Breeding for Pet Owners: Problems at Birth

a bitch and her puppies in the whelping boxWhat happens if my dog has trouble delivering her puppies?

Although the majority of bitches will whelp without the need for assistance, problems can arise which require veterinary attention. It is for this reason that we ask you to telephone us when you think that whelping is imminent so that we have prior warning. Observe the bitch frequently during parturition and contact us if necessary.

How will I know that she is starting?

When whelping is imminent the bitch often goes off her food (although this is not always the case) and rectal temperature often drops below 38.1oC. The bitch will often go into corners and start scratching to make her bed. If you see any of these signs it is worth ringing just to warn us since this is so-called first stage labour when the birth canal starts to dilate.

This is followed by second stage labour when the bitch starts to forcibly contract. These contractions start gradually and increase in frequency and duration. If the bitch has been contracting for about two hours without any sign of a puppy please contact us and if intense contractions have been occurring for 20–30 minutes without a puppy appearing it is important that we are contacted.

In which other situations should I contact you?

Other situations where veterinary help is needed include:

1.  A bitch continually straining for more than a few minutes with a puppy or fluid filled bubble stuck in the birth canal.

2.  A bitch with a body temperature of more than 39.5oC.

3.  Bleeding from the vagina for more than ten minutes.

4.  A green discharge from the vagina without puppies having been born.

Are puppies, like babies, sometimes born prematurely?

Premature delivery does occur but it is not as common as thought. Often these so-called premature deliveries have been an error in mating dates or a miscalculation in gestation period (63 days).

"Premature delivery does occur but it is not as common as thought."

How can I tell if the pups are premature?

Truly premature puppies may be small, thin and have little or no hair. Survival is possible but they require an enormous amount of care and often have to be hand fed since they are unable to suck. Sometimes they have to be fed by stomach tube (gavage feeding). If necessary we will show you how to do this. 

Bitches will often reject premature puppies and they soon die of chilling if not reared artificially with a correct source of heat. Excessive heat can be just as harmful as chilling so it must be carefully controlled. Environmental temperature must be maintained at around 32oC (90oF) and the box needs to be large enough so that the puppies can move away from the heat source if necessary.

The puppies have also to be kept in a moist atmosphere if they are being artificially reared away from the mother. The bitch is usually continuously licking and cleaning the puppies and therefore not only is the environment warm, it is also moist. You have to provide that with damp cloths in the box with them.

Will I have to artificially rear a premature litter completely?

No. Once the puppies are stronger and able to suckle the bitch will very often take over herself. It is important, if she is rejecting the puppies at the outset to try and ensure they are fed her milk which contains all the necessary antibodies to help prevent infection.

If the puppies can suck we will show you how to hold them on to the bitch’s teats, otherwise it may be necessary to milk the bitch and then feed that milk to the puppies for a few days. We will advise you how to do this.

Although very rewarding if the puppies survive, hand rearing is extremely time consuming and some losses have to be expected.

monitor environmental temperatureAre some of the puppies likely to be stillborn or die after birth?

With animals that have multiple births, like dogs, it is not unusual for some of the offspring to either be born dead or to die at the time of or shortly after birth. Sometimes a still born puppy will disrupt the whelping resulting in dystocia (difficult birth) but usually the dead puppy is born normally.

Is this the fading puppy syndrome?

It can be although fading puppies can occur up to three or four weeks after birth. However a full scale post mortem with virology, bacteriological and histopathology is always worthwhile if fading puppy syndrome is suspected.

I am told that with some breeds Caesarian sections are more common than a normal delivery.  Is this true?

Unfortunately in certain breeds there are strains and families that do seem to have more than their fair share of dystocia (difficult birth) resulting in the need for a Caesarian section. The timing of this is always a difficult decision. If carried out too late it can result in dead puppies and if too early, it may subject the bitch to unnecessary surgery. It always requires careful discussion between the owner and veterinarian. If you have any worries please feel free to discuss them with us.

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