When your dog is ready to give birth, it can be both an exciting and a very stressful time. Birthing is a wonderful experience if planned properly. However, planning for all possible outcomes is impossible, and sometimes difficulties occur that may endanger the lives of your dog, the puppies- or both. To minimize certain dangers, it is important to arm yourself with information, supplies, tools, and implements, and the trusty advice and support of your veterinarian or another animal expert.
At about eight or nine weeks, the bitch’s pregnancy is considered terminal- meaning it is about to come to an end by giving birth to the pups. By this time, your dog should have a whelping or nesting area that is clean, dry, and of normal temperature. The area should also be quiet- dogs do not like lots of excitement and noise before, during, or after the birthing experience. After consulting with your veterinarian, you will have a wealth of supplies on hand. These will include many clean towels, blankets, sealed trash receptacles, weaning bottles, hemostat forceps, dental floss, a thermometer, lubrication, syringes, (without needles, preferably 3cc), scissors, and iodine.
Perhaps the most important of the implements you will use during pregnancy and whelping is the thermometer. A normal dog’s temperature is about 101.5 degrees. About 12-24 hours before whelping, your bitch will experience a decrease in temperature by about 1-2 degrees, sometimes as much as 3 degrees. During this last stage, your dog should be confined to her birthing room or kennel any time she is not under your direct observation. Other signs that point to immediate birth are restlessness, a decrease in appetite, enlargement of the mammary glands with or without milk present, a pendulous belly, and a relaxed vulva. If you notice these signs or combinations thereof, labor is imminent.
Most puppies are born head-first, but as many as 4 out of ten births will be posterior, or rear-quarters first. In most cases, the dog will be able to take care of the birth herself- your job should be only to observe. In the case of a posterior birth, you may need to use a towel over your hands to gently provide downward pressure by grasping to pup’s hips. Gentle help is the only method that should be used, and this is done to prevent exhaustion to the bitch by overexerting herself in trying to force the puppy out. In some cases, a puppy may come out as a breech birth- meaning all you can see is the tail and rear, and the legs are pressed against the body. This is a highly dangerous situation that requires veterinary aid.
In normal births, the dam will bite away the placenta from the pup and lick it to clean it and stimulate it. The dam may also eat the placenta, which is quite normal. Under no circumstance should you interfere with this? Delivery time between puppies may be anywhere from several minutes to several hours. During this time, you should monitor the health of the pups and the dam. Keep the pups clean and dry, but do not wet them or use any soaps. Clamp and cut umbilical cords if you have been instructed on how to do so. Some bitches even like to go outside and urinate between births or to snack on food between births. You should make her as comfortable as possible.
In abnormal births, consulting with a veterinarian is always best. Nevertheless, sometimes it may be unavoidable to perform CPR on a puppy to save its life. Puppies can sometimes inhale fluids in the birth canal that may make them weak or unconscious, and they may or may not be breathing. You may be required to aspirate the puppy, perform CPR, and still monitor your dog and care for her and the puppies that are still coming. For this purpose, it is highly recommended that you have experienced people on hand to assist should you need it.
By no means is this article meant as a guide to whelping. In fact, the little information outlined here makes it even more obvious that whelping is a crucial task to be undertaken on by responsible breeders who have been instructed and trained on what to do. As always, you should be in close consultation with your veterinarian throughout the pregnancy and whelping process. And enjoy it!