As the puppies start to pass through the birth canal, there is an even greater effort of expulsion, which is probably due to a reflex occasioned by pressure on the upper part of the vulva. This is true labor and is a useful fact to know in helping a bitch to whelp. If you want to make her strain, insert a clean-gloved finger in the vulva and pull upward and backward. She wig nearly always strain and assist you. The average whelping time for dogs is five hours. Small dogs, such as Cocker Spaniels, usually finish whelping in three hours, but large dogs, such as Great Danes and St. Bernard’s, often take seven or eight hours. Twelve hours is the limit of normal time for a large dog, although bitches have been known to take thirty-six hours with no particularly abnormal aspects to the whelping.
The contractions of the uterus push the young dog out through the vagina. The puppy appears in one of several ways. It may still be in the amniotic sac. If so, the sac must be broken or the newborn will suffocate. If the mother does not do this, you should do it for her. The puppy may still be in its sac, but the sac may have ruptured. Or the young may be born with the sac remaining inside the mother. In this case, the umbilical cord is still connecting it to the sac. The mother may chew this cord to break it, and the sac and placenta will he discharged later. But you can wrap a cloth or tissue about the cord and pull gently until the sac comes out with the placenta. If a placenta is not discharged, it may or may not become a problem.
How do you know when the mother has delivered her last puppy? When is she ready for ass examination and perhaps an injection? The birth process is a natural one happening often in dogs all over the world. Most deliveries are simple, normal events requiring only the mother’s help. But for the owner, the experience of a first delivery is fraught with healthy concern that results in more difficulty for him or her than for the dog. To relieve the anxiety, it is wise to contact your veterinarian in advance of the accouchement, both to alert bins or her and to ask advice. The veterinarians will tell you of any potential problems of your breed and will decide, depending on the individual case, if the female should be brought in after the whelping. If so, your vet may suggest bringing the puppies in for an examination, too. The trip will be disturbing to the new mother and is to be avoided in most cases, in our opinion.
The first puppy, frequently the most difficult to he birthed, may be the largest in the litter. This may occur because the first pup develops at or close to the bifurcation of the uterus, where there is a rich blood supply to the developing fetus. A good many contractions may be necessary to force this puppy’s head or hips through the pelvic girdle. Sometimes the mother tires at this point and this is a time when you may help her by donning a disposable examination glove, lubricating your first and second fingers, inserting them in the vagina and gently pulling that part you feel. She will then contract and gradually you will be able to bring the head or the rear legs out of the canal. Now, if the membranes have not ruptured with the head exposed, tear them and dry the puppy’s nose. Then wrap a dry dolls or tissue around the head and continue gentle traction as the shoulders squeeze through the pelvic girdle the puppy suddenly slides out with ease. If the delivery is breech, or hind legs first, and the legs are out of the vaginal canal, the umbilical cord will be under pressure, preventing the blood exchange circulation to and from the mother. In this situation there is no time to rush to a veterinarian for help. To save a breech puppy it is better to grasp the rear legs with a cloth or tissue and exert enough traction to deliver it. Sometimes you must pull so hard you may hesitate, but if you wait too long there is the danger of possible damage or death to the puppy.
When a female is delivered of a puppy that appears dead or if you find one during the whelping still in its sac, tear open the sac, dry the nose, and holding the puppy in a towel in one hand, imitate the mother’s licking motion by rubbing it with the towel with your other hand. If there is still no motion gently swing it through the air in an arc to force blood into the head, then continue to stroke its sides firmly. Roll it over and stroke the other side. Rub it roughly but not roughly enough to damage it, and don’t give up easily.
If you lose a puppy or two, remember that for creatures of multiple births it is natural for some to die. Some have birth defects and some are very tiny by virtue of an inadequate blood supply to the uterus during development. Studies of wild wolves in Michigan find an average of only one pup from each litter grows to maturity and this is adequate to perpetuate the species.
It would appear we may be overzealous in saving puppies that would die without our help. Some of these dog must contribute defective genes to the gene pool of all breeds. This may account for the seemingly fewer problems of mixed breed dogs that as a group are not given the attention expended on our valuable purebred dogs.
It also appears that a female may regulate the number of puppies she has, provided, of course, she has been bred at the correct time. There is an occasion some years ago to perform an exploratory operation on a champion English Setter female to determine why she had not had a heat period in four years. She had cysts on one ovary and all along one horn of her uterus. Half her uterus was thick walled and diseased. The offending ovary and horn of the uterus were removed. There had been an agreement between the breeder and a prospective English purchaser that if she came in season and was bred they would purchase her. She did indeed come in season two months after the surgery, was bred, and shipped to England where she had twelve beautiful pups while in quarantine. Twelve pups from half a uterus! Although we doubt she would have beaten the world’s record of twenty-three puppies with twenty-four pups if she had had both horns of her uterus.
Birth defects are common problems. Don’t be discouraged if you encounter one from time to time. If you do find such a puppy, take it to your veterinarian for euthanasia. He or she may send it to a pathology department where records arc kept of these happenings. It seems to us there may be an environmental basis for some defects and although we have urged different groups to collect and classify birth defects, each declares there are no funds available for it. It would seem that monitoring our dogs might disclose environmental problems that can also affect mankind.
In our experience, delivering thousands of puppies an estimate about 20 percent arc born with a breech presentation. There is nothing abnormal about it.
Normally a female will chew off the cord at varying distances from its attachment, then eat the placenta and lick her young dry. This is unpleasant for most people to accept, but it is part of a natural function and there is no indication that interference is called for. However, it may be necessary to crush the navel cord with blunt scissors two inches or so from the body if the mother is unable to do it efficiently. There is good evidence that the ingestion of the fluids, placenta, arid membranes by the mother in some way helps the mother produce in her first milk immune bodies that increase the puppies’ resistance to disease. This milk is called the colostrums.
If you attend an dog giving birth you will find that your assistance and affection are reassuring and that she will trust you with her young. If she has a large litter, it is a good idea, when she is not looking, to hand the first ones to a helper, who can put them in a warm, dry place to stay until the mother is relaxed and ready to take care of them. In this way she can attend each one as it is born, without injuring others from whom her attention has been diverted.
Healthy newborn puppies are perfect examples of the inheritance of instincts when, blind, deaf, and still wet, they seek out a nipple and attach themselves to begin nursing – even while the mother is chewing their cords. It is a remarkable sight to behold, no matter how many births one observes.
Why a hitch decides to eliminate a certain puppy from her brood is difficult to ascertain. Perhaps a given pup has an odor she does not appreciate so she pushes it out of the way with her nose. You find it and return it to her breast and conic back later to find it once again excluded from the litter. A pup like this should be removed to a container with a heating pad or heat light and returned to the mother every two hours when it must be placed on a breast for nursing. After a few days most bitches will then accept the previous reject.
Two post parturition infections in hitches are not common but do occur – uterine infections arid infection of the breasts. Infection of the uterus is unlikely if no placentas remain in the uterus. Normally a female discharges from her uterus the lining to which the placentas were attached during pregnancy and through which the young were nourished. This takes the form of a dark red discharge and may last for ten or twelve days or even longer. Infected breasts are extremely serious to both a mother and her young, and they require immediate attention.
What Not to Do in Whelping
One often had been told about the most ludicrous directions for helping bitches to whelp, especially those about the need to be sterile. These warnings” disinfect the scissors and hands”; “tie the cord with sterile silk” are overzealous applications of the human birth precautions. With dogs you need pay no attention to such nonsense. Every puppy is a bacterial flower garden almost as soon as it is born. It comes, bacteriological speaking, into a filthy world. If its mother is left to herself, sire may allow it to drop into a manure pile; and even if this happens it will be unaffected. You can be as sterile as you wish and in spite of your efforts the puppy will be an ideal breeding ground for bacteria. Its mother’s breasts and legs, its nest, hair, and intestines are teeming with them. Fortunately, most of these bacteria will be benign, and nature has equipped the puppy to combat the others. The most important precaution for you to observe is to avoid handling puppies after you have been handling sick dog. You have far more to fear from viruses and coccidiosis spread by flies than from contamination from well-washed hands or clean home instruments.
The End of Whelping
One by one the puppies are pressed through the birth canal until the last pup and the last placenta have been expelled. Then, and not until then, will the bitch become relaxed and calm.
Using the method of palpation, it is possible to tell a great deal about birth just as it is possible to diagnose pregnancy. One fact that can be ascertained is when a cesarean operation is necessary. By reaching up from underneath and placing the fingers on one side of the belly and the thumb on the other, you can clearly feel a puppy entering the pelvic opening. If you find that the puppy is in the birth position and the bitch is straining but accomplishing nothing, check the situation again in a few hours. If the puppy is in the same position, get the dam to your veterinarian. He or she may be able to extract the puppy with special forceps or may have to perform a cesarean section.
Palpation can also be useful in determining whether or riot the bitch has finished whelping. If you have not had practice in this technique, hold one of the newborn puppies in your fingers and then feel through the abdomen to see if there is a similar object contained within it. Some persons prefer to feel with both hands, keeping the fingertips of each opposite the other. This is particularly helpful in the case of large itches.
Birth can take a few minutes for one or two puppies to perhaps twenty-four hours for a large litter. If, after having a puppy, the mother relaxes and does not appear to be having contractions, take her out of the nest for a walk. As she pulls to return, release her and she will runback. This exercise will often start strong contractions. Walking the female up and down a staircase a few times has the same effect. If you choose to walk her outside at night take a flashlight. Many bitches, appearing to urinate, are passing a puppy.
When you think the last puppy has been horn, wait a few hours before you let the mother out. The great pressure on her bladder and other organs has relaxed and she can and naturally does go a long while without elimination. If she refuses to leave her pups twelve or sixteen hours after birth, take her for a walk, unless she is in a pen where she can go out at will. If she is in a pen, she will wait until it is dark and very quiet before going out.
Before the young are born, the mother should be prepared for suck-ling by being carefully cleaned and having long hair cut away. It often prevents the young from reaching the teats.
Breasts often cake because a mother produces more milk than her young need. This is inevitable when her litter is small. Caked breasts are normal and the symptoms usually disappear without medication. Sometimes a mother dies during parturition or when her litter is very young. Although it is not easy to save the orphans, you can probably raise them successfully if you understand their needs. This means that you have to understand what their mother would supply if she were living.
A wise dog owner will look carefully at the puppies’ navels every day to see that they are healing. The dried-up umbilical cord drops off sometime during the second day, although occasionally puppies will have it much longer. After this, healing should progress rapidly.