How to prepare for whelping: the dog’s birth
From the 8th week of pregnancy on you should ready yourself and any other people who may be involved in the whelping of your litter. Notify your veterinarian and any friends who will be lending a hand (e.g. someone to drive you and your bitch to the vet’s in an emergency), and have their normal and emergency/after hours telephone numbers ready. Arrange so you can take the day off work for the whelping, and make sure there is plenty of gasoline in your car.
If your bitch has long or wooly hair, give her a gentle bath and then – unless she is entered in a show next month – clip around her vulva, the insides of her hind legs and her tummy. It is amazing how knotty, mucky and felted long hair becomes under the constant onslaught of a litter of vigorous pups! This way she’ll be easy to keep clean, you will more readily be able to see what is happening during the birth, and it will be easier for the pups to find the nipples.
The Nesting Box
Your bitch and her litter will stay in the nesting box until the pups are a few weeks old. It therefore needs to be roomy enough for her to stretch out in without cramping. Guard rails along the inside lengths of the box will provide the pups with areas that are safe from being crushed by the bitch’s body.
The nesting box should be placed in a location that is safe from other dogs. Even normally gentle bitches will sometimes kill the litters of other bitches if they get a chance – it’s instinctive in some alpha females to do so (I have suffered this terrible catastrophe myself and learnt the hard way). The location must be quiet and peaceful, away from any hustle and bustle. The lighting should be subdued – put it on in an adjacent room, but leave the birthing area dim. Do not use the birth as an opportunity to invite people over for an “experience”. Any noise or new faces will only distress your girl. If she does not feel safe, then she will feel stressed and anxious, and her stress may interfere with the smooth progress of the birth. For this reason, I routinely:
- Drape a sheet or throw over the Nesting Box to screen and make the bitch feel hidden and secluded.
- Temperature control – The whelping location must be neither hot nor cold, but “just right!” If the bitch is panting and seems warm after the birth is over, set up a fan to blow over the top of the nesting box. Similarly, set up a heater or a 100 Watt bulb at one end of the Box so the pups and the bitch can adjust their position for optimal comfort.
Prepare the nesting box for the birth by lining it with newspapers.
- Newspaper – As they become soiled simply lay more on top – you can dispose of the lot later when the birth is over. Some bitches will dig and paw at the paper during the birth, and you (and she) may risk losing track of puppies beneath mounds of shredded newspaper. Just remove the shreds as they are formed and keep the box open and free of debris.
Once the pups are born and the birth is over, you should give your bitch a sponge bath to clean up her back end and make her comfortable. At the same time you can weigh and sex the pups, and replace the newspaper with bedding.
- Bedding – I use old baby blankets (have a good supply on hand). A primo solution is a square of sheepskin lined with a sewn-in towel, made to fit your Nesting Box. You will need at least four so that you can change the bedding twice a day (or as needed) and still have time to launder the soiled ones ready to use again.
Some people routinely use an Incubator Box to put puppies in while the bitch is still birthing pups. I don’t do this, as I have found that my bitch will often become unduly upset if I take a pup away from her, distracting her from focusing on with the job of birthing. The sucking action of the already birthed pups on the bitch’s nipples also releases natural oxytocin, which causes the uterus to contract and speed the birth. My motto with any birth is to interfere as little as possible. I just sit quietly nearby ready to lend a hand, help her by clearing a pup’s nose of membrane or mucus, or pulling any out from under her if she accidentally sits on it.
However, it is wise to have an Incubator Box on hand in case you have a puppy that is weak, dramatically undersized, or depressed and needs some encouragement to breathe. Such a pup will often need a bit of TLC for the first few days of its life. Again, if your bitch requires a caesarian, an Incubator Box is a safe place to hold your pups until she is well enough to care for them properly herself.
The Incubator Box only needs to be big enough to accommodate a litter of newborns of your breed. It should either be placed in a warm spot next to a heater or, better yet, include a:
- Heating pad over which a warm…
- Baby blanket or bath towel is placed to keep your puppies cosy.
Other Equipment for the Birth
The bitch’s body temperature can give you advance warning of when birth is getting close (discussed on page 96). Therefore ensure your equipment includes:
- A thermometer – Temperature of the bitch is taken via the anus. Wet the thermometer with a little water first to make insertion easier and more comfortable for the bitch. A digital thermometer is easiest to use and read. However, an ordinary mercury thermometer can also be used. Just be sure to hold it at the top and give it several good flicks in the air to shake the mercury back to the bottom before you attempt to take your reading.
A lot of bitches will tend to birth at night, and may even sneak off into a dark spot in the yard or under the house before you realize what is happening. For this reason it is absolutely essential that you have:
- A strong flashlight
To prevent this from occurring when you take her outside to toilet or have a walk around (which can often get a slow birth happening again) you must keep her under control right through the birth, so you’ll need:
- A buckle collar and lead for your bitch.I also like to have a low-key peek at my bitch behind the screen I’ve draped over her cage to count the pups (and ensure none are squashed beneath her) and check how she is going, so find it useful to have a:
- Small torch or pencil-light
It is important to keep a record of the progress of the birth, noting down the time of occurrence of events such as when she strains (has contractions), whenever any discharge is noted (and its color, amount, smell), the time pups are born, and the number of placentas that come out. This way you will have accurate information upon which to decide if things are going normally or not, and to tell your veterinarian in case you need to call for advice. You will also know if the bitch has retained any of the placentas, which can lead to serious complications if she is not given a shot of oxytocin while her cervix is still open immediately after birth to clean her out.
Some breeders also routinely note the sex and color of the pups, weigh them with a food scale, and – if they are hard to tell apart – use a little nail polish, clip a small part of their fur or put different colored rick-rack ribbon loosely around their neck to keep track of who is who.
I interfere with the bitch and the birth as little as possible, and don’t bother weighing my pups at all. I don’t even check their sex until the bitch leaves them to go to the toilet for the first time, which may be from immediately to 12 hours after the birth. However, for pups that appear weak at birth and you are not sure if they are suckling properly, it is useful to record their weight so that you will be able to monitor if it is going up appropriately after feeds and over time, so by all means invest in:
- An electronic food-scale to weigh your pups
And, to keep adequate records you will require:
- Notepad and Pen (the Breeding Records Book supplied with this manual is ideal)
- Clock or watch
You may need at some point to assist the birth, so should have on hand:
- Surgical gloves – especially in countries that have Brucellosis, as it is readily transferable (and dangerous) to people. In Australia, which is free of Brucella, I prefer to assist the pups with my bare hands (scrubbed clean and nails cut short).
- Lubricant (e.g. KY Jelly) – it’s amazing what a difference to a birth a bit of the old KY Jelly can make! I find it especially useful if the birth is a breech (back end first) or the pup is very large. I load up a 5 ml syringe a couple of times and gently empty it up there around the pup that has entered the vagina but seems stuck, so get yourself:
- 5 ml syringes
Now and then a pup will find it difficult to take its first breath due to a buildup of phlegm and fluids in its mouth and nose. You can clear this using:
- A bulb syringe
Some breeders routinely cut the umbilical cord as the pups are born, and believe it is preferable not to allow the bitch to eat the placentas, as she will if left to her own devices. There is also the concern that the bitch may chew the cord off too close to the puppy and cause an umbilical hernia. The cord should be cut about 1” from the body, and then tied with the disinfected dental floss, and swabbed with disinfectant. In a day or two it will dry and fall off.
If you prefer this you will need:
- Hemostat forceps – to clamp the cord on the puppy side of the cut.
- Dental Floss (dipped in disinfectant solution)– remove the forceps after a minute or so and tie dental floss tightly around the crushed cord prior to cutting it.
- Metal scissors (surgical grade is best) – for cutting the umbilical cord. Cut it on the side of the clamped and tied off cord that is away from your pup, as the object is to stop your pup from bleeding. Blunt scissors will leave a cut that won’t bleed as much as sharp scissors will.
- Quick Stop Powder – to stop any bleeding from the stump after the cord is cut.
However, as you know I put a lot of trust in nature’s wisdom. As a result, I nearly always let the bitch eat the placentas. In the process the pup will end up dangling from its cord that is fast disappearing into her mouth. Invariably (in my experience) when Mom gets close to the pup, she chews through the cord, doing your job for you. Cords chewed in this way rarely bleed.
However, whether you like to interfere, or are happy to trust your bitch, after the pups’ cords have been cut or chewed, you should treat the stump with antiseptic. For this you will need:
- Antiseptic (e.g. Betadine or Iodine solution)