How to cope at whelping time
By Nicole Mackie
A large litter of healthy, well-fed pups.
PREGNANCY lasts about nine weeks. In the last couple of weeks of pregnancy the bitch should be encouraged to accept a nest in a suitable place, ideally a warm, dry, clean room isolated from the rest of the household, in to which a whelping box may be placed.
The box should be large enough to allow the dam to stretch out and have enough room for a large litter. The box should have sides high enough to prevent the puppies from escaping for up to four weeks of age. A pig rail may be used to prevent the dam from crushing her puppies. A heat pad under the bedding or an overhead infrared heat lamp may be used to keep the puppies warm. Signs of impending parturition:
- Dropping of the uterus in the abdomen.
- Milk present.
- Restlessness and bed making - bitch may try to hide.
- Temperature drops from about 38degC to 37degC.
- Refuses food.
- Cervix dilates and onset of labour pains.
Three stages of parturition
First stage: The first stage of parturition averages about 1-12 hours in duration, although this is variable. Contractions may cause discomfort and the dam may become restless, panting and nesting. Shivering and vomiting may be observed. The contractions push the first foetus against the dilating cervix. The placenta may rupture and fluid may be produced from the vulva.
Second stage: The foetus enters the pelvic canal and abdominal straining commences. The amnion surrounding each foetus is often seen at the vulva during straining. This may rupture spontaneously, or be broken by the dam or born within the sac. The dam will normally break the sac. If the dam fails to break the sac it should be broken quickly and the airway of the foetus cleared. The birth of the foetus is usually followed by the expulsion of the placenta within about 20 minutes.
Usually the dam will sever the umbilical cord with her teeth and eat the placenta. Allow the bitch to eat a couple of placenta as this is good for her and helps with milk letdown. However, too many can cause severe indigestion. The bulk of the placenta should be removed without upsetting the dam. If the dam fails to sever the cord, this can be done by using thread, tying the cord about six centimetres from the pup's body and cut with scissors. Allow the puppies to suckle between whelps as this will encourage let down of milk and the bonding process between the mother and her puppies.
Third stage: Occasionally a foetus is born without the placenta, which is expelled at a later stage or may be delivered with another subsequent foetus. There is a dark-coloured discharge from the vulva after parturition, originating from the placenta. The discharge declines in volume but may persist for a week after parturition. If the discharge appears before the pup is born it means the puppy is losing its blood supply, its life is in danger and assistance is necessary.
When assisting with a delivery keep in mind that the puppies are very delicate and easily damaged. Be gentle.
Pup not breathing
Clear membranes away from the mouth and clear away any mucus obstructing the mouth or throat.
Rub the puppy briskly with a towel to stimulate breathing. Mouth-to-mouth resuscitation may be necessary. Blow gently into the pup's nose and mouth until the chest begins to lift. Do not blow hard or you risk rupturing the lungs.
When to call the vet
- Bitch straining for an hour or more without presenting a pup.
- Ruptured membranes, but no pup present within 30 minutes.
- More than three hours between pups born.
- Bitch goes over 65 days without whelping.
- Bitch not straining.
- Bitch lethargic.