Pregnancy and Whelping

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"The whelping bitch" - PowerPoint Download  (338 kb)

Remember that pregnancy and birth are usually perfectly normal


Increase the bitch's food in the last few weeks. Good quality nutritionally balanced dog food is best. Adequate light exercise should be continued right up to the time of birth. Ensure the bitch is dewormed within a month before whelping.

Place of birth

The place where the birth process is to take place should be warm and of such a nature that pups cannot be trapped under the bitch. Newspaper is the best bedding as it can easily be replaced when dirty and puppies cannot be tangled or suffocate in it. The period of pregnancy for a bitch is 63 days, but can vary by plus minus 4 days.

The birth process

The first sign of the birth process is the bitch becoming restless and wandering around to choose a birth place. About 24 hours before the first pup being born, the rectal temperature drops gradually from normal (38.5°C) to 37°C. The bitch then loses her appetite, becomes more restless and may even shred her bedding. The temperature usually rises again about 12 hours before whelping and the bitch will want to be left alone.

She will settle down and when ready will start straining. The first thing you should see emerge is a fluid-filled black bag that dilates the birth passage and marks the beginning of the actual birth process. The first pup is usually born soon after that. Each puppy is born in its own placental membranes and the navel cord that attaches it to its mother can be seen.
The bitch will tear open the membrane sac, chew through the navel cord and after that pull out and eat the afterbirth. The afterbirth, occasionally, may only be passed after completion of the birth process.

What can you do?

With a first litter the bitch is sometimes a little ignorant and you may have to tear open the membrane around the head and shell the puppy out. If after four minutes the bitch has not bitten off the navel cord, tie a short length of thick cotton thread around the cord about 30 mm from the pup's body. Keep cotton thread and a pair of scissors handy in a weak solution of Hibitane or Savlon. The puppy should be dried briskly with a rough towel and then given to the bitch to lick.

Being present is important so that you can help when necessary. You must however, not disturb the bitch unnecessarily and no other persons should be present. Noise, excitement and panic will disturb the normal process and can even be a reason for stillbirths.

When is the birth abnormal?

  1. If the first puppy takes longer than one hour to be born after the water sac has broken.
  2. When there is more than a one hour interval between subsequent pups.

When is the birth process finished?

  1. When the bitch becomes restful, starts caring for the pups and no more contractions occur.
  2. When the green vaginal discharge discolours to brown or bloody.

Some bitches eat normally directly after birth but most will only drink fluids for the first few days after giving birth. Water and milk should be freely available. Puppies usually suckle immediately but it can take a few hours before they begin drinking. They can be encouraged to drink by drawing a bead of milk onto the end of the nipple with your fingertips and helping them attach to the teat.

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