So, are you all ready for the big day? Your whelping box is ready, the bitch is comfortable, all of your kit is prepared and to hand and you have some protocols in place in case of any problems or an emergency in labour. So what happens next?
As the day draws closer, you should be monitoring your bitch's temperature several times a day. When her body temperature drops from around 38.3- 37.2 degrees Celsius to 36.5 degrees Celsius, labour is likely to commence within the next 24 hours. Your bitch's behaviour will probably change during this time too- look out for the following signs.
Some dogs will display all of these signs as labour approaches- some only a couple, so be alert to the changes in your particular animal so that you can be prepared.
As the early stages of labour commence, your bitch will make her decision as to where she is going to have her puppies. If you are lucky this will be the whelping box, but be prepared for her to pick her own spot where she feels comfortable and do not be surprised by her choice! She may start digging around in her whelping box or the area of her choice, rearranging the bedding and generally getting things comfortable and how she wants them. Try not to intervene at this stage, let your bitch get as comfortable as she can in her own way.She may be paying a lot of attention to her back end- looking round at her vulva, licking it and generally indicating by her actions that something is happening. She may also be panting and shivering, which can make it seem as if something is wrong, but is totally normal and not cause for concern.She is likely experiencing the first stages of mild contractions by this point, which may not become apparent to you until they become stronger and more frequent. It is also possible that she will vomit, and possibly urinate and defecate too. A mucous discharge from the vulva will almost certainly be present and obvious by this point, as her body prepares for the birth. This discharge should be clear or milky in appearance- if the discharge at this stage of labour is green or a deep or bright yellow, this is cause for concern and you should contact your vet. A green discharge is normal after the birth of the first puppy, but not beforehand.When the first contractions become obvious, it's time to offer your bitch a calcium supplement or calcium rich food or drink, as recommended by your vet or an experienced breeder. This is to help support the process of labour and ease the birth of the puppies.
As your bitch's labour progresses and gets going, her contractions will become more powerful, longer in duration and closer together. Your bitch may vomit several times during the process of labour, and it's important to try to encourage her to drink water and something containing calcium if possible, without forcing it on her. She may be very restless, rooting around, moving about a lot and generally appearing understandably uncomfortable at this time.As the contractions continue, you will begin to see the thin sacks containing her amniotic fluid or 'waters' begin to protrude from the vulva, and then break. At this point, the arrival of the pups is imminent, and the first pup will already be in the birth canal ready to come out into the world. Once the first pup to be delivered enters the birth canal, delivery should be fairly quick- anything from a couple of minutes up to around ten. The time between each puppy being delivered will also be fairly fast, again around ten minutes, often quicker. If your bitch appears to be having problems pushing, labour is protracted, or a pup is taking a significant amount of time to be delivered, your bitch may have run into problems. Never leave a bitch in labour trying to deliver a puppy that's in the birth canal for more than an hour without seeking advice and intervening- she may be having problems that she cannot resolve by herself.Similarly, if a puppy keeps appearing at the entrance of the vulva and being retracted several times without progress, the bitch is probably having a problem delivering and will need help. It's not all that uncommon for a puppy to become stuck in the birth canal, especially with big puppies, breeds with large heads, and puppies which come into the world in the breech position (back legs first, as opposed to head first). If a puppy appears to be stuck and your bitch is not making any progress with delivering it on her own, you may have to intervene and pull the puppy out manually. Lubrication my also help, using KY jelly or another approved lubricant and clean, gloved hands.Any puppy that is born still surrounded in their water sack must be immediately released from the water sack and stimulated in order to encourage them to take their first breaths in order to give them the best possible chances of survival. Check each puppy over as they are born to make sure they are breathing, not in any distress, free of their water sack and not tangled up in anything. Towel them off gently but vigorously, and check that they are breathing. If a new born puppy does not appear to be breathing, sometimes clearing the nose and mouth of mucous and delivering two quick breaths over the muzzle of the nose and mouth can kick start respiration. Record each puppy's birth weight, and consider putting a paper collar on each one in order to identify them later.When the final puppy is born, the placenta may accompany them, or it may be delivered separately, up to an hour later. Keep an eye out for the delivery of the placenta, to make sure that it is complete and to signify the end of the birthing stage of labour.In our next article on breeding from and whelping your dog, we will look at what to do immediately after the birth, how to cut the umbilical cord, how to take care of the newborn puppies and the dam, and how to identify and deal with any potential problems that occur during labour.