Yesterday we featured the first part of Labor and Whelping, covering 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. To visit that post, click HERE. Over the next few weeks, we will be doing a series of posts about early puppy care and development.
Stage 2 Labor = Hard Labor
When most people think of “labor” this is what they are thinking of. Heavy contractions, and the regular expulsion of puppies. For those who are new to the process, the expectation is puppy, placenta, puppy, placenta, etc. in regular intervals until the litter is entirely birthed. But it doesn’t always work out that way, and that’s ok.
Stage 2 Labor is when a puppy is being birthed, and Stage 3 is when a placenta is being expelled. They don’t always come in that order, or one after another. As we mentioned yesterday, sometimes a couple of puppies can come, then a couple of placentas and that’s fine.
Her water may have broken at some point before, but if it hasn’t, it will. Sometimes it can pass unnoticed. Start the clock with your bitch’s first hard contraction. Unlike the internal contractions in Stage 1 Labor, you’ll be able to see her abdominal and flank muscles ripple and she may let out a grunt. If hard contractions persist. If she’s having regular hard contractions, less than 5 minutes apart, and she hasn’t produced a puppy in an hour, call your vet. If she’s been having frequent hard contractions and still hasn’t produced a puppy after two hours, she should go in for an exam right away.
Most labor and deliveries go smoothly. Each puppy will be born one at a time, wrapped in a membrane. Some of these sacs may be intact, some will already be torn and open, but don’t worry too much. A puppy can live for a few minutes in his membrane before his mother has time to open it up and tend to him.
Encourage her to investigate her puppy and placenta. Her licking is rough, and it’s goal is to start the bonding process and distress the puppy enough that it starts protesting. It’s cries put those brand new lungs to good use! If she doesn’t tear the membrane and clean the puppy herself, you’ll have to. A rough towel and firm rubbing is a good substitute for her tongue bath and nosing around. Hold the pup head down to dry them off, listen to be sure their squalling is free of any raspiness and their lungs sound clear.
If the dam eats the placentas, it pushes the umbilical cord blood up into the puppy. – so let her, if she wants to, even though she might vomit them back up or have diarrhea from them later on. She may chew through the umbilical cord, or you can tear it yourself, clamping it off with a hemostat for a few minutes or tying with clean dental floss about a half inch away from the puppy to prevent bleeding.
Be watchful… this is a painful and occasionally confusing process, especially for a maiden bitch. Be sure she doesn’t bite you, or her newborn puppy, as she’s trying to figure out how to be a mother.
Other pups will come, usually within an hour and after 10-30 minutes of hard contractions for each. Some can come very close together. As long as your bitch is calm and not in distress, everything is probably just fine. Feel free to offer calcium-rich refreshments, like vanilla ice cream (which they usually love, AND it provides glucose for easy energy), Tums, cottage cheese, and yoghurt, as well as keeping water on hand. Without getting too technical, calcium aids her body with contractions. She can have up to 1000 mg of calcium between each puppy, and an additional 500-1000mg if she goes more than a half hour between puppies while still having contractions. Although your bitch might prefer the ice cream, the Tums are a handy way of keeping track of exactly how much she’s getting.
It’s not uncommon for a bitch to take a pause during the delivery of her litter to rest up and care for the pups she’s already had. This can be up to 4 hours with no ill effects.
Ideally, puppies should be nursing within 30 minutes of being born. You can continue to handle and rub weak or limp puppies with a towel, and when you set them down, put them down near a ready nipple. You can’t force them to nurse, but you can make a tunnel with their hand and kind of guide them along.
Milk Quality and Quantity
You may be surprised at first at how little milk your bitch seems to produce for her newborns, but don’t be. A brand new litter doesn’t require a lot in quantity, but what they ARE getting is crucial to their survival. Their mother’s first milk contains colostrum, which contains all her antibodies and sets their immune system up for success for the first few weeks of their lives. As more time passes and the puppies begin to grow, their dam’s milk quality will increase in richness, and her diet will need to reflect the extra demands milk production makes on her system. But, for the moment, the puppies will get what they need.
Stay tuned for tomorrow’s article on the aftercare of your new mother and potential problems for bitches, post-whelp.