In vet practice we see lots of cases of whelping, otherwise known as parturition, in female dogs.
Parturition is the process of giving birth. Fortunately, most births run very smoothly, especially if your dog is able to be in a secure, non stressful environment with a distant watchful eye from you as an owner. Always remember that a stressed out owner can lead to a stressed out dog which can often slow the labour down so be sure to give her as much space as possible to allow nature to take its course.
Several days before parturition, the bitch may become restless, seek seclusion or become over attentive, and she may refuse to eat. She may start nesting. Often but not always, her body temperature can drop sharply 8- 24 hours before parturition; it is therefore very useful to start taking her temperature three times a day in the days running up to the expected delivery date, to give you some warning that labour is about to start. In miniature breeds the temperature may drop to 35’C, in medium breeds it may drop to around 36’C. In giant breeds the temperature rarely drops below 37’C.
There are three recognised stages to true parturition, with the last two stages being repeated for each pup:
- Stage 1: this usually lasts 6-12 hours but can be as long as 36hours. In this stage the uterus is contracting, but there are no abdominal contractions to be seen. The bitch often pants and is restless, and tearing up and rearranging of beds is not uncommon. Shivering and occasional vomiting can also be seen. You may see a clear watery discharge.
- Stage 2: this starts when you see the bitch beginning to strain-abdominal contractions-and these contractions will result in the birth of a puppy. It lasts 3-12 hours depending on the number of puppies, although rarely can last 24 hours. Generally there are not more than 1-2 hours between puppies. You will see fluid filled sacs appear at the vulva which may rupture-clear or bloody discharge from the vulva is not uncommon and is normal. The first pup is usually delivered within 4 hours of the start of this second stage labour. The bitch will generally break the sacs, sever the umbilicus and lick the puppy.
- Occasionally help is required by you to open the sacs and allow the puppy to breathe, and to clear the puppy’s airways of fluid. Then place the puppy in front of mum to encourage her to lick it and stimulate it to breathe. If she fails to do this, rub the puppy with a clean, dry towel and clear its mouth of fluid. Typically, bitches will rest between deliveries, and will nurse and groom their new pups intermittently. As the next puppy starts to arrive, panting and trembling are common.
- Stage 3: this is the delivery of the placenta. It usually occurs within 15 minutes of the birth of a puppy, but in some cases a bitch may give birth to 2-3 puppies before passing the placentas. Try to keep a check on the number of placentas that are passed, to ensure that there are the same number of placentas expelled as there are pups.
Dystocia is defined as difficulties with whelping. There are two main groups of reasons as to why this can occur:
- Maternal reasons Eg: exhaustion due to a long parturition, or anatomical problems, such as a previous fractured pelvis causing narrowing of the birth canal.
- Foetal reasons Eg: very large puppies or mal-presentation.
Dystocia should be recognised early, and veterinary attention sought quickly to ensure that both mum and pups receive the required medical attention.
If the following occur, please ring your veterinarian for advice:
- Weak, irregular straining for more than 2-4 hours
- Strong, regular straining for more than 20-30minutes
- Foetal fluid was passed more than 2-3 hours previously, but nothing more has happened
- Greenish discharge is seen but no puppies have been born, or (after puppies have started being born) green discharge is seen, but no puppy is passed within 2-4 hours
- More than 2-4 hours have passed since the birth of the last puppy and more remain
- The bitch has been in second stage labour for more than 12 hours
- If pregnancy lasts more than 72days from the first mating, or 66 days after ovulation (if ovulation timing with progesterone blood tests was performed)
- If labour does not begin within 24 hours of the drop in body temperature. If you see these signs, please contact your vet straight away.