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Chapter 16 - Stages of Dog Labor
THE STAGES OF LABOR
There are three parts of active labor. The first stage when the passages are dilating and relaxing can last for what may feel like an eternity, but will actually not be longer than
forty-eight hours. The second stage begins with the first signs of pushing or contractions,
and coincides with the full dilation of the cervix. This stage can be voluntarily suppressed
by the bitch if there are too many distractions. She must be kept quiet with only the breeder
and helper present. The contractions help to push the whelps along in the birth canal. Each
whelp is contained in a water sac or membrane and is attached by a cord (the umbilicus) to
the placenta, which is in turn attached to the wall of the uterus.
With strong contractions, the first pup may born within half an hour but with weaker
contractions it can take up to three hours.
Arrival times vary - fifteen to twenty minutes apart could be a good average - and sometimes one will arrive immediately after another. Pups usually come from the alternate "horns" of the uterus and the bitch will change her position from side to side to accommodate this. There often seems to be a longer wait about half way through. This can be a good time to offer the bitch some water and to suggest that she stretches her legs. A short outing on a leash can help if she is showing no signs of activity, but it is important to keep a close eye on her. If it is night, take a flashlight and examine anything that she deposits outside. Whatever the circumstances, never let active labor go for more than three hours without notifying the vet.
WHAT To EXPECT
The first signs of birth are likely to be a bubble coming from the vulva - that is, the sac containing both the whelp and fluid. It will often break and help to lubricate the canal. If it does break, there is less time in which to be sure that the air passages of the whelp are
clear so that it can start breathing. While the pup is still attached to the placenta and is in the sac there is a little more leeway before breathing must start. If the placenta does not arrive with the pup in sac - and often it does not - it is important to watch carefully for it and to be sure that it is expelled. Often this will be just before the next delivery.
There is no need for the domesticated dog to eat the placentas, so they can be removed from the box. However, they must all be countedbecause a retained placenta can cause serious or even fatal infection in the dam. The dam herself will usually unless it is her first time) help to lick up the fluids and will nudge and lick the whelps. This stimtulates them to breathe, and helps them to find a teat and suckle. It is good to help the pups to suckle as this stimulates the bitch to more contractions, helping the birthing process. It also encourages the flow of milk to the mammaries in a natural manner. The expulsion of the placenta is actually the third stage of labor but it usually occurs simultaneously with the second stage. Just I)efore each imminent birth, the newlorns that have already arrived should be placed in a separate cardboard box in a warm. secure
place, and then put back with the dam again.
PROVIDING THE DAM WITH HELP
If the bitch needs human help in extracting a pup, great care must be taken not to cause it
any injury. The aim should be to pull gently downward and forward, toward the bitch's head. Whenever possible, this pulling should be in time with the contractions so that the bitch aids the process. If the sac has broken and the presentation is head first, try to clean the nose and mouth of the whelp so that it can start to breathe on its own. Breech presentations (when the whelp comes out feet first) are just as common as when the whelp arrives head first, but they are slightly more difficult if the legs get in the way.
AFTER THE BIRTH
When the pup is delivered, dry it thoroughly on a clean towel, making sure that the mucous
is removed from the nose and throat. An ear syringe may be used to do this but great care
should be taken not to suction too strongly and risk injuring the nose passage or the lungs. The umbilical cord should be removed and a hemostat should be clamped on the cord about I inch/2.5 cm from the pup's body. It is important not to tug on the cord because this may cause a hernia. The clamping action of the hemostat bruises the cord in the same way as a bitch's chewing would, crushing the blood vessels and helping to stem the bleeding. When the blood flow has reduced, the hemostat should be removed and reclamped about 1/2 inch/I cm further away from the body. The
cord should be cut with scissors on the side of the hemostat away from the whelp's body and
thrown away, along with the placenta if it is still attached. Next the cord should be tied with
dental floss or cotton thread dipped in alcohol just to the body side of the hemostat, between it and the area first crushed. The ends of the floss or cotton should be short so that they cannot be caught on little toes or stepped on.
It is important for all the puppies to suckle the "first milk." This is called colostrum and is a little thicker and yellower than regular milk. It contains antibodies which when absorbed by
the pups will protect them against infectious disease for about four to six weeks. As a result
of the mother licking them or of an attendant toweling each puppy, the whelps will produce
their first dark stool called the meconium - this is very dark with yellow staining and is the
contents of the alimentary canal before birth. The new mother must keep the puppies clean
and stimulate their excretory organs by licking their abdomens. If she is hesitant about this,
put a little petroleum jelly or butter under their tails and on their lower abdomens and she, by
licking it off, will accomplish the same aim.
During whelping, the dam should be offered water. As soon as she has finished whelping, and has relieved herself during a closely watched walk, she should be offered food. The broth and meat from a plump chicken, soft foods such as creamed soup, broth, French toast, macaroni and cheese may be offered for a few days, while gradually getting her back on a regular schedule. She should have as much as three times the normal amount of food while she is nursing. Calcium supplements such as powdered non-fat milk should be added to the diet, especially if the litter is large.
It is most important that all the puppies and the dam should be taken to the vet for examination within twenty-four hours of the last pup being born, though a lucky breeder will have a vet who makes house calls. The vet will examine for retained placentas and the bitch if necessary. The vet will also examine the puppies for any birth defects, like a cleft palate.
The bitch will have a discharge and bleeding for a few days after delivery. This is normal and will gradually change to a more watery, less bloody discharge and then stop. As soon as the discharge is less messy, the paper in the whelping box can be replaced with something that provides a good footing and can be washed each day. The bitch's temperature should be monitored and her breasts checked daily after the birth. Her temperature will rise slightly while she is actively nursing so it is best to check it between feedings. The puppies'nails should be kept trimmed so that they do not scratch the bitch's teats or catch in the flooring.