Even though our bitches cannot give us a lot of verbal information, their bodies and their behaviors can tell us a lot about their laboring procedures. Of course there will be variables from bitch to bitch and whelping to whelping. I would like to share with you an ideal whelping scenario.
Because you have been taking her temperatures of your bitch and keeping record, you have already figured out that delivery is due within the next 12 to 24 hours and you are prepared. You have the whelping box ready for the mom and warming box ready for the puppies. You have all your supplies right down to vet phone numbers.
Your bitch may not eat the day of whelping. This may be your first sign of labor. She may still be drinking water. I have one bitch that will eat a full meal one hour before having pups. I have another bitch that will be happy to eat ice cream during contractions, so loss of appetite is just one more variable. Several hours prior to the actual delivery, she will start to have contractions. Her contractions will start out being rather mild in intensity and short in duration and irregular. These contractions are causing her cervix to open and thin. She knows what is happening. Always be aware that even a first time mom to be knows what is happening. They are filled with instinct and are well aware of what is happening. She has felt puppies kicking them for weeks now. They will want you with them. They will begin to be restless. If you thought she was clingy before, wait till you see how she acts when in labor.
She will have a strong urge to dig and nest. She will start this behavior about a week or more before the actual whelping date, but when she is in labor it will become much more pronounced and more frequent and much lengthier. She will dig in closets, laundry baskets, her toy box, in her whelping box, your bed, sometimes under your bed. It is best to have her in a controlled environment because she will seek out places that may be inaccessible to you like under the bed. Give her a large cardboard box filled with old clean washcloths and hand towels.
She will pant. The panting starts about the same time that the laboring process begins and is very pronounced. It isn’t because she is hot or cold. It’s simply a function of the labor process in the canine. Once she has her first puppy the panting usually stops completely. But I have had a bitch that will pant with each birth of her puppies. Once she delivers a puppy, the puppy will become her focal point and she will become less agitated, less clingy. But then my first rat terrier will get up and follow me even after having her first puppy. Make sure you give her access to water during the birthing process. All her panting will make her mouth very dry. Give small bites of glucose rich food at this time. She will be in a state of constant motion. Your bitch while in labor doesn’t usually lay quietly in the whelping box. Her heart rate is elevated, probably due to all the panting. She may circle repeatedly. She will lick her vulva. At this time she is still only contracting. She hasn’t yet begun the pushing process. Once the cervix has thinned and is open she will begin the pushing process. The first stage of labor may last for several hours. This is normal. If she appears to tire, give her oxygen using the “blow by” method. I will be covering this in New born intensive care.
Do not expect your bitches pushing behaviors to be like human delivery. We have all either delivered babies, been present during the delivery of babies or watched deliveries on TV. Remember the labor nurse counting to 10 while the patient bears down and pushes? Well this will not happen when your bitch delivers her babies. First of all your bitch can’t count. They other thing is their pushing is done in very short little doses. They may push for 2 to 3 seconds at a time. Usually they will be in a sitting position with their heads extending upwards while they give short little pushes as they push the baby from the uterine horn into the birth canal. Often you will know when the puppy has entered the birth canal because the bag of water will precede the puppy by several minutes. The bag of water may be ballooning out from the vulva. It will usually be filled with green tinged fluid. Although this is a sign of fetal distress in a human delivery, it is normal for the canine delivery. Any shade of green is bad news when it is a human baby but it is completely normal in the canine. Don’t break it, don’t touch it. Let mom take care of it own her own. She may reach back and lick it causing it to break. She may ignore it and keep pushing. Both are normal. Once the puppy is in the birth canal the bitch will usually stand on all four legs or she may remain in a sitting position. I have one female that likes to lay on her side to give birth. The puppy may be born feet or head first. Both are common in the whelping of puppies. About 40% of all pups are born feet first. The puppy may or may not be born enclosed in its little sack. If the puppy is born inside the sack you can quickly assist mom in tearing open the sack so that the puppy can begin breathing. The sac has two layers, be sure to open both. Moms usually do a pretty good job of doing this. If the puppy is born inside the sack generally it will come with the placenta as well and everything will come out together. This is normal. Sometimes, the puppy will come out of the vulva without membranous sack and without its placenta. This is also normal. You can help at this point by grasping the puppy as the puppy gently using a washcloth to give you more traction. Hold the puppy as the placenta is delivered. Don’t tug. Just support the puppy as the next contractions push the placenta forward. Sometimes the body of the puppy will be out but very close to the vulva, mom will continue to lick, turn and even lift the puppy by it’s cord as she stimulates it to breathe. She will chew the cord through, crushing the blood vessels as she does so to prevent bleeding from the cord stump. At some point following delivery put some Betadyne on the cord stump. Following the delivery of the first puppy mom will usually settle down and tend her baby until shortly before delivery of the next puppy. When a puppy nurses from the mom it stimulates uterine contractions which is useful.