Whelping: New Puppies On The Way!!
You will notice that the pup is attached to a yucky looking mass of tissue by the umbilical cord. You can separate the pup from this blackish-green tissue, which is the afterbirth. (The afterbirth is the tissue that attaches very closely to the lining of the uterus. Through the afterbirth the pup "breathes" and acquires nourishment via the umbilical cord; now that the pup is born, though, there's no need for this equipment any more. Now it's nasty looking and yucky so throw it out.)
There is no real benefit for the bitch to eat all the afterbirths so discard them if you wish. In fact, some dogs can get digestive upsets from consuming a large number of afterbirths. Ultimately, it's your choice whether or not you want your bitch to eat the afterbirth.
Now that the membrane is removed and the umbilical cord is chewed through (or separated about an inch away from the pup by you), licking and cleaning the new pup is the bitch's first order of business. If she ignores the pup, you can take a clean towel and rub the puppy dry; this will stimulate it to breath and it will protest a bit. Ouch ... Welcome to our world!
While doting over the new pup the bitch will probably start the process over and present another one...here we go again! While the new pup's brothers and sisters are yet to see the light of day, the first pup, having found a nipple, is already having breakfast. (I say breakfast because the vast majority of whelpings occur in the very early hours of predawn darkness!)
In any litter the entire process of whelping can take from two to twenty hours. In Golden Retrievers, for example, they may have three pups in the first hour, take a break for three or four hours, have a few more, take a break, have one, take a break and finish up sometime the next day. All that may be perfectly normal. However, if a bitch is really straining, with contractions coming every minute or so and no pup is presented within half an hour, get the veterinarian on the phone. Often, if the bitch seems to be doing nothing for a few hours and you are sure there are more pups to be delivered, the bitch often can be energized to have more contractions by a brisk walk outside. She may not want to leave the pups but fresh air and a short run or walk will get things started again. Have food and water available for her, too.
Sometimes the litter will be so large, either due to the number or size of the pups, that a problem with Uterine Inertia can occur. In these situations the bitch will fail in weak attempts to pass the pups. She may not even show any visible contractions. This is a good reason why you should keep good records of dates and times of breeding.
If the bitch has not given birth 65 days after successful breeding, there's a problem! If the uterus has been so stretched and fatigued by size of the litter, she may not be able to pass them. Uterine Inertia also is common when an older bitch has a single fetus that doesn't stimulate the uterus enough to begin contractions.
You must consult your veterinarian if any of these issues arise. Your veterinarian may take a X-ray (don't worry, a single x-ray in full term pups presents practically zero risk), medically intervene, and/or give the bitch medication(s) to induce labor. If none of this helps, it's time for surgery!
Here's a partial list of breeds that often require medical and surgical assistance with whelping:
If your bitch is pregnant, communicate with your veterinarian regularly, especially once the whelping process begins. It may just save some lives.
Image: Katie Brady / via Flickr
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