Labor and Delivery: The Second and Third Stages

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.

Zen takes a break as between puppies to catch her breath and ask for some ice cream.

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.  

Later Arrivals

 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.


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.


The Puppies Eat Solid Food!

Well, their first day of solid food on Monday was a good start… Light Blue, Orange, and Blue were my big champion eaters!  Which is great, since they are some of the smaller pups in the litter.

Zen jumped in the box and started nursing them immediately after I set the food down – what timing, huh?IMG_20160725_104808

So it was a nice low pressure introduction to something new, and every puppy investigated a little.  Some did more than investigate a little. Red, Purple and Orange all ate a surprising amount, considering they’d also just nursed.  Light Blue and Blue REALLY chowed down, by the time it was all said and done. Light Blue immediately dozed off into a carbohydrate coma, sleeping on his back like a little Buddha.  Poor Blue’s over indulgence led to him urping up a little and having an upset tummy.

Then, everybody needed to sleep it off.

On Tuesday, when I offered solid food again, Light Blue was once again at the front of the line.  As I write this now, he’s gaining weight faster than he ever has before.  Almost at twice the rate he was before.  I think this is going to really agree with him!

The collective of pups ate everything I put out for them, and then most everything I refilled their bowls with (I’d made extra to set aside for a second feeding later).

Today is Wednesday, and they’re still nursing a regular schedule, though Zen is less and less interested in spending time with them when she’s not feeding them.

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A Big Bowl of Ewwwww…

Over the years I’ve had to field a lot of questions about my borzois, and what they eat. In the early 90’s when I had my first borzois,it was usually just curiosity on the part of the asker, plain and simple.  But in the last few years, with people going so rescue-crazy and people wanting to see villainy where none exists, there have been a lot of nosy questions about what I do – or do not – feed my dogs.  I’ve even been accused of “starving my collies”… you know, for fashion.

People can be astoundingly dumb.

So, when I’ve had a few people writing in and asking about Zen’s diet the last couple weeks, it’s been a real pleasure to see that spirit of curiosity take back over, and get nice questions from nice people who are really just wanting to know what the nutritional requirements of such a beastie are – especially one that’s eating for ten!

Zen’s a petite girl, but man does she love to EAT – especially when I break out the good stuff! For the first couple weeks after the puppies were born she was kind of picky about finishing her meals, but that has really changed this last week. I’m sure part of that’s the demands of milk production, but I think the big change is that we added raw back into her diet.

At first she was getting a premium quality kibble, top dressed with a similar quality canned food, whole milk plain greek yogurt, a canine probiotic and an all-around mineral supplement. She also got a calcium supplement right after the puppies were born, and Fenugreek (an herb, in tablet form) to help her milk come in and keep flowing.  She’d eat, she’d even clean her bowl, but it seemed kind of dutiful and not particularly joyful.

“Yeah, I suppose I can eat something.  Whatcha got?”

But then…

Oh man I hope Rita forgives me for defrosting this on one of the good plates!
“Is that what I think it is?  Really?!? Oh boy oh boy!”

Oh yes, Zen… you’re not imagining that distinctive stench emanating from the kitchen.  You’re having Green Tripe for dinner tonight!  And breakfast, tomorrow!  Green Tripe, an important part of YOUR balanced diet!  Along with other totally gross stuff, like raw turkey necks and chicken backs.

Here’s what it looks like all mixed up.  Hey, misery loves company.  Enjoy the view.  At least you don’t gotta smell the “phew!” IMG_20160724_110657

This big bowl of gross brought to you by housesitter, hound hugger, guest blogger and fantasy author C.T. (“Chelle”) Griffith… who is really considering a genre change to Horror after this particular post.