HOFKENNEL | Whelping Puppies
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Whelping Puppies

Whelping Puppies

Prenatal supervision begins with the prenatal veterinary visit, which is essential for the first time or at risk-mothers. The visits should take place in the eight week of gestation.

-A gynaecological examination of the bitch will reveal any possible obstacles to whelping. The presence of fibrous bands in the vagina in primaparas (bitches carrying their first litter) can hinder expulsion of the puppies.

-One or more abdominal X-rays during this time will determine the number of fetuses more accurately than ultrasound. This examination also reveals possible abnormalities that could cause dytocia, such as the small size of the pelvis, foetal mummification (shown by cloudy images, bone dislocations) or disproportion between the foetus and the mother. However, note that the positions of the fetuses as revealed by the X-ray are not good predictors of dystocia, because the position may change (rotate 180°) at the last minute.

Preliminary signs of whelping.

 A bitch’s behaviour will usually change in the week before whelping. She will make off with various objects to use for the nest, search for a quite spot or seek her owner’s company. Reduced appetite, constipation and swollen nipples are not reliable signs, particularly in primiparas, whose milk sometimes does no come until the day of whelping or sometimes even after birth.

In the three days before whelping, the vulva becomes swollen and relaxed due to oestrogen saturation, which sometimes causes symptoms of a false heat.

Rectal temperature falls by 1° C in the 24 hours before whelping. This indicator can be used if the temperature is taken in the morning and evening in the four days before the predicted whelping date. A fall of one degree relative to the four previous days indicates that whelping is imminent.

This fall in temperature occurs at the same time as the reduction in progesterone. These two tests are evidence of the maturity of the fetuses and indicate that their birth may take place naturally or by Caesarean section without major risk to the new born puppies. We would point out that under certain conditions we can consider the medical induction of whelping.

Finally, the appearance of the mucous from the cervix indicates that whelping is imminent, and precedes the first contractions by a matter of 24 to 36 hours.

The normal whelping process.

Unless the prenatal visit revealed specific risks, it is not unusually necessary to intervene during whelping.

The first signs of whelping appear on average 63 days following ovulation. Note that this not correspond to the date of mating! 

When pregnancy extends beyond the 65th day, one should start to be concerned (check the assumed ovulation dates). If it passes day 70, this is quite abnormal!

The first contractions are uterine contractions, which often cannot be detected except by the nervous behaviour of the bitch, which looks repeatedly at her sides and usually seeks a quite place to be alone and make a bed, if she does not already have a nest. Loss of appetite (anorexia) is normal at this time, and can even extend to vomiting. This preparatory phase last an average of 6 to 12 hours, but can last up to 36 hours in primiparas. If the owner is worried, he should check vaginal dilatation

Using one or two gloved fingers, at the same time determining the presence and position in the birth canal.

The entrance of the first puppy into the birth canal causes visible contractions of the abdominal muscles. (Ferguson’s reflex) that help the expulsive effort of the uterus and should cause the first water sac (allantois) to break within less than three hours. The second water sac (amniotic sac), with the puppy inside, then appears at the vulva (a maximum of twelve hours after the water first breaks). If the amniotic sac is not broken by the passage through the birth canal, the mother usually ruptures it within a minute of birth, breaks the umbilical cord, and licks the newborn puppy’s torso, which stimulates the first breathing movements. At this stage, intervention is necessary only in the case of a breech presentation (about 40% of births that are taking a long time) or if the puppy remains inert in spite of maternal stimulation. In the first case, help the mother by pulling lightly in time with the abdominal contractions. In the second, make sure the upper portion of the puppy’s airway is not obstructed (which is frequently the case with breech births), and if necessary, clear it by means of an enema syringe or centrifugal motions, which also promote blood flow to the head. If these measures are ineffective, cold water or respiratory stimulants must be tried.

Each puppy is generally within about fifteen minutes (unless the contractions are intensive) by its afterbirth, which is usually eaten by the mother. Puppies are born at intervals of a few minutes to half-hour. A delay greater than two hours between puppies is a sign of an abnormality such as primary uterine inertia (caused by fatigue, hypoglycaemia or hypocalcaemia) or secondary uterine inertia due to blockage (transverse presentation, presence of two foetuses in the birth canal at the same time, blockage of the birth canal). In these cases, medical and /surgical intervention is necessary.

Medical Intervention

Systematic use of oxytocin (a hormone that stimulates uterine contractions and is naturally released by the posterior hypophysis) is discouraged. Unthinking use of this hormone in the absence of an exact diagnosis may

  • cause uterine tears if the inertia is the result of blockage,
  • suffocate the puppies still waiting to be born by prematurely constricting the afferent vessels of the umbilical cord,
  • have no effect whatsoever on the uterus, which has a natural refractory period with respect to oxcitocin during the rest periods (for about a half-hour after the expulsion), and causing only side effects(namely diarrhea),
  • cause the posterior hypophysis to stop secreting it, which disturbs milk production later,
  • cause secondary eclampsia.

Primary uterine inertia (i.e., when no anatomical obstacles are present) occurs frequently in certain bitches prone to it, such as:


  • Very calm females or, conversely, females who are very nervous during labour.
  • Obese or elderly bitches.
  • Bitches that have had a large number of litters.

In these cases, perfusion of calcium gluconate while monitoring the heart rate is usually sufficient to restart uterine contractions. Massaging the nipples can cause reflex secretion of endogenous oxytocin, which is preferable to giving it as a medication.

This is why we strongly recommend, whenever possible, that the first puppies whelped be left with the mother that will suckle and thereby stimulate the production of oxytocin.

Surgical Intervention

Obstetrical manipulations are very limited in dogs. When medical treatments do not work, or there is obvious obstruction of the natural passages, episiotomy (incision of the superior commissure of the vulva) or Caesarean section is indicated.

These are employed when the term is passed or when the litter consists of one or two puppies; the size of the foetuses would then be excessive in comparison with the diameter of the pelvic passage.

The viability of the puppies about to be born depends on their maturity (which can be verified by the progesterone level), the duration if unproductive contraction

(which cause anoxia and pain in the puppy in the birth canal and also in the waiting puppies), the promptness of the intervention and the type of anaesthesia used.

Postnatal care 

It is important to direct each newborn puppy to a teat if the mother does not push it in that direction herself, so that it can drink the colostrums (first milk), which contains protective antibodies that confer passive immunity on the puppy (in contrast to the active immunity gained through vaccination or infection).

When the number of puppies is less than the number predicted from X-rays, a new abdominal X-ray should be taken in order to find any missing puppies and avoid an unnecessary Caesarean if they are found …in the mothers stomach. In fact, it is not uncommon for the mother to eat stillborn puppies with the placenta.

Certain homeopathic herbal products aid the emptying and involution of the uterus. Some simple rules of hygiene prevent the uterus from becoming infected during the expulsion of the lochia (greenish discharges during the three days following parturition). Systematic use of antibiotics is absurd in economical, medical and sanitary terms. Not only might the antibiotics pass into the milk and poison the puppies (sometimes causing malformation of the dental enamel), they also select for resistant organisms against which they are no longer effective.

( with permission copied from the Royal Canin Encyclopaedia/Aniwa publishing)