Whelping a Litter -- It’s time! - Page 2

Helping You Get the Most From Your Hunting Dogs

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Once the cervix has dilated completely the bitch’s contractions move the unborn puppy from the uterine horn into the vagina. At this point, you may see the water sack around the puppy protruding from the lips of the vulva. It is not uncommon for the water sack to burst before the puppy is born, however, the puppy should be delivered as quickly as possible, without upsetting the mother. Most puppies are born in the “diving” position (head first). Once the head pops out the remainder of the body is usually delivered easily.

Opinions vary as to weather the breeder should intervene at this point. Personally, I like to offer as much assistance as possible. This does two things; first, it reduces the amount of work required by the bitch and allows her to save her energy for the long night to follow. Secondly, it allows the breeder to give the puppy the necessary care to avoid issues like aspirated pneumonia.

If you choose to intervene, you’ll need to break the amniotic sac to allow the puppy to breath. While stripping the fetal membrane from around the puppy, hold the puppy upside down to help drain fluid and mucus from its nose and throat. At this point, rub the puppy with a clean dry towel vigorously until he cries. This rubbing will both clean the puppy and stimulate it to start breathing. Be prepared to cut the cord about 1" away from the body and tie it with plain dental floss. Apply a liberal amount of iodine to the end of the umbilical cord to prevent infection.

Once the pup is breathing and clean, introduce the puppy to his/her mother while under a heat lamp in the whelping box. The temperature in the whelping box should consistently stay between 85-90 degrees. Allow the mother to accept the puppy and begin nursing. It is very important for puppies to begin nursing off the mother within the first 24 hours. The colostrom (“first milk”) carries immunities that protect the puppies from infection. The puppy’s nursing also stimulates contractions allowing the bitch’s labor to progress naturally. Don’t worry, however, if you can’t get the puppies on the dam right away. Newborn puppies can go a couple hours without first milk.

The placenta is usually passed with each puppy or may be detached and delivered within a few minutes of after each puppy is born. If delivered with the puppy, care should be exercised to make sure placenta is handled with the puppy and not left loose or hanging from the puppy which is likely to cause an umbilical hernia. Make sure you account for each placenta. If the bitch should retain a placenta, she is at risk of having a serious uterine infection. Take her to the vet within 24 hours from the time she delivered the last puppy for a shot of oxytocin (otherwise known as a pit shot) to clear the uterus and let down the bitch’s milk.

Allow the mother to accept the puppy and begin nursing.
Photo by: Dana M. English
Some puppies are born as quickly as 15 minutes apart, while some take as long as 2 hours. While prolonged labor is normal for some litters, if you believe that the bitch has unborn puppies still to be delivered and it has been longer than 4 hours since the last puppy or if the bitch forcefully strains for more than an hour without delivering a puppy, call your vet immediately! Often this is an indication of a blockage or problem that requires veterinarian assistance.

After all the puppies have been delivered you should notice that your bitch will stop having contractions and she should calm down or even sleep. Once both the bitch and you have gotten a little “shut eye” it’s a good idea to have her examined by you veterinarian to be sure she has not retained any placentas or unborn puppies. Over the next couple days it’s a good idea to periodically check the bitch’s temperature to make sure she is recovering well. As for the puppies, it’s a good idea to weigh the puppies daily to make sure they are gaining weight regularly. Good luck with you new litter. In the next issue, we will talk about postpartum problems and caring for newborn puppies.
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