Care of a Pregnant Female Dog

The mom will sever the umbilical cord with her teeth.  If this is not done by mom, the owner can use thread tying 2 knots on the cord, the first knot located 1 inch from the belly, and the second knot an additional 1/4-inch away.  Using clean scissors, cut between the knots and dip the end in a mild antiseptic tincture of iodine. 

 The pups should defiantly be left with mom, except in unusual circumstances, and handled as little as possible, to allow them to nurse freely.  Mom will probably not be interested in eating or drinking until the whelping process is complete.  Afterward, provide the mom with a premium quality puppy food. She will need the extra calcium, fat and energy to feed her puppies.

Dystocia and C-Sections
The vast majority of the time, dogs whelp very well on their own, and need no assistance.  Occasionally, problems may develop that delay the birth process. If problems are not corrected in a timely manner by a veterinarian, they can lead to death of the puppies or the mom.  The following is a list of dangerous situations that would warrant immediate consultation with Cascade Animal Clinic. 

  1. Prolonged Pregnancy -  Longer than 70- 72 days from the first breeding
  2. Dystocia: Obstruction of the Pelvis - certain breeds such as bulldogs, and other large-faced, small-hipped breeds, or any female with a history of pelvic injury or fracture
  3.  Strong contractions longer than 45-60 minutes without delivery of a puppy
  4. Weak or infrequent contractions for longer than 4 to 6 hours without the expulsion of a puppy
  5. Failure to enter labor 24- 36 hours after the rectal temperature falls below 99°
  6. A mom in obvious pain that is failing to expel a puppy
  7. Obvious abnormalities on x-ray such as dead puppies, malposition, or oversize of the fetus
  8.  Previous history of whelping trouble
  9. An obvious weak or ill mom
  10. Passage of green discharge or blood before the birth of the first puppy

Post- Partum

Normal Uterine Involution
 After whelping, the uterus undergoes a normal process known as involution.  This process removes all the tissue built up from pregnancy and returns the uterus to its normal non-pregnant state.   This can last from 4 to 6 weeks.  During this time it is normal to see a non-odorous green, sometimes reddish or red brown discharge from the vulva. This should never cause the mom to feel ill. 

Post-Partum Endometritis

Some females can develop infections of the uterus within 3 to 7 days after whelping. Endometritis  can be caused by dystocia, retained placentas, or retention of a dead fetus. Signs

can include a foul-smelling vaginal discharge, fever, listlessness, lack of maternal instincts and care of the puppies, loss of appetite, decreased or absent milk production. Any of these symtoms justifies an immediate call to Cascade Animal Clinic. 

Post-Partum Mastitis
 Mastitis is an infection of the mammary glands. The gland involved will feel hard, hot and painful. The milk from the affected gland will be discolored, and the mom will feel listless and weak. She may not allow the puppies to nurse.  This is an emergency situation, and justifies a veterinarian consultation. 

Inadequate Milk Production or Parental Rejection
Occasionally a mom will reject her puppies, and refuse to nurse or care for them.  This can be a sign of illness, or a sign the dog lacks maternal instinct.  This would justify a call to the vet.  If the puppies are acting restless, or crying a lot, or shifting actively from nipple to nipple, this can indicate inadequate milk production.  This would also justify a call to the vet.

Eclampsia is an acute, life-threatening disease caused by depressed levels of calcium in the blood.  It is most likely caused by calcium loss into the milk coupled with inadequate dietary intake of calcium in the mom’s diet, or associated with the stresses of having a litter of puppies.  It is most common in small dogs, and during the first month of nursing puppies.  The signs of eclampsia can be subtle, such as restlessness, panting, lack of appetite, pacing and whining.  This progresses to restlessness, irritability and drooling with stiffness and pain on walking.  Within minutes to hours this will progress to fine, and then severe muscle tremors and seizures.  If untreated, this disease is fatal.  If any signs are noticed resembling these in a nursing mother, call Cascade Animal Clinic immediately.  Minutes can make the difference in survival.

bull dog mom with two pups on her back
pretty white dog with two pups

white dog nursing 7 puppies

Whelping Box

Providing a dog with an area for whelping and nursing her puppies can eliminate the problem of an undesirable location.  Many breeders build a whelping box to meet certain criteria.  It should be large enough for the dog to stretch out comfortably and have room for a litter of puppies.  The sides should be high enough to prevent puppies 4 to 6 weeks old from jumping out, but mom can get in and out.  The box should be available to the dog 7 to 14 days before whelping in order to allow her ample opportunity to feel comfortable in the new environment.  The box should be placed in familiar surroundings that also provide some degree of privacy.  The wall of the box should have a ledge near the floor to prevent the mom who is lying down from accidentally crushing a puppy between her and the wall. The whelping box should be bedded down with disposable baby diapers or towels. These are clean, provide nesting material, and are relatively inexpensive.  Newspapers are not as soft or warm, and newspaper print can discolor the puppies.  Cedar shavings are not soft, can be ingested by puppies and should never be used.  The ideal temperature for the box floor should be approximately 75° F, which is accomplished with ordinary light bulbs.  Do not allow the box to become overheated: use a thermometer to monitor the area.  Heat lamps can  be a fire hazard, so use caution and common sense.

Have ready clean towels, scissors, thread, tincture of iodine, a rectal thermometer, and a veterinarian’s phone number for emergencies.

Any discharge from the vulva before whelping is a cause for concern.  If there is discharge, call the vet immediately.

Last 30 Hours
Ten to fourteen hours before whelping, the rectal temperature drops below 100° F, and often below 99°.  The decline in temperature usually precedes labor by 10 to 24 hours. 

Stages of Labor 

Stage I
This stage is comparable to the longest phase of human labor.  It begins with the onset of uterine contractions and ends with full cervical dilation.  Contractions at this stage are not usually visible.  The length of this stage of labor averages between 6 to 12 hours.  The mom will act restless, nervous, and will not eat.  She may be seen to shiver, vomit, and pant and pace.  She may seek seclusion. She may also pass a small bit of fluid or mucus from the vulva.  There is little for the owner to do during this stage aside from providing privacy and security. 

Stage II and III
Stage II begins with full dilation of the cervix, and the complete expulsion of the puppy. Stage III begins after the expulsion of the puppy, and ends with the expulsion of the placenta.  The mom with more than one puppy alternates between stage II and III.  The length of these two stages is highly variable. Puppies may be delivered over just a few hours all the way up to 24 to 36 hours.  Contractions are usually visible, and the mom is usually in a squatting or laying down position.  First will be seen a protrusion of a “bubble” from the mom’s vulva.  With the passage of each pup, either this membrane  will break, or the mom will lick or bite it off. The amniotic sack surrounding the puppy should be removed by the mom, or the puppy will suffocate.  If she doesn’t immediately remove the amniotic sack, it must be removed promptly by the owner.  The time between initiations of visible contractions to the birth of the first puppy is variable.  Commonly, this period is only 10 to 30 minutes.  The time interval between the births of subsequent puppies is also variable.  A lag of 30 minutes to 1 hour with straining or abdominal contractions warrants an immediate veterinary consultation. It is not unusual for a mom to deliver several puppies, then rest for a period before beginning the delivery process again. In this situation, an interval longer than 4 hours is worrisome, and a veterinarian should be consulted. 

Approximately 40 % of puppies are born in the breech position.  Breech position is not abnormal in dogs, and does not lead to problems. 

The placenta will usually be passed within 5 to 15 minutes of the birth of each puppy.  Occasionally, 1 or 2 placentas may follow the birth of 2 puppies without placentas.  The mom may eat the placentas, but there is no known benefit to doing so.  The mom should lick each newborn vigorously to remove all membranes from the face and to promote breathing.  If this does not occur within 2 minutes of the puppy’s birth, the owner should intervene.  All membranes should be carefully removed by laying the puppy on a warm soft towel and vigorously rubbing the puppy with either end of the towel.  Fluids can be removed from the respiratory tract by cupping the puppy in your hands with the head at the fingertips and tail at your wrist, and swinging the arms in an up and down motion between your legs, as if chopping wood.