Dogs generally deliver their entire litter without incident, and rarely run into difficulties or need assistance. However, it's important to be prepared for a range of possible eventualities for the rare occasions when that is not the case. Here are a few potential scenarios you may find yourself faced with when your dam is in labour, and what to do.
Once a pup is delivered, massage or gently rub the puppy until he takes his first couple of breaths, and as soon as he is breathing unaided, put him back with the dam to nurse until the next puppy arrives. If a puppy is not breathing upon delivery, you need to act quickly in order to stand the best possible chance of saving it. Remove any mucous or obstructions from the muzzle of the new pup, and administer two breaths over the nose and mouth gently until you see the stomach inflate. Check for signs of independent breathing, massage the puppy again to try and encourage them to take a breath, and repeat as necessary. Generally this is all you will need to do, and in the vast majority of cases this will not be necessary at all.
One of the most commonly faced problems with delivery occurs when a puppy gets stuck in the birth canal on the way out. This is a potentially risky situation for the puppy and the dam as well as any remaining puppies, so you will need to be prepared to intervene if needs be. If your dam has been straining for some time and a puppy is visible at the entrance to the vulva, try to grasp the head of the puppy (without pulling) to keep them from being retracted back into the birth canal between contractions. Then apply lots of lubrication such as KY jelly or warm soapy water, and hold the puppy's head with a clean dry towel or cloth and attempt to rotate them out. Try and work with the contractions, applying gentle but firm pressure while the dam is pushing. If contractions stop and the dam is no longer pushing, you can still attempt to draw the puppy out manually but be prepared to call the vet if this does not work, as this makes things rather more complicated and potentially serious.
A breech or, as James Herriot so eloquently put it, an 'ass first' delivery, occurs when the puppy enters the birth canal with their back legs first instead of the head, and as such makes the birth harder and potentially risky. Sometimes the dam may successfully deliver a breech puppy unaided, although on occasion this may not be possible. If there is room to manoeuvre inside of the birth canal, it may be possible to get two fingers inside of the dam alongside the puppy and reposition them for a head first birth. If this is not possible, you may need to gently pull the puppy out backwards using plenty of lubrication to aid their passage.It is sadly not uncommon for breech birth puppies to be born dead, as they may have suffocated while in the birth canal or had their air supply cut off by a twisted cord. If you deliver a stillborn puppy, do attempt to revive it using the method described above. If you have help, try to work on the puppy for up to half an hour, as it is not uncommon for a puppy to revive after as much as twenty minutes. While you will of course always do the best that you can, it's important to note that breech births are not always viable, and even with the best of intentions you may be unable to revive the puppy.
On occasions, two puppies enter the birth canal at the same time- and then stop. Two puppies cannot come out into the world simultaneously, and so the two are likely to become stuck in the birth canal like a cork in a bottle. If you can get one finger inside of the vulva, you may be able to push one of the puppies back enough to allow the other puppy to deliver, and then the second puppy will follow in the normal manner.
A green discharge after delivery is not uncommon, and signifies the normal separation of the placenta from the puppy that it was protecting. However, a green discharge prior to delivery indicates that the placenta has separated too early. Sometimes this can cause a problem, particularly if no puppy follows immediately afterwards, and you may need to call the vet.
Passing a little blood is a normal part of the birthing process, but if your dam begins bleeding heavily, this may signify a ruptured or twisted uterus. This is an emergency, and you will need to call the vet as soon as possible.
If you suspect that the dam has more pups to deliver, but somehow contractions and labour appear to have stopped- this may simply be due to the dam resting and recovering her strength for the next birth, but if an hour or more passes without labour recommencing, you will need to get some help. Sometimes your vet will need to administer a shot that will stimulate contractions, or in some cases, a caesarean section birth may be necessary.
If your dam has a particularly large litter of puppies or the puppies are themselves particularly large, the uterus may potentially have stretched to the point that contractions are not possible, or very weak. At this stage, your bitch will require veterinary intervention to deliver, and again, a caesarean section may be considered.
These are some of the potential problems and challenges that may be faced by the dog owner as part of a delivery. Risk factors can be significantly higher with different breeds and types of dog, so it's always strongly advised to talk to your vet at every stage of the breeding process from the time before conception right up until the puppies go off to their new homes in order to prevent potential problems from arising or manage any problems that do come up.If you are planning to have your bitch give birth at home, you should always have you vet on standby and ready to help out if something should go wrong or you need some advice- However sometimes, such as in the case of a puppy not breathing, you will need to act quickly and take some measures to save the puppy in the time before the vet get there. Having a basic understanding of the warning signs of problems and knowing what to do in an emergency- as well as having your vet on call and ready to attend when you need them- may just save a life.