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Postpartum Care

by Geoffrey English

In the last two columns we covered a lot of ground, from the days leading up to pregnancy to the delivery itself. This issue, I would like to cover postpartum care of your dam and the warning signs to watch for during the first few weeks after whelping. Common reproductive problems after delivery include: metritis, eclampsia, mastitis, and agalactia. We will address each one of these in turn.


Within twenty-four hours of the bitch delivering the last puppy, it’s a good idea to have her examined by your veterinarian. The postpartum check-up ensures she has not retained any placentas or unborn puppies. If the bitch should retain a placenta, she is at risk of having a serious uterine infection. Many veterinarians will give your bitch a shot of Oxytocin (otherwise known as a pit shot) to let down the bitch’s milk and clear the uterus of any remains. It’s a good idea to frequently change the bedding in the whelping box while the uterus is being cleared to prevent bacterial growth and maintain a sanitary environment for the new puppies.

It is important to weigh each puppy at birth and then continue on a daily bases until the puppies are 4 weeks old. Failure to gain weight can be an indication of Agalactia.

Over the next couple days it’s a good idea to periodically check the bitch’s temperature to make sure she is recovering well. It is normal for the “stressed bitch” to run a slight fever for the first few days after giving birth and she may even vomit and/or have a brief case of black diarrhea (caused from ingesting placentas). However, a body temperature greater than 103.5 degrees, listlessness, loss of appetite and/or continual diarrhea are all indications of metritis and you should seek prompt veterinarian assistance. Metritis is the inflammation of the uterus caused by a bacterial infection. Metritis is most common from 1 to 7 days after birth. Immediate treatment with antibiotics is necessary. In some cases, the puppies will need to be removed from the dam and hand-raised if the infection has spread to the bloodstream and has caused an infection throughout her body.

A green to reddish-brown vaginal discharge (called lochia) is normal for few days after birth. The lochia should change to a watery pink bloody discharge that may persist for up to a month. A tell-tale sign of metritis is an abnormal discharge, of puss that is green or brown colored and has a foul odor originating from the vulva.

If you suspect that your dam is suffering from metiritis is important to seek veterinarian assistance immediately. Your vet will want to examine your bitch and run several tests to confirm the diagnosis. Most likely he or she will order a complete blood count and cytologic examination of vaginal tissue to determine if your bitch is suffering from metritis. Treatment will largely depend on the extent of her condition and can range from prescribing antibiotics to have her hospitalized and even spayed.

Eclampsia, otherwise know as “milk fever”, is a condition that results from a bitch that has trouble supporting the calcium demand of lactation. Signs of stiffness, a painful gait, nervousness and restlessness are early signs of eclampsia and require immediate veterinarian attention. If not treated, these symptoms can progress to muscle spasms, inability to stand, fever and eventually seizures and even death. Eclampsia typically occurs within the first three to four weeks of lactation, and is more common in small breeds (bitches under 25 pounds in body weight). Calcium supplementation during pregnancy is NOT RECOMMENDED as supplementation can predispose a bitch to this condition by decreasing the intestinal absorption of calcium.
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