I have whelped well over 260 litter in the last twenty years, mostly for other people but a number for myself. In that time I think I have seen nearly every problem that can occur but, as with most living things you can still be surprised, so always expect the unexpected.
Most females will whelp naturally between 59 days and 65 days, depending upon when the fetus implanted. Most newbie breeders will start to panic when they feel that they have counted the days properly and it is the 63rd day and no puppies. But people fail to take into account how many times a female has been bred and when was the last day bred. If you feel your female has gone past her due date take a good look at her, can you still see and feel the puppies moving? Is she in distress? You can take her to your vet who will check her out and more than likely send you home to await for the big event.
A C-section would be needed if your female has a black or greenish, foul smelling discharge prior to whelping. This can indicate an infection or a dead pup. Other reasons a C- section might be needed is if a puppy is to large, improper position (breech), small litter or the bitch has uterine inertia. If the vet does decide a C-section is needed, unless you are experienced in handling newborns, you will be asked to leave. The vet will bring in as many of his techs who are available so that when each puppy is born someone is available to shake it down and get it cleaned up and breathing. Dopram can be used if a whelp is not breathing. One drop is placed under the tongue of the whelp to help the respiratory system get a kick start. Once the puppy has "pinked" up, its gums will be a pink color rather than pale white and the stomach is warm and pink, it will be placed in a box until mom is sewn up and back together.
The bitch has usually been given a quick acting anesthesia and will wake up and hopefully take care of the whelps. Tell your female what a great job she has done, try to express some milk on her pups and let her nuzzle and clean them. Hopefully her maternal instinct will kick in and she will take care of her brood. Mothers who snap at the puppies or refuse to clean them should be muzzled so that the puppies can nurse. This ensures that they receive the first day's rich colostrum. Colostrum provides for temporary immunity for the puppies. Colostrum is a yellowish tinted milk that passes to the newborn all the mom's antibodies to different diseases. It is the most vital part of the newborns existence to receive the first few days milk If the mom refuses to nurse the puppies or has no milk, you will need to either tube feed or bottle feed the puppies. You will need to be shown how to tube feed , once you know how, this is the easiest way to feed a litter. The puppies will have to be kept in a box while they are not nursing. It should have several towels and a hot water bottle ( in the corner of the box) so that they can keep warm. You will have to stimulate them to have urinate and have bowel movements. This is done with a warm cloth or cotton ball that is moist rubbed around the genital areas. A newborn puppy can not defecate or urinate on it's own for about 2 ½ weeks.
What to do for the so called "normal" whelping and how to prepare for this event. There is a ton of information on the internet and several good books but here is what I have done and what methods we have used. It is advisable to have a private place set up for the mom to be. I have used baby swimming pools, my tub, the basement, a closet. It depends upon where she is comfortable. She should be kept in the whelping area from the seventh week on. I personally have found that a 700 open wire crate works the best. The female has enough room to turn around and lay down comfortably and it keeps her confined and with her puppies. I usually have them whelp in my bedroom. Others use whelping boxes that have pig rails in them. I had originally used them but found the puppies tended to have too much space, could get cold and that the mother would leave them. With the crate the mom is forced to stay with her puppies 23 hours a day, which is especially helpful for spoiled females who would rather stay with their owners. See photo of a Zoe - she is a large GSD with eight puppies.
I also keep the room around 72 degrees. Other advise 90 degrees for the first 3 days, but I have found that so much heat promotes bacteria growth and is also very uncomfortable for the mother. A room at 72 is fine for new whelps as a healthy puppy will move towards heat when they are cold and away from the heat when they are hot. The only heat I have in my crate is the mom and the blanket she is laying on. I have not had any problems or lost any puppies whelping a female in this manner.
Next it would be great if you knew the mother of your bitch since she can be a good indication of how her daughter will whelp. First time bitches give many signs prior to whelping. Most books will tell you that when the female's temperature drops and she stops eating, she will have puppies within twenty four hours. Well, I can tell you most females temperature do drop but it can drop one day go up the next morning and back and forth for a few days prior to whelping, and as far as eating, I have only had one female who stopped eating the day prior to whelping. Most of my females and the ones I have whelped for others will eat prior to labor, while in labor and in between whelps. New mothers will usually lay down and whine while staring into your eyes as if to ask what is going on here.
They will also often get a glazed look on their face. This is hard to describe but when your female does it you will know and then they start to turn around and look at or lick under their tail. They are not sure why but they know that it has something to do with their current condition. Also the mother's two back teats will swell with milk on the day of whelping. See photo of Brandy above.
The first signs of early labor can be noticed if you are familiar with your female. She will still play and hang out with you but if you watch her back legs and stomach you will notice they tense up and relax rhythmically. If she is lying down she will also start to breathe harder and pant sporadically. This early labor can last one to several hours, it depends upon one her mother's genetics and also what condition she is in. The better condition the female is in, physically, the easier her labor should be and it should also be quicker. She will usually go outside to pee or try to have a bowel movement. Some new bitches will nest frantically, tearing and digging up their box and paper. If she is nesting let her it doesn't hurt and helps get rid of some of her anxiety. I do not stay and watch the female constantly, I have found that doing this will actually inhibit most females' labor, especially a pampered pet. It is best to use "benign neglect", that is to check every now and then.
The first whelp. Prior to the first puppy being born, the bitch, while laying down or standing, will have hard steady contractions in which her stomach muscle tightens up and her back arches. If she is a talker she might start to grunt and moan. You know that a puppy is imminent when the "hook tail" is presented. She might also turn in circles and try to lick and clean under her tail or she might lay down.
When the hook tail is present start to notice the vulva of the female. First you will see clear fluid prior to the whelp. This helps to lubricate the birth canal and then you will usually see a clear sac emerge. Depending upon the size of the whelp it might take one or two contractions to push the whelp out. The mom will usually start to lick and chew at the sac. I do n ot let her break the sac until the p uppy has exited the canal. If the p uppy is too large or breech, on th e next contraction you will need to help expel the puppy. While sh e is pushing you should pull d own on the whelp to ease it out of the canal.
When the whelp comes out (see photo) I will take and open the sac, remove the whelp and cut the cord. When I cut the cord the mom is busy eating the sac and cleaning up the remaining blood. I will then rub the whelp and wait till he is crying loud and clear. It is advised to keep several hand towels out to rub the puppy down with, I also have a clean scissor to cut the cords with. After cutting the cords put scissor in a cup of peroxide to keep them sterile. With the crying the bitch should then pay attention to the puppy at which point I will give him/her to the female. Most new mothers will usually cock their head and raise their ears forward at the strange noises this "thing" is making. She should then proceed to clean and push the puppy around.
I have only had two females who became aggressive towards their puppies. A bitch like that needs to be muzzled while the puppies are nursing and should be spayed and not bred again. A strong puppy will immediately crawl towards the mother and look to nurse. I do not dip the umbilical cord but rather let the mother clean it and it dries up and falls off within 36 hours. It is important to let the puppy nurse as this will help release oxytocin into the mother's blood stream which will help with the other whelps. I know there has been a big controversy regarding the use of oxytocin. It is never to be used prior to the birth of the first puppy, but after the first puppy I will routinely administer .5cc to the female. This does make the labor proceed faster but I have found it is better to have the puppies out within six hours then to let her whelp over a 24 hour period and to lose some puppies. Using this method I haven't lost a puppy to uterine inertia or prolonged whelping. A female who does not produce a puppy within 2 hrs should be given another shot and if a puppy is not produced within an hour after the second shot, the vet should be called. Usually within 8 hours all the puppies have been born. I make sure that I take each puppy out of the sack and cut the cords which prevents umbilical hernias.
I also mark each puppy and note the time born. Depending upon the breed you can use rickrack to mark the puppies (see photo) or use different colors of nail polish. I have heard of others cutting the hair in different places on the puppy. I do not weigh the puppies but others do. As the mom is whelping you should be able to palpate her stomach to feel whether another puppy is in the canal or she has finished whelping. After her last puppy, I give another cc of oxytocin to make sure there is no afterbirth left. The mom can and usually does continue to pant hard for the first 24 hours and will usually continue to nest. I have water available at all times while she is whelping.
After the last whelp is born, I will give her a broth made of boiled down chicken bones, liver, and veggies. I also have no problem with allowing the mom to eat the afterbirth as it is a good source of protein and most female will only have loose stool from it for a day or so. Depending upon how many times the female was bred there could be a substantial size difference among the puppies. This doesn't necessarily mean that one of them is a "runt" but rather it could be as much as a week younger then his siblings. Each whelp should be checked for cleft palate. A cleft palate is a split in the upper lip or roof of the mouth. This puppy will not be able to nurse as the milk will come out of the nose and the puppy will starve so it is kinder to put the puppy down. Another problem to check for is atresia ani in which the anal opening is missing. Normal small puppies usually will and do catch up in size. Within hours you should see a difference in the size of the whelps, their stomachs should be full and round.
They should not be crying but content, a whelp that is crying should be attended to by the mother and either cleaned or allowed to nurse. ) the whelps in the photo are two hours old.
Whelps when they are born can not see or hear. They can not regulate their body temperature for seven days. A healthy whelp will crawl towards his/her mother to nurse and will sleep for 90% of the day. Others will weigh the whelps to see that they are putting on weight. You should be able to tell just by looking whether the whelp is eating and gaining weight. The mom should be attentive and should keep the clean.
Look for post on whelping care in the following weeks :-)
Biography:Yvette Piantadosi has raised German Shepard Dogs for the last 20 years, and Belgian Malinois for the last 12 years. She has participated in Ring Sport, Schutzhund, agility, obedience and tracking, assessed and whelped over 267 litters mostly for other breeders, and set up a protocol for treating puppies who come down with parvo. Over 37 dogs from her breeding program have been certified and are currently working in all avenues within the US. We currently have a website with additional information http://www.jagerstadt.com, or firstname.lastname@example.org