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.


Photo Flashbacks – Zen, A Lady in Waiting

On July 5, 2016,  Encore x Zen had a litter of  borzoi puppies here at Aria Borzoi, with Rita L.Rice. “Zen,”  the dam of the “Firesongs” litter is pictured below, heavily pregnant and just hours from delivery.  As part of our “Photo Flashback Fridays” we’ll be showing photos of the Firesongs litter at about the same age as the 2017 “Van Morrison” litter (Seamus x Melody) we’re featuring, just for fun and the sake of comparison.  Every litter is a little different and there can be a quite a range of “normal” for strong, healthy pups.  Over the next few weeks, we will  be doing a series of posts about early puppy development  here at Aria, using photos and examples from the current  2017 “Van Morrison” litter (Seamus x Melody), the 2016 “Fire Songs litter (Encore x Zen) and the 2015 “Irish Airs”  litter (Lancelot x Bridget).   

Poor Zen, full of puppies! Every so often she’d look at me like, “When will this be OVER?”


I kept thinking “Catch that nap while you can, Zen.  You’re on the hook for at least 8 more weeks….”

That’s one BIG belly for such a svelte little girl!


Van Morrison Litter- Day One

Finally, it’s time!  The puppies have all arrived.  Melody has done a fine job cleaning them and letting them nurse for the first time as a litter while they all catch their breath.  It’s a special moment, a pause before the serious business of life, growth and motherhood begins in earnest.

Individual pup pics and profiles are coming, including other puppy goodness from previous litters, and the inside scoop on how we use the neonatal experiences a puppy has to condition them to be successful in later life.  Stay tuned!


Melody-The new mother and her litter, just after whelping.

Pre-Whelping Preparations

The closer you get to the due date, the more important it is to have everything you and your bitch will need already in place and ready to go.  You need to carefully choose her den for her, and set up her whelping box. If you don’t, you run the danger of your bitch making that decision on her own – and it’s pretty much a guarantee you won’t like where she picks!  (hint: your bed, deep in a closet, behind the couch – all popular places!)  Each bitch is an individual, and will have different levels of sociability, but most are at least a little protective of their new puppies, so keep her emotional well-being in mind and try to choose a place a little out of the way where she can feel her puppies will be safe.

When you’re deciding where to put the whelping box, there are a few important things to think about.  Temperature, privacy, ability to control drafts, room to move around, access to enough outlets to keep you entertained and still run a fan/heater/light etc. Most puppies have a sweet spot between 72-76, but different breeds may vary. Drafts can be fatal to a young pup.  Also, you’ll need good curtains, or a foolproof way to darken that room for a few days as the pup’s eyes begin opening.  A spare bedroom or an office is usually a good choice to set up as a puppy nursery, especially if there’s already a bed, or at least room for a cot.

These are a few of our favorite things…

Once the whelping box is set up, it’s a great idea to spend a little bit of time in the room with your bitch every day – her in the whelping box, and you chilling out nearby, busy with her stuff. This will help your girl see this as a safe space, and already be comfortable in there when it’s time for the big event.

Here’s a very basic checklist that might help get you through whelping and the first few days:

Floor Pillows/Step-stools for sitting

Flashlight -handy for head counts in the middle of the night

TV/ Music/Computer. You’ll be glad you have it.

Record-Keeping Notebook/Clipboard. You’ll be weighing/measuring pups daily.  Keep all your notes handy.

Puppy Jail- Either a laundry basket or appropriate sized Rubbermaid tote with a heating pad and towels to stash newborn puppies. You’ll also be using this when you’re cleaning the whelping box later on.

Spare Towels & Rags.  From covering the laundry basket of pups to wiping up all the little messes, you can NEVER have enough of these around.

Collar materials. Some people like to use soft chenille yarn in different colors to help tell their puppies apart.  We like colored velcro strips because they can be taken off of and loosened as the pups grow.



Digital scale with weighing box and towel. You’ll be weighing pups daily, and so you’ll want to have this already calibrated so it sits at 0 with the box and towel on it.  That way, it’s only weighing the pup.

Spare fleece/Sheepskin blankets cut to fit the bottom of the whelping box. Change when things get messy.

Cleaning spray and a couple rolls of paper towels. Some people like a dilution of white vinegar.  I happen to love Myers “Clean Day” products, myself.

Trashcan with LOTS of extra bags.  You are going to generate an amazing amount of really fragrant trash.  You’ll be emptying it regularly.  Trust me on this. 

This isn’t an exhaustive list, by any means.  If you’re planning to breed a litter of your own and your bitch is getting ready to deliver, we hope you’ll do scads and scads of your own homework, and tailor your whelping situation to fit your bitch’s specific needs and comfort!

The Circle Of Life – From Puppyhood to Fatherhood

On July 15, 2015, Lancelot x Bridget had a litter of  borzoi puppies. “Seamus,”  from The “Irish Airs” litter is pictured as a puppy, below – AND he’s also the sire of the most recent litter here at Aria!  Over the next few weeks, we will  be doing a series of posts about early puppy development  here at Aria, using photos and examples from the current  2017 “Van Morrison” litter (Seamus x Melody), the 2016 “Fire Songs litter (Encore x Zen) and the 2015 “Irish Airs”  litter (Lancelot x Bridget).   

Seamus dreaming of the future…

Image may contain: outdoor and nature

From “Little Dude” to “Big Show Attitude,” Seamus was born knowing who and what he is and what he’s meant to be doing.  Brains, athleticism and beauty, all wrapped up in the same package.  We look forward to watching his first litter grow and develop into the bold, confident hounds of the future.


Watch This Space!

Watch This Space!

Hi folks- This is Chelle Griffith, guest blogger and official Aria Borzoi Hound Hugger dropping in to share some exciting news!

There has been a new litter of gorgeous borzoi puppies born at Aria, and while I wasn’t there house sitting (darn it!) I get to be the one to chronicle their journey from itty-bitty speed jelly beans into a small horde of gleeful galloping goofhunds, ready to begin their lives with their new families.  We will be not only sharing photos, and updates, but also talking about the strategies and timetable of raising a vibrantly healthy, well-adjusted litter of puppies.  There will be fun flashbacks to other Aria litters, stories from the whelping box, discussion topics, candid photos, and a double helping of all things borzoi.  So, stay tuned!  Thanks for reading!

goofhund– (noun) Any of a breed of juvenile sight-hound puppies, gleefully bent on cheerful mischief and/or destruction.  See also galloping goofball, terror teeth, puppy Destructo.

This post brought to you by Author C.T. (Chel) Griffith, guest blogger, borzoi enthusiast and hound hugger.