Prior to Labour - Start to take your bitch's temperature at regular intervals, 38-39 degrees centigrade (101-102 degrees Fahrenheit) is normal, but a sudden drop to 37-38 degrees centigrade (97-99 degrees Fahrenheit) is a sign that labour is imminent. Also, immediately prior to labour your bitch may become restless or start licking the area around her vagina, which will become swollen and may start producing a discharge. She may also lose her appetite for a couple of days before whelping commences. Don't let your bitch go more than three days after her due date before consulting a vet, he will want to check her over.
As most births take place at night it is wise to walk your bitch in a well-lit area, or carry a torch, it has been known for a bitch to drop a puppy while you think she is going to the toilet. She won't want to walk very far from her bed, so don't push her and keep her on a lead so that you can see where she is and what she is doing at all times.
Prepare a box for your car, if the going gets tough you may need to take your bitch to the vet. The box should resemble the whelping box with blankets and newspaper, in case your bitch gives birth en-route to the surgery.
Have your phone and the local vets number handy. Don't be afraid to ring him at any time. Complications in birth can be life threatening for your bitch and her puppies.
During Labour - The first stage of whelping is the initial labour stage. Your bitch may start to pant a lot; she may also vomit and shake. She will be restless and feeling much discomfort. As her contractions come faster and harder her cervix will dilate. Don't leave your bitch during this stage your reassuring voice will make her feel more relaxed, but don't interfere. This stage usually lasts around 4 or 5 hours, although if it is your bitch's first litter, it could take 24 to 36 hours.
During the second stage of labour your bitch will start straining, this may be visible to you. She will continue to pant heavily between contractions. She may ask to go out, the need to push feels very much like wanting to defecate. Keep her on a lead and walk around at her pace, keeping a close eye on her. Once a puppy has come down into the pelvic area your bitch will start to push. If your bitch has been pushing hard for more than two hours and still no puppy has appeared, give your vet a ring. Your car should be prepared and ready to go.
The water-sac will appear first and break, then a puppy will follow shortly after, followed by the placenta, if it's ready. You can gently pull on the cord, but don't worry too much if it doesn't come. Never pull the cord from the puppy, if is comes off, your puppy may suffer an umbilical hernia (See Dog Health for more information) or infection. Generally the placenta comes out with each puppy, but occasionally it will come at the end of whelping. Make sure you have had as many placentas as you have had puppies, if any are missing, ring your vet. Your bitch may want to eat the placenta this is perfectly normal (for a dog!). Your bitch may also chew the umbilical cord, but it is preferable to do it yourself.
Once a puppy is born, your bitch can rest until the labour starts up again. Give your bitch the opportunity to clean and care for the puppy, don't intervene immediately unless the puppy isn't breathing. When the labour starts up again, move the puppy into the second prepared box, making sure it has been adequately heated. You don't want your bitch rolling onto it while she is pushing and straining. Give the mother back her puppies during each rest period. The time between the births can vary from minutes to hours, but the second, third and so on puppies should come within 30 minutes of the previous one. If your bitch has been struggling with a pup, which is not her first born, you need to call your vet. Offer your bitch a drink between each birth.
The third stage of labour is the expulsion of the afterbirth. The afterbirth can be born with each puppy or it may remain with the bitch and come out with subsequent puppies. Regardless of which, the umbilical cord will need to be cut with each puppy.
As each puppy is born check it is breathing. If it isn't, remove the water sac from the puppies nose and mouth and hold him upside down to help drain the fluid, be careful because he will be slippery. Another way to clear the fluid is to hold the puppy at arms length with his nose away from you and swing him to and fro. Make sure you support his head. This allows gravity to draw out excess fluid. Rub him vigorously, and intermittently, with a clean, dry towel, this will not only dry him but should stimulate him into breathing, he should begin to squeak. If he doesn't squeak, use the bulb syringe to clear his airways, continue to rub vigorously and make sure he stays warm. Unfortunately it is an all too often occurrence that not all puppies survive, keep repeating the procedure for fifteen minutes, if he doesn't start to breath on his own in this time, he is unlikely to.
To cut the umbilical cord start by dipping two pieces of plain cotton or fishing line into the antiseptic solution. Tie them around the umbilical cord an inch apart with the first piece about two inches away from the puppy. Then use sharp scissors to cut through the cord in between each tie. Dispose of the placenta right away. Using cotton wool dipped in the antiseptic solution, gently clean around the cord that is still attached to the puppy. The cord will then dry and drop off in a few days. Do NOT attempt to cut the cord without first tying it off as this will cause excessive blood loss which is dangerous to a newborn puppy. Also, do NOT attempt to pull the cord away from the puppy as this can cause an umbilical hernia (See Dog Health for more information).
Check each puppy for deformities and weigh it. It is useful at this stage to mark the puppy in some way for identification and monitoring purposes. A Polaroid photo is good.
Do not separate the puppy from its mother for any longer than is necessary. You bitch needs to exercise her maternal instincts.
Once satisfied that your puppy is healthy you can place him down to nurse. Like humans, the colostrum carries antibodies and will boost the puppies immune system. Don't worry too much if you can't get the puppy to feed immediately. However, it is worth noting that the puppies can only absorb the colostrum in the first two or three days after whelping. So if a puppy still doesn't show any signs of hunger an hour or so after it has been born, you will actively need to encourage it.
Your bitch will stop for a break in between each birth. This can be anything up to an hour. Have your second box close by, you will need to remove the puppies when labour starts up again. During any long breaks your bitch should be encouraged to get up and move around outside. Watch her very carefully. If your bitch goes longer than an hour and you are sure there are more puppies you will need to call your vet.
When your bitch has had all her pups the contractions will stop and her breathing will calm down. Give her a drink, allow her to relieve herself (still on a lead) and let her settle down for a good long rest. Now is a good time to get the puppies latched on to your bitch. She is tired and will not put up much of a fight and if this is her first litter she may be unsure of what to do. Make sure your bitch is comfortable with the puppies before you leave her. It is rare for a first time Mum to eat or kill her puppies, but it can happen. If it does, the bitch should not be allowed to have any more litters, as she will do it again!
Post Labour - Your bitch will need a lot to drink after the birth, make sure you keep offering her fresh water. Chicken soup is a good first meal after labour. Bulk it out with rice. Your bitch will be reluctant to leave her puppies, but she will probably need to urinate. Try enticing her outside by taking one of her pups out. Be sure to hold to it and keep it sufficiently warm. Then you can offer her something to eat. Try and get her to have her first meal away from the pups, she needs sustenance and you need to make sure she gets it with few, or no, distractions.
The new Mum will probably clean herself and keep her pups clean. If she doesn't mind you interfering she may be glad of a wipe down with a clean wet cloth.
Your bitch and the pups will need to be seen by a vet within a few hours of the birth, certainly not more than 24, to make sure she has not retained any placenta and that all the puppies are healthy. Your bitch may be given an injection of the hormone oxytocin at this stage. This will help the uterus contract down properly and expels its contents.
Caesarian - If your vet decides that a caesarian is necessary, your bitch will be given a general anaesthetic. As a result of this, puppies born via a caesarian section are not as active, initially, as puppies born naturally. This is because a small amount of the general anaesthetic is passed through to the puppies before they are born.
Any puppies that your bitch has already had naturally will need to be kept warm and dry. They can do without food for the short period that the bitch is absent, but encourage the puppies to suckle as soon as the bitch has returned.
The puppies that are born via a caesarian will need to be encouraged to suckle immediately. Bonding can take a little longer with puppies that are not born naturally.
Your bitch should continue to nurse her puppies as normal, but keep a close eye on her operation wound. Follow your vets instructions on post-op care and call him immediately if you are concerned.