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Ask Dr. Jo: What to do when it’s time for puppies to be born

ASCC Adult Education

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Pregnancy or gestation is that period between a mating which has led to conception and whelping or delivery of puppies. This is approximately 60 days in dogs.  

Some females stop eating during the last day of pregnancy, although this is certainly not universal as many keep eating right up until close to the birth of the first puppy.

Nesting behavior is common.  She will often go into a corner or a quiet room and start scratching or digging to make a bed. These signal first stage labor and is the preparation of her body and her environment for delivery. They may last up to 24 hours.

Delivery is the second stage of labor. Signs include: Acting restless and uncomfortable. If intense straining continues for more than thirty minutes without any signs of a watery discharge (water breaking) or puppies, you should contact your veterinarian as soon as possible.  Most dogs experience no complications with delivery. You should stay with a first time mother until you think delivery is complete. If she is a bit too forceful in chewing umbilical cord then do this for her to prevent complications.

If there are no problems, or is she has had a litter before, further attendance will depend upon the desire of your pet and the situation. Some dogs prefer you to be present while others prefer to be alone.

1. Make sure you have plenty of clean newspapers and sheets or towels.

2. Select the place where you would like her to have her puppies and put a suitable whelping box in that location. The whelping box should be large enough for her to move around freely, with low sides so that she can see out and easily move in and out. A large cardboard packing case with an open top and an opening cut out of the side is ideal for smaller dogs. Be sure to ask your veterinary healthcare team for more advice on making a whelping box for your pet.

3. Line the bottom of the whelping box with plenty of newspaper. There will be a large amount of fluid at the time of whelping. If sufficient layers of newspaper and cloth are in place before whelping, you can remove soiled layers with minimum interruption to the mother and her newborn puppies.

Delivery times vary. Dogs with slim heads such as Shelties, Collies and Dobermans may complete delivery of all the puppies within two to three hours. Brachycephalic breeds, or breeds with large, round heads such as Bulldogs, Boston Terriers, and Pekingese tend to have deliveries that are more difficult; sometimes they will produce one or two puppies relatively quickly and then rest for a while before labor starts again.

Situations to contact your veterinarian as soon as possible include If your dog has produced at least one puppy and does not strain again within two hours, or if the whelping female has been straining continuously for a couple of hours and has not had a puppy.

Puppies are usually born headfirst with the forelegs extended, called an anterior
presentation. Posterior presentation, in which the puppy is born with tail and hindlegs emerging first, is also normal for dogs. This is not a breech presentation. A breech presentation is one in which the tail and bottom are presented first. This is abnormal and may require a Caesarean section or veterinary assistance to deliver the puppy. Some breech presentations can result in a normal delivery. If a puppy's tail is seen hanging from the vulva or there is a lump just behind the vulvar lips and your pet is straining, contact your veterinarian as soon as possible.

In a normal delivery, a few contractions will produce the puppy. Ten to fifteen minutes is reasonable. Following delivery, the mother will lick and chew at the puppy and often appears to be treating it quite roughly. This is normal behavior and stimulates the puppy to start breathing. During the chewing and licking, she tears open the birth sac and exposes the mouth and nose so that the puppy can breathe. If she will let you, you can help remove these tissues from the puppy.

Each puppy is enclosed in two sacs that is part of the placenta or afterbirth. The outer most is the one commonly called afterbirth and is the part which has rested against the uterus of the dam during development. This sac is usually broken during the birthing process and passes through the vulva after each puppy is born. You may not notice any afterbirth, since it is normal for the female to eat them but it is not necessary for her to eat them – remove and count as you do to know there was one puppy for each placenta. Sometimes a mother will have two or three puppies and then pass several of the placenta together.

The inner sac is the amniotic sac and is a thin membrane which often is found covering the puppy body as it emerges. Remove this immediately- it tears easily. It will be attached to the umbilical cord. Clamping and cutting the umbilical cord frees this sac from the puppy.

If you have to cut the cord apply a bit of pressure to it while the bleeding stops with a clean gauze – then dab a bit of mild iodine solution to help prevent infection. Often the mother will chew this cord apart and then you can just dab a bit of iodine solution. It is unnecessary to tie the cord with anything – let it dry and fall off naturally.   Do not cut the umbilical cord less than 2 inches from the puppy tummy.

Next, hold the puppy in a towel and gently rub it until it is dry. It is important to stimulate the puppy by blowing gently down the nostrils and mouth to clear any fluids and debris, as well as stimulating it by gently rubbing it with a towel until it starts to breathe. Gently clearing fluid and mucous from the mouth is usually sufficient to get them breathing – we do not recommend as some do, swinging the puppy or using any kind of force to clear airways.

The puppy should then start to make some noise and breathe normally. The tongue should be pink. Once it is breathing normally, you can offer it to the mother. If she is more interested in delivering further puppies, place the puppy in a box with a warm water bottle covered by a towel. Be sure to cover the puppy with a warm towel to keep it warm.

The puppies have been living in a temperature of 101.5°F (38.5°C) which is pretty warm by human standards. Immediately after birth, puppies are unable to control their own body temperature and are dependent upon external warmth.

Newborn puppies lack the strength to move away from a heat source and can easily become overheated or cold. Keep the ambient temperature in the whelping box at or around 85-90oF (29- 32oC) during the first few days if possible, but for safety reasons various heating devices are not recommended

Sometimes during delivery, things go wrong. Most dogs deliver with ease, but it is crucial that owners of expecting dogs know the warning signs of labor complications.

  • ·  Labor is uncomfortable. However, it should not cause your dog extreme pain. If your dog is exhibiting symptoms of severe discomfort.
  • ·  If more than two hours pass in between the delivery of puppies, or if your dog experiences strong contractions that last more than 45 minutes without a birth.
  • ·  Trembling, collapsing, or shivering are warning signs of serious complications that could put both the bitch and the puppies at risk.
  • ·  It is normal for dogs to deliver a dark green or bloody fluid after the first puppy, but not before the first puppy.
  • ·  Some dogs are slow to go into labor, but if your dog shows no signs of whelping 64 days after her last mating then you need to arrange a veterinary visit.

Once she has delivered all the puppies she should be tired and relaxed. Check that all the puppies are nursing. Nursing triggers hormone release, which helps clean out the uterus of remaining fluids and tissues. Keep her as clean as possible knowing that vaginal discharge is normal up to 30 days after whelping. Ask your veterinarian about any discharge that has an odor or any other worrisome appearance; if the dam is not eating or drinking; if her mammary glands are painful or hard or producing abnormal milk or if the puppies are not settling well (eating and sleeping comfortably).

Although American Samoa does not need more dogs at the moment we do need to care for these new moms and puppies.

Contact if you have any further questions.