Labour and delivery is a very serious event, and I am only presenting a very broad coverage of the topic. You should learn all the details by other means. Read books on the subject, watch videos and experienced breeders deliver a litter, and keep in touch with your veterinarian. Lives are at stake – the puppies as well as your female dog.
Labour commonly begins 63 days after the mating, but healthy pups are born safely at 59 days as well, so it is in your best interest to be prepared 10 days ahead of time. The onset of labour is heralded by a noticeable drop in the dog’s rectal temperature. I recommend that you start recording the temperature twice a day at least a week before the ‘due date.’ The normal temperature is 100.3F to 101.3F. It will drop to about 98.0 – 98.3 when labour is about to begin.
The day her temperature drops, she will refuse food and drink. This is normal. Her instinct is telling her that she needs to ‘fast’ before the big event. It would be good to put a plain buckle collar on her – you may need it later on. Remove your rings if they have raised settings and make sure your nails are trimmed short, cleaned and filed smooth. In the first stage, she will rest a lot and occasionally go out to urinate and defecate. As the time passes, she will get more restless and begin paying a lot of attention to her vulva – cleaning it frequently. You will be able to feel the contractions, if you lay your palm on her side. They will first occur about every 10 minutes and will last about 30 seconds. They are not hurting her, but she will need to go out more often to pass her urine, and her bowel movements will get quite loose.
Stage Two – Delivery
She will progress into the second stage – where you can actually see the contractions. They occur about every 8 – 10 minutes. These are not the “pushing” contractions, but she may begin panting. At this point, you should move her to the whelping box that has the old sheets, papers and towels ready for her to make her ‘nest.’ She will pant and be obviously apprehensive. She may begin tearing up the bedding and paper, getting up and lying down frequently. She will want comfort from you and will be obviously reassured by your presence.
The contractions will become longer in duration and get closer together. When she is almost at the next stage, the contractions will be occurring about every minute and lasting almost the whole minute.
Stage Three – Whelping
The third stage – the actual whelping stage – is immediately preceded by her tail lifting with each contraction. She may cry with pain and will be obviously worried and apprehensive. She will have one contraction after the other.
You must reassure her that all is well and that you are there to comfort her. Just before the delivery, the first puppy can be felt as a hard bulge in the space between the rectal opening and the vagina. You’ll then have a squirt of water – it may be blood-streaked or green-tinged but is most often quite clear – come out of the vagina. This is a lubricating fluid that precedes the pup, which will then be expelled. The pup may emerge slowly with each contraction, or it may ‘shoot’ out quickly.
Very often the first puppy is a “breech” presentation* and is often a large sized one, which makes the first delivery difficult for her. If it were a prolonged delivery, it would be helpful for you to grasp the part of the exposed body with a clean cloth to keep it from going back up into the bitch, until the birthing is complete. The pup (the whelp) is contained in a clear thin sac and the placenta is attached by a cord. The bitch may or may not clear away the sac, and she may or may not bite the cord properly. I have always felt more at ease doing these things than allowing the bitch to do them.
After each pup has been dried off, weighed and checked over, give it to the dam, who will lick it all over, especially around the rectum. This is to make sure the puppy passes the little bit of ‘meconium’, which is the first bowel movement. This meconium is rather sticky and greenish black in colour. After the dam has also suckled the pup, and you know she is about to deliver another pup, you can put the pup in a clean box with sides. Place the pup on a towel that has a hot water bottle under it, or 2 towels over a heating pad turned on LOW until all the litter has been delivered.
When you are sure there are no more puppies to be delivered, you can change the bedding or papers in the whelping box, take the dam out to ‘potty’ her, give her a drink of warm milk or soup, and return all the puppies to her.
Make sure they are all nursing well. You should not hear any ‘munching’ or ‘sucking’ sounds. If you do, the pup is not latched on properly. The tongue curls up and around the nipple forming a complete suction when attached properly. Have only a small lamp turned on – the pups eyes are still forming and make sure the room is warm – 85 degrees – because the pups will get chilled very easily.
If the pups are all the same colour, with no marking to distinguish one from the other, and if you are keeping track of weights, then you can identify each of the pups for a few days by weights alone. After that however, you will have to design a different I.D. method. Some people use coloured nail polish on a foot or a tail or top of head, others use coloured ‘rick-rack’ or satin ribbon, until they are old enough for tiny puppy collars.
Our pups are never left unattended. We use a monitor to listen to the puppies when we are not in the room, and we sleep on the floor beside the box for the first 10 days.
Breech presentation is often just as common as the head first presentation. In a breech presentation, the hind legs and tail appear. Watch for the placenta, for once it separates, the puppy is no longer getting its blood oxygenated from the mother’s blood and time is an issue.
Canine Reproduction, A Breeder’s Guide
Dog Breeding for Professionals
Dogs and How to Breed Them
The New Art of Breeding Dogs
The Standard Book of Dog Breeding
The Whelping and Rearing of Puppies, A complete and Practical Guide
Whelping & More
No portion of this article may be copied, reproduced, or published in any form, without the written permission of the author.