
- Puppy milk replacement, such as Esbilac, alone with bottles and feeding tubes, just in case.
- Your camera!
One Week Prior to Labor:
- Start taking the dam’s rectal temperature one week prior to her whelp date.
- Take the temperature 2 – 3 times a day at the same times of the day
- Take it when she has been at rest for at least 20 minutes.
- Record the temperatures in your notebook.
A drop in emperature of at least one degree below what it has normally been at that time of day is an indicator that labor will start within 12 – 24 hours. Normal temperature is between 99.5 – 102.5 degrees F. If there is no sign of stage 1 labor within 24 hours of the temperature drop, call your veterinarian.
Stage 1 of Labor
The temperature will return to normal or slightly higher than normal once stage 1 labor starts. During stage 1, contractions are starting and the cervix is dilating. She may be very restless – panting, shaking, pacing, seeking nesting areas, digging, and whining. Vomiting, diarrhea, or loss of appetite may occur. This stage lasts 6 – 8 hours; call the veterinarian if the bitch does not progress to stage 2 during this time. Stage 1 often takes place during the day.
Stages 2 and 3 of Labor
Stages 2 and 3 often take place at night. Stage 2 labor is the hard contractions that result in the birth of a puppy. Stage 3 labor is the passing of the placenta. It is common to see more than one puppy followed by more than one placenta. The bitch may want to eat the placentas. In general, we recommend preventing this as they will most likely vomit them back up.
There are many videos available on YouTube to see what a normal birth looks like. Bitches may or may not cry out. The puppies are born covered by the birth membranes. The bitch will tear at these with her teeth, then start licking the puppy vigorously. She will also break the umbilical cord.
Helping After Delivery:
The pups require significant stimulation to get them breathing and crying. If the dam does not do these jobs, or is aggressive toward the newborns, you will need to take the puppy in a clean towel and rub it to remove the membranes and provide the stimulation. You can tie a knot in the cord or tie it off with unwaxed dental floss about 1 inch away from the puppy. Dab the stump with the mild antiseptic, such as betadine. Approximately 40% of pups are born hind feet first!
Expect about 20 – 30 minutes of hard straining prior to each pup’s birth, with 15 – 30 minutes of rest between pups. Call a veterinarian if there is no pup after 30 minutes of hard straining, or if there is 1 – 2 hours of weak or intermittent straining with no birth.
A dark green vaginal discharge is normal when a placenta separates from the uterus. If this discharge is present but no puppy is born within 1 hour, call the veterinarian. It is also normal for a bitch to rest with no contractions up to 2 – 4 hours between puppies, but if it goes longer, and you know there are remaining puppies, call the veterinarian. Depending on the litter size, the entire litter will typically be delivered within 12 hours.
During the resting phase between deliveries, examine the newborn for birth defects (especially a cleft palate). Record the birth weight in your log book, along with any identifying features. Then ensure that the pup starts nursing immediately. This is critical to the pup, but also helps release hormones which will lead to the birth of the next pup.
After All of the Pups Have Been Born:
It is normal for the bitch to spike a fever in the 24 to 48 hours following birth. Clinical signs of illness should not accompany this fever.
Normal vaginal discharge after parturition should be odorless and may be green, dark red-brown or bloody and may persist in small amounts for up to 8 weeks.