Essential pet advice with vet Jo Gourlay

In this final article from the series on breeding from your dog, we complete things in the logical place, the birth. Last week we discussed getting you bitch pregnant and caring for her while she’s expecting and now we look at what happens at the birth itself.

Before going into labour there are certain behaviours that many bitches will start to display such as; looking for a darkened quiet place to hide, being restless and nest building (moving soft blankets, beds or toys into one place and arranging them). Just before whelping the vulva may look swollen and a slight discharge can often be seen. Some breeders will take daily temperature readings as a temperature drop can indicate the bitch is likely to whelp within the next 24 hours; however it is worth bearing in mind that the body temperature can be lower in the last few weeks of pregnancy anyway. Likewise, finding the presence or not of milk in the teats cannot be used accurately to predict imminent birth as it’s so variable.

Labour, just like with us, is divided into 3 stages. The first stage involves the cervix (the narrow lower part of the womb) relaxing and dilating which usually takes between 4 and 36 hours, generally the longer times being for bitches having their first litter. Classically bitches are quite restless and unsettled during this period often shivering, panting, shredding bedding and sometimes being sick. The second stage is the puppies actually being born where contractions of the uterus (womb) can be seen from the outside, the bitch will actively strain and she will often pay more attention to her vulva. Once the pup is engaged in the pelvis she should feel the urge to push harder to expel the puppy. This stage is variable in length but if there is prolonged active straining with no puppy arriving you should call your vet for guidance. The interval between births can also vary but subsequent puppies should arrive within 30 minute of active straining. The bitch may have a rest period before the next actual pushing stage which allows her to clean up the first puppy and get it suckling before producing the next. Gaps of more than 3-4 hours resting between puppies should be mentioned to your vet. The third stage refers to the placenta being delivered. The puppy may appear with the placenta immediately behind it, or it may come sometime afterwards or even after additional puppies are produced. It’s a good idea to count the number of placentas to make sure there is one for every pup and that none are left behind. Some bitches will eat the placenta which is totally natural, the hormones found in it may even help shrink the uterus and help with milk production.

Although most bitches will not require any veterinary intervention, it’s not uncommon for various reasons for bitches to fail to progress from the first stage to the second stage of labour or even not properly go into the first stage. This is known as primary inertia (inertia just meaning inactivity). Secondary inertia can also occur and is usually due to exhaustion of the muscles in the womb after contracting very hard for a long period of time, often if the litter has been large or individual puppies have got stuck or been a tight squeeze so a lot of work. In both types of inertia, dependent on the cause of the problem, medical intervention (using hormone injections) can sometimes help things progress and result in normal vaginal delivery of the puppies. However, in some cases a caesarean section may be required. Most vets would far rather you rang early for advice than sat at home worrying if things are not progressing as you would expect or even just if you want reassurance. If it’s your first litter, or you just would like to anyway, have a chat before the expected event with your vet so you are fully prepared and can be advised on if and when to ring them. Some vets like to see bitches afterwards for example to have a feel of the abdomen and make sure no pups are left and may routinely give an injection to help the womb to contract. During the event itself it’s always far better for the outcome to be a couple of phone calls that possibly weren’t necessary than leaving it too long and the puppies not surviving.