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Normal Labor and Delivery in the Dog

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Labor and Delivery

As the time of delivery approaches, twice daily monitoring of the bitch's body temperature will help alert you to the impending birth. About 24 hours before the beginning of labor, there will be a temporary drop in the body temperature. Normal temperature is 101 to 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit. Twenty-four hours prior to labor, the temperature can drop to 98 to 99 F.

Labor Stage I

After the temperature drop, stage I labor begins, characterized by restlessness and anxiety. You may notice panting, pacing, refusal of food and maybe vomiting. Nesting behavior begins. This is the time to place her in the whelping box (hopefully she is already accustomed to the box). After getting settled in the whelping box, you may notice her dragging clothing or fabric to the area to form a comfortable bed. You may want to remove any clothing as whelping begins or these pieces of clothing may be permanently stained.

This stage of labor typically lasts 6 to 12 hours. At the end of stage I, the cervix is completely dilated. If your dog has not started whelping within 24 hours after beginning stage I labor, veterinary assistance is recommended.

Labor Stage II

Stage II labor is defined as the part of labor when the puppy is delivered. Visible contractions begin. The abdomen tenses and the bitch begins straining. This action will appear similar to the bitch trying to have a bowel movement.

The first puppy should be delivered within 1 to 2 hours of the onset of contractions and straining. Veterinary assistance is strongly encouraged if the first puppy is not delivered within 2 hours after the onset of contractions.

After delivery of the puppy, the bitch may enter a resting phase that can last up to 4 hours. Active straining will begin again and more puppies will be delivered. If you know there are additional puppies yet to be born and the resting period is longer than 4 hours, veterinary assistance is necessary. This resting phase may not occur after each delivery. Sometimes, several puppies may be born rapidly.

Labor Stage III

After delivery of a puppy, the bitch may enter stage III labor. This is the time when the placenta, after birth, is delivered and usually occurs 5 to 15 minutes after delivery of the puppy. If multiple puppies are born rapidly, several placentas may be expelled together. After the passage of the placenta, the bitch will return to stage II labor. She may continue the resting phase or begin contracting. Throughout whelping, the bitch will fluctuate between stage II and stage III labor until all the puppies are born. It is very important to keep track of the number of placentas. There should be the same number of placentas as puppies. If a placenta is retained in the uterus, the bitch will eventually become quite ill.

Whelping

As soon as the puppy is born (whelped), the mother should immediately start cleaning the puppy. She should begin vigorously licking the puppy, remove him from the amniotic sac if still present and chew the umbilical cord. The bitch may even ingest the placenta. This is not necessary and, sometimes, can lead to vomiting and diarrhea. Prompt removal of the placentas can help you keep track of how many placentas she has passed.

Those puppies that are born still in the sack need immediate help. If the mother does not open the sack and begin cleaning the puppy, it is up to you to help. Tear the membrane of the sack and begin cleaning and rubbing the puppy with a clean dry towel. Cleaning other puppies may be necessary if the mother is not showing much interest in her newborns. Tie off the umbilical cord about 1 inch from the belly wall using string, thread or dental floss. Cut the cord off on the other side of the tie. Clean and rub the puppy vigorously until you hear crying. Place the puppy back with the new mom and make sure she allows the puppies to nurse.

Being prepared to assist and understanding newborn puppy care is essential to help the mother and her babies through these first steps of life.

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