Puppy Whelping 101
So, how do you go about helping a momma dog deliver puppies?
First of all, when faced with questions of this nature, I immediately get an image of a lady who looks remarkably like Mammy from Gone with the Wind, proclaiming, "I don’t know nothin’ ‘bout birthin’ no babies." (I even say it every single time, accent and all, and after all these years nobody ever laughs. Gonna keep trying, though.)
I make it a policy to not watch movies that were made before 1975, but I was forced to watch GWTW in high school. I remember that scene and the whole Rhett Butler "Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn" part.
It’s true, though. I really feel like I don’t know ‘nothin ‘bout birthin’ no babies. The vast majority of my patients are spayed; no babies there. (FYI, when clients ask me about whether or not they should breed their dog, I mention that they probably should set aside $700-$1000 in case they need an emergency C-section. Then they usually spay their dog.) But when the question does come up, I reach for my trusty copy of A Study Guide to Small Animal Reproduction from the Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine (Fall Semester, 1996). Luckily, not much has changed in breeding and raising puppies, so my vet school notes still serve me just fine.
Breeding and whelping (birthing) puppies is a big subject, so if you guys are interested, it will take many blogs to cover it.
- Whelping box: someplace safe to have the babies, where mom can’t crush her pups
- Sterile lubricating jelly (you know, "personal lubricant")
- Disposable plastic gloves
- Hemostat for clamping umbilical cords
- Towels, newspapers, plastic garbage bags, etc. for cleanup
- A separate box containing a covered heating pad to put the newborn pups in while mom is giving birth
- A scale to weigh the pups (in the margin of my study guide I wrote: "must record weight ASAP after birth, expect the puppies to lose weight at 12 hours post-birth and at 24 hours should be at birth weight. They should continue to gain weight at this rate. It’s the #1 key to pediatric health … weigh the pups. Puppies are like parakeets." [I’m not totally sure what the parakeet comment was about])
Dog labor is a 3-stage process — and if you think about it, it's sort of the same for humans. As far as I’m concerned, they are the same: pre-drugs, post-drugs, and push!
In dogs, the first stage is 12-30 hours before labor. Momma dog’s rectal temperature will drop to a low of 98 to 99 degrees. The pre-whelping decrease may only last a few hours. (About 10-14 days pre-whelping you are supposed to take the dog's temperature three times a day and keep a temperature chart.)
During this stage, momma dog will start nesting, and will develop a white to gelatinous discharge for up to 48 hours before whelping (Note: If the discharge turns bloody tinged the first puppy is imminent). Sometimes they go off food or get sick to their stomachs. Momma dog might be anxious or clingy, she might even be crampy. (For this part, I wrote in my study guide's margin: "uterine contractions make them feel like they’ve got to go to the bathroom and she has a puppy instead of poop. *Go potty with her.")
First stage lasts around 6-12 hours. Don’t leave mom alone during this time (aside from the puppy pooping issue); sometimes first time moms don’t know to free the pup from the amniotic sac and it could suffocate.
Second stage is the real deal: labor. Generally they show abdominal contractions for around 10-30 minutes. Usually you see the amniotic sac, then about three pushes later, a pup comes out. If the sac bursts and fluid comes out before you see a puppy, and the vagina dries out, you might need to help momma (using the lubricant). Normally momma pops the amniotic sac by licking/chewing it. If she doesn’t, you — the doggie midwife — need to step in and help.
Third stage immediately follows the second stage; that’s where the placenta comes out, and then the uterus takes a little break. Mrs. Uterus rests for anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour. On average, momma pops out another puppy every 30 minutes or so. Total average whelping time is 6-12 hours.
That’s just basic puppy whelping per my vet school notes. I’ll cover other issues down the road. Remember, I’m all for questions from you guys…
Dr. Vivian Cardoso-Carroll