Whelping a Litter -- It’s time!

Helping You Get the Most From Your Hunting Dogs

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Whelping a Litter -- It’s time!

by Geoffrey English

Well, it’s that time… and if you are like me, it is the time you have been waiting anxiously for and a time that is sure to change your life… at least for the next 8 weeks.

If this is the first litter you have whelped it’s a good idea to consult your vet a week or two before the expected litter. This will do two things, first, it will ease your mind knowing that you have discussed and understand how you should handle an emergency, if one should present itself. Second, visiting with your vet gives you an opportunity to discuss with him/her any areas of the whelping process you are uncertain about before the big day. Once the big day is here, it is a good idea to notify your veterinarian and inform him/her that the whelping is about to begin, so the vet will be ready to answer any question you might have during the whelping process.

On or around the 58th day of gestation, you should start taking your bitch’s temperature regularly, at least three times a day (morning, noon and night, if possible). The use of a digital rectal thermometer and a little Vaseline applied to the tip will make the job much quicker and more accurate than using the old mercury-based thermometer. The bitch’s temperature should drop from around 101.3 (considered normal for most breeds) to 99.5 degrees Fahrenheit or below within 24 hours of whelping. A fluctuation in temperature of a stressed bitch is very normal so don’t be alarmed if you see a slight change in temperature. A dramatic drop in temperature below 99F is a good indicator that whelping is imminent. However, don’t assume a normal rectal temperature means the bitch will not deliver puppies soon. Other signs to be aware of are restlessness, discomfort, panting and nesting. If you have not already done so, introduce the bitch to the whelping box. As the days grow near, the bitch will start digging at the newspaper lining the bottom of the whelping box or “nesting”. The next sign you want to look for is evidence of contractions. If you watch carefully, you should be able to see the bitch naturally contract her muscles starting behind her shoulders working her way down the spinal cord to the base of the tail. Between each contraction most bitches will pant heavily and begin licking the vulva area. She may also vomit. This in a natural reflex, so don’t panic.

A puppy being delivered in the non-traditional presentation -- tail and feet first.
Photo by: Dana M. English
When labor is going without issue, there is little need for assistance on your part. However, if labor continues for an hour or so without producing a puppy, it is a good idea to take the bitch outside for a quick walk. Be careful though, often this type of physical movement by the bitch can cause a puppy to be expelled unexpectedly. If a short walk does nothing to stimulate birth, you can try a technique called "feathering." Put on a pair of latex gloves and apply a liberal amount of lubricant (such as KY Jelly) to the tip of your index finger. Carefully insert one finger into the bitch’s vulva and gently move your finger along the top of her vagina -- or “feather” the area. This will help stimulate involuntary uterine contractions.

Assuming labor continues normally, the contractions will come faster and the bitch will start pushing more forcefully. The next thing to expect is the bitch’s water to break. The water sac that protects the unborn puppies in the uterus will most likely break and discharge onto the floor. Care should be exercised when choosing a birthing area so that such events are easily remedied. Under normal circumstances, once the bitch’s water has broken the first puppy should be delivered within 15-20 minutes.
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