Just like humans, when a female dog begins experiencing labor and delivery, her natural instincts will naturally kick in. There should be very little intervention from you. However, it is always a good practice for you to prepare and know what to do in case there is need for you to intervene.
As a direct consequence of decades of poor dog breeding practices, certain dog breeds face bigger challenges when they go into labor and may even require your know-how on how to handle such situations. For example, when breeding English Bulldogs a C-section is often required in order to give birth safely. Sometimes, inducing dog labor is necessary for the safe delivery of the puppies.
Prepare the Bitch for Labor and Delivery
Making sure the pregnant female is ready for what’s coming requires some preparation. Nature is well conceived so your female should handle the whole experience just fine without your help.
However, as a dog breeder, you must absolutely put her in the best conditions. It is not because a pregnant bitch will most certainly deliver her litter of puppies that you cannot help making it smoother.
Improve the diet
Adult dog food is healthy for a grown bitch up to a certain time when the bitch is pregnant. It is recommended that the bitch should be fed with adult dog food up until week 4 of the pregnancy.
From four weeks onwards, puppy food should be slowly introduced to the diet; this is because puppy food is more calorie-dense. Vets have recommended that foods such as Hills and Royal Canin should be given to the bitch because they contain high quality calcium and protein. Don’t transition to abruptly, try to do it gradually over few days instead.
By the last week of the pregnancy, the dog should be feeding entirely on puppy food without fail. Prefer a grain-free dog food, or hypoallergenic dry food.
Prepare a whelping box
Whelping is the process of giving birth by a bitch. Before she gives birth, she needs to be as comfortable as possible. Part of that comfort is to provide a whelping box for her. The box will come in handy in holding the puppies once the delivery time comes. It is therefore imperative that the whelping box be large enough for the puppies and the mother.
The box should then be placed in a serene quiet environment that is familiar to the bitch to allow easy access. The sides of the box should be high enough to prevent the puppies from falling over and low enough to allow the bitch to enter and leave with ease at any time.
Get milk replacers
Here again, Mother Nature does things well with lactation and milk production in the nursing bitch. It is expected that the puppies will suckle their mother once the whelping is over.
However, if the mother experiences any challenges post whelping, you need to have milk replacers. These are commercial milk formulas that are handfed to the puppies using either a syringe or any other tool directly into their mouths.
Once the bitch whelps, you will need some place safe and warm for the puppies to live. As they grow older and start to move around, you will need to have an enclosure that will keep them confined with limited movement to prevent them from wandering away. Allowing days-or-weeks-old puppies to move freely at home is asking for accidents to happen, so just have a large enough playpen or gate for them. And yes, this enclosure could absolutely be the whelping box!
Have a whelping kit ready
Dog breeding is a fulfilling adventure, but it also requires the dog breeder to care and monitor the puppies. A dog whelping kit is a pouch filled with useful pieces of equipment to assist your bitch during the delivery but also care for the puppies over the first days and weeks.
Examples of items to absolutely have handy:
- surgical gloves
- precious dog scale
- round-tipped scissors
- nursing milk and bottles
- supplements for the mother
Most items in a whelping kit are generally easy to find on Amazon for very cheap; it won’t cost you much in total but can save a puppy’s life!
During Labor and Delivery
Once you get to the labor and then the delivery, there are new challenges that can worry a dog breeder who is new at breeding dogs.
What are the signs of dog labor?
When your dog is about to deliver newborn puppies, there are important signs to watch out for. It is imperative that you be very observant and stay close to the bitch so as not to miss any of the signs. The reason for this is because some bitches may go into distress and require you to help out, or at least to reassure them with some stroking.
- The first sign is that the tits will appear enlarged because milk is already being produced in anticipation for the puppies. This may start a few days before labor or even as the labor starts.
- Another sign to watch out for is the size of the vulva. A few days before labor, the vulva will begin to relax.
- Vets also observe that the bitch’s temperature usually drops a few hours before she goes into labor. This will require keen attention for you to notice. You will have to take the dog’s temperature every morning for the whole of the last week of pregnancy in order for you to notice this drop.
- Another sign to watch out for is the dog will get uncomfortable as it prepares to go into labor. It will whimper and move around uncomfortably and eventually hide.
These are the most common signs of a dog going into labor and delivery. Some females will show other signs such as mood swings or loss of appetite, while other can show just a couple of these.
How long does the delivery take?
Labor in dogs may last up to 12 hours — during this time, the dog will exhibit signs of distress by panting and whimpering all the time.
After this stage, the dog will enter the second stage —the delivery— where the puppies begin to be pushed out. During this time, the dog will be straining and will be struggling to push. The first puppy is expected to arrive less than 2 hours after hard labor has begun. Depending on how many puppies she is carrying, she may end up delivering more puppies and rest for up to 4 hours before she can continue whelping.
The time between two puppies should not be more than 2 hours. If this is the case, you need to contact your veterinarian. It is estimated that a full delivery may last anywhere between 12 to 24 hours.
How long in between each newborn puppies?
The second stage of labor in dogs, the delivery, will last up to 12 hours (very rarely more but it can still happen.) The first puppy should arrive not more than 2 hours after the bitch goes into hard labor.
It is expected that the time between two puppies should not exceed two hours. This is because the straining and the pushing usually takes a toll on the bitch which necessitates a rest in between puppies. However, any time more than 2 hours in between puppies should be a cause for alarm and the breeder should call the veterinarian to explain the situation.
Make sure you keep clear whelping records, timings, and any observation worthy of a note. That can help you see how much time the bitch took between the two first puppies, and assess the situation with more data for the next whelps.
Passage of the afterbirth, amniotic sac or the placenta
The placenta is usually seen during the third and last stage of the labor and delivery. After a puppy is born, the placenta will take up to 15 minutes before it is removed. However, if two puppies are born closer together, both the placentas may come out at the same time.
After the placenta is removed, the dog will go back to the second stage if more puppies are yet to be delivered, and so on.
There are instances where the strain and the push lasts longer than is expected. If the mother does not expel a placenta (amniotic sac) for each puppy born, it is a sign of a problem. Call the vet immediately, and make sure you counted each puppy and each afterbirth to tell him how many placentas are missing.
Emergencies at Birth
For the most part, all puppies will be delivered smoothly. However, you cannot ignore the possibility of complications when a dog goes into labor.
Not all puppies have been delivered
Different dogs will deliver different numbers of puppies and your vet should have confirmed the number of puppies expected a few days before the due date.
Then, on whelping day, there are two signs showing whether a dog has delivered all its puppies:
- the bitch starts eating — for starters, the dog will relax and start looking around for food. If you have any food placed somewhere it will most likely begin to feed.
- the bitch gathers the family — the bitch will also assemble all its puppies and begin to lick them one by one.
In case these do not happen, then there is a likelihood that not all puppies have been delivered, yet. This is why you need to have your vet’s emergency contact numbers on standby. A C-section may be necessary to remove all the puppies in order to save the dog’s life.
There is a still birth
Sometimes a dog may give birth to a stillborn puppy, and different dogs will react differently to this situation. For instance, some mother dogs may consume the puppy in a seemingly cannibalistic act. This is still okay. For some, the mother dog may isolate the dead puppy from the pack and attempt to bury it in the house or somewhere else.
All these acts are driven by motherly instincts.
However, the best thing to do in such a scenario is to remove the dead puppy from the rest of the puppies and bury it. This is because the dead puppy may infect the live ones with bacteria or any other infection that caused its death. Most puppies would not survive 48 hours if they are infected with a bacteria or virus a dead puppy because of their very weak immune system at this early stage.