You will know your dog is about to present you with newborn puppies when her temperature drops. A normal canine rectal temperature is between 100 and 102 degrees. About 8 – 24 hours before giving birth, the mama dog’s temperature will drop to about 98 degrees. Your dog will enter the first stage of labor, where the cervix begins to dilate, without giving much notice to you. This first stage will produce some mild contractions, and your dog may begin pacing, shivering, and panting. She may seek out a private place. If you see this, guide her to the whelping box, where she may want to squat or lie down for the birth.
After 6 – 12 hours of stage one labor, your pregnant dog will go into active labor, where she begins actively straining and pushing to expel the newborn pup. If she strains for more than an hour without producing a puppy, you will need to contact your vet. Normally, active labor lasts just 20 minutes for each puppy. After the puppy comes out, the placenta is expelled. You should remove the placenta from the whelping pen as soon as possible and discard it. The dog may rest for an hour or so, then go into active labor for the next puppy, repeating the cycle until all of her puppies are out.
Most puppies are born either headfirst or butt first. If one of the pups appears to get stuck, you can assist in the dog birth by hooking your index fingers either behind the shoulders or over the hips and gently pulling in a downward motion. Don’t pull on legs or ears to get the puppy out, as you can easily dislocate a joint or pull an ear off.
Once the puppy is free, the mama should be able to care for them herself, but if she doesn’t start cleaning them within 2 minutes of birth, you must step in. The newborn puppy will be covered in an amniotic sac, which must be broken open to allow the pup to breathe. Next, the umbilical cord must be tied and cut off to separate the puppy from the placenta.
Normally, the mother will lick the puppy to break the amniotic sac and will chew off the umbilical cord, but she may become exhausted by labor and not be able to care for the puppies, particularly if it is a large litter. If you must step in, simply break the sac from around the puppy’s head with your finger. You can use an aspirator (technically known as a “snot sucker”) to get the mucus out of the puppy’s nose and mouth. Using a clean towel for each puppy, gently clean out the eyes and massage the area around the umbilical cord to stimulate the puppy to take a breath.
Once you are sure the puppy is breathing, it is time to cut the cord. Tie a strand of dental floss tightly around the cord about an inch away from the puppy’s belly. Tie another strand about Ľ-inch closer to the placenta, then cut it between the knots with clean scissors. Dip the puppy end in betadine or iodine to prevent infection. Now the puppy is ready to meet his mama.
Place the newborn puppy where he can seek the mother’s teats as soon as possible after birth. Mother’s milk provides important antibodies to keep the puppy healthy, and his suckling may encourage the mother to begin active labor again for the next puppy. If you have had X-rays taken, you will know how many puppies to expect, so make sure you monitor your pregnant dog during the delivery until all puppies are birthed.
Count the placentas to make sure there is the same number of placentas as puppies. If the last placenta is not expelled, or if you suspect there are still puppies inside but the dog has stopped active labor for more than 4 hours, contact the vet.
As you can see, there is a bit of work you may need to do, and you will want to keep careful records of the puppies as you go, so you might want to have two people present during the births. Plus, you will need someone to keep you company during the “down” time between births. The second person can weigh the puppies and record the birth order and any identifying characteristics so you can tell them apart later.
One trick some breeders use is to keep a separate pen, warmed by a heating pad placed under several towels. When the dog goes into active labor, remove all of the earlier puppies from the whelping pen to the auxiliary pen until the next puppy is born, cleaned up, weighed, and recorded. Then put all of the puppies back in to nurse until the next active labor begins.
Once you are sure your puppies have all been born, let the mama have a light meal if she wants it, and allow her outside for a potty break. If she won’t eat, try serving her a bowl of warm condensed milk, mixed with an equal amount of water and two raw egg yolks. Yum!
Mama is likely to produce a bright green or reddish brown discharge for about the next two months, which is normal. However, if the discharge is bright red, you need to call your veterinarian right away. Continue to take your dog’s temperature daily and inspect her mammary glands. Contact your vet if the temperature rises above 103 degrees or if the mammaries become inflamed. Either is a sign of infection that must be treated.
Lactation will make your dog really hungry, so be sure she has access to a high quality food several times a day. Add cottage cheese to her food to provide enough calcium, or see if the vet wants you to give her a calcium supplement. Do NOT put a water dish inside the whelping pen as the puppies may drown in it, but make sure the mama dog can get to a clean water source whenever she wants it.
Now that the puppies are out, your focus will shift to caring for the newborn puppies. Check back here for the fourth article in our series, called Newborn Puppy Care.
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