Labor and Delivery: The First Stage Of Labor and What Constitutes an Emergency

Today’s post will be covering Labor and Whelping – how to predict when labor will occur based on body temperature, the first stage of labor, a list of things to worry about during delivery that probably require veterinary attention, and another list of things that can seem troubling but are NOT emergencies.  Over the next few weeks, we will  be doing a series of posts about early puppy care and development. We will pick up the second part of Labor and Delivery next weekend

Predicting Labor by Body Temperature

Hopefully by the time your bitch starts the first stage of labor you’re ready – all your supplies are set up, notebook and pen at hand to record puppy arrival times and keep track of number of placentas, sexes, birth orders and everything else you’ll want to refer to.

If you’re waiting for the water to break before you consider your bitch, “In Labor” you might be missing out.  First of all, the water breaking for a bitch is only about a half cup of fluid, and you could miss it, depending on where it happens and how fastidious she is. Second, the water breaking happens in the second stage of labor. Her body has already begun the birthing process before this happens. Third, a better and more accurate way to tell if labor and delivery is near is to pay attention to your bitch’s body temperature. Before delivery, a bitch’s body temperature lowers. Checking her temperature twice a day is a much more accurate way of predicting when the big event is going to occur.  Look for two temperature readings of less than 99 degrees,  or a single temperature reading below 98. Then, you’ll know labor is due within the next 36 hours, although you might want to finalize all your preparations because 12-24 hours is probably more accurate!

The First Stage of Labor

A lot of what happens during first stage of labor is invisible to the human eye.  In fact, even your bitch might sleep through some of it!  For about 6-36 hours, your bitch has uterine contractions, her progesterone levels drop and her cervix is beginning to dilate, getting puppies into position and preparing for actual delivery.

During this time, your bitch can sleep lightly, sleep deeply, or be restless,  whiny, vomit, pace, pant, dig, shiver and/or generally appear anxious. She could also be aloof, or completely clingy and in your lap, depending on her personality. All of this is normal. Just offer her calm reassurance.  Encourage her to spend some time in the whelping box at this point, but if she won’t stay, sometimes it’s helpful to tether her to your side with a leash attached to your belt, so she can’t sneak off, dig through your mattress and deliver puppies on your bed!

Keep food and water on offer, but don’t be surprised if she doesn’t make use of them just yet.

We’ll talk about the Second and Third stages of Labor tomorrow, but for now, let’s talk about a topic that the first-timers and worry-warts will want to know about….

When to Involve the Vet During Labor

The wait before that first puppy can feel like a million years.  There’s a lot to ruminate on, and some people are prone to worrying.  To alleviate some concerns, and to help you feel prepared, here’s a brief checklist of situations that constitute an “emergency” and mean it’s time to get your vet involved.  Hopefully you’ll never need this, but in the case it will help someone feel better to have it handy before labor begins, I thought this was a timely opportunity to share.  

Things TO Worry About During Labor: CONTACT YOUR VET!

If your bitch is in extreme pain, obviously above and beyond normal labor pains.  

If the first puppy hasn’t arrived within 24 hours of the bitch’s temperature drop (or her due date, if you aren’t keeping track of temperature.)

If hard labor contractions have been happening for 60 minutes, without producing a puppy.

If more than 4 hours pass between puppies, and you are certain there are still more puppies to be delivered.  (This is the big advantage to prenatal x-rays!)

If your bitch seems lethargic and shows no interest in her puppies.  Offer a calcium source (vanilla ice cream, Tums, cottage cheese, Citrical, OralCal Plus, and/or yoghurt and monitor as delivery progresses. Give the bitch a couple minutes after the birth to break the sac on her own and clean the puppy  before interfering.  If she doesn’t, you will need to.  

Things NOT To Worry About:

That First Yelp: Though the birthing process is painful,  most bitches (especially maiden ones) only yelp at that first puppy is born. Other than that, your bitch probably won’t vocalize much unless she is the very sensitive type.

Breech births:  About 60% of puppies are born head first and the other 40% comes tail first. Both are normal for dogs and no cause for concern.  

Placentas: They don’t always immediately follow the puppy.  Sometimes a couple puppies will come, then a couple placentas.  Just keep track of how many of each, so you can be certain nothing is retained.

Placenta EATING: Oh yes. They do that.  It’s ok and normal.  Gross – but ok. Eating the placenta stimulates the bitch to sniff and clean the puppy.

Taking a Pause During Whelping: Once labor begins, some bitches will deliver part of their litter and then take a break in whelping to nurse, rest and care for her puppies before resuming delivery.  Sometimes this can last up to 4 hours with no ill effects to the pups or their dam.  Now’s a good time to offer up those calcium-rich snacks and water!  Your bitch will be grateful.  

Newborn borzoi pups, waiting for the rest of their litter to join them.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but a few of the more common things you might run into.  Tomorrow, we’ll go into more depth on the second and third stages of labor.


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