Pamela A. Davol, 76 Mildred Avenue, Swansea,
(Am.Can.Ch. Chocorua's Silent Dignity X Wing-N-Wave Call To Glory)
December 23, 1995
Bred by: Pamela A. Davol
Photos by J. Yates (Copyright 1995)
The gestation period (pregnancy) for dogs is approximately 63 days, plus or minus about 5 days. Because there is such a wide margin for delivery and because most of the deliveries here have begun during the early hours of the morning, during the final week of the pregnancy I place a baby monitor beside the whelping box at night so that I can hear any activity. Usually, my girls whelp around day 60 but I look for other signs that whelping may be imminent, as well. Such signs usually appear within twenty-four hours of delivery. The mother-to-be will be restless and dig at the blankets in her whelping box (nesting). She may refuse to eat or she will vomit and have diarrhea. Additionally, her body temperature will drop to about 99 degrees just prior to giving birth (normal temperature is about 101.8 degrees). Once labor begins, "mom" will pant and sometimes moan. Eventually, moans will be replaced by grunts which coincide with uterine contractions. These can be felt if one places his hands on the abdomen of the bitch. Here, I try to provide some comfort to Tory during her first contractions.
Puppies are born enclosed in an amniotic sac. An umbilical cord is attached to the placenta which in turn is attached to the uterine wall of the bitch. Usually, each puppy will be associated with one placenta. Normally, puppies are born head-first and each delivery will be followed by a placenta. Though many bitches are perfectly capable of delivering without any assistance, I like to be standing by just in case there may be complications. Even when present, however, I will not usually assist until I think the bitch requires assistance. For example, if she shows no interest in tearing open the sac or if I feel it is taking too long then I will tear it open myself. I do not usually tie off cords and I never "cut" cords under any circumstance. I will supervise the bitch as she crushes and tears the cord to ensure that she does not accidently injure the pup. Usually I will hold the puppy and grasp the cord providing a counter pull to prevent potential hernia. If the bitch is unable to crush and tear the cord, then I will crush and tear it myself using my fingers. If the cord is accidently severed too close to the pup then I will tie it off with a little bit of suture material or embroidery thread to prevent bleeding. Additionally, I do allow my bitches to eat all the placentas if they so desire. It is, however, important to keep count of all the placentas to ensure that none have been retained. Once the puppy is born, I will assess its condition. If it is screeching and indignant, then I will allow the bitch to clean it herself. If, however, it appears sluggish, weak, or lifeless then I will attempt to resuscitate the puppy. First, I will rub it vigorously with a towel. If there appears to be mucus or fluid in its nose and mouth, I will hold the puppy, belly up, in a towel above my head and then swing it in a downward arc so that centrifugal force causes the fluid to be expelled. If the puppy is still not breathing, then I will lightly blow air into its nostrils. Here, Tory has delivered the first puppy, a yellow female, without incident.
The duration of the whelping is dependent on many factors including the number and size of puppies. In a normal delivery without complications, puppies can be delivered anywhere from 10 minutes or as much as 2 hours apart. The uterus of the canine is Y-shaped, with the tail of the "Y" forming the cervix and the V-shaped portion of the "Y" forming the two horns of the uterus extending along either side of the abdomen. Usually, the puppies occupying one horn of the uterus will be delivered first then puppies occupying the other horn will follow. As a result of this, there may be an interlude where the bitch will not deliver any puppies for up to 2 hours (please refer to "Medical Management of Complications Affecting Delivery (Whelping)" for warning signs to watch for that may indicate the need for immediate medical attention). This actually allows the new "mom" a brief reprieve where she can have a drink of water and be allowed outside to relieve herself. Walking the bitch may also help in speeding up contractions of the second uterine horn, as well. When walking my girls during labor, I will bring a towel and a flashlight (if it's dark outside) in case a pup happens to be born outside.
Pregnancy can be determined usually at 4-5 weeks by palpating the abdomen for the "lump-like" fetuses. There are other signs as well for determining pregnancy. In my own girls, I look for the vulva to remain swollen following the estrus cycle and many times they will have a clear discharge when they urinate. When litters are large, the bitch's abdomen will begin to thicken by as early as 4 weeks following the breeding; in average size litters this may not be noticeable until 6-7 weeks following breeding. Mammary glands may or may not develop prior to delivery--some of my girls do not swell until immediately following delivery. Ultrasound and radiographs are other ways for determining pregnancy and may be helpful particularly when a bitch is just having one or two puppies, however, I personally do not use these diagnostic methods routinely for determination of pregnancy. I will, however, have "mom" x-rayed following delivery if I have a question as to whether she may be retaining a puppy.
In between deliveries, newborns are allowed to nurse. This is important for two reasons: first, it is essential that each puppy ingest "colostrum" which is secreted from the mammary glands immediately after birth and which is rich in maternal antibodies and will protect the pups from infection until they develop their own immunity, and second, nursing increases uterine contractions and helps to speed up delivery. Once contractions start to come closer together indicating that another puppy is on its way into the world, I remove the newborns from the whelping box, put them in a laundry basket lined with towels, and place the laundry basket close to the whelping box. This prevents the newborns from getting stepped on when "mom" stretches out or moves around while having the contractions.
Puppies cannot hear or see at birth, however, they are born with a strong "rooting" instinct to latch-on and nurse. Time of eye opening is usually 10 days following birth but can be as late as 14-16 days, particularly in litters born prematurely. Birth weight is also dependent on many factors and varies widely from litter to litter with weights ranging from 5 ounces to greater than 16 ounces in some cases.
Unlike the black puppies which are born with black skin pigment, the yellow puppies in a litter are born without any skin pigment and as a result have pink noses, pads, and bellies. Black pigment gradually begins to appear within 3-7 days following birth. Some yellows take up to 14 weeks to acquire complete pigmentation.
Once "mom" has completed her job and the delivery is over, it's time for her to rest and time for the breeder to get to work! "Mom" is allowed outside to relieve herself and I remove all the pups from the whelping box and place them in the familiar laundry basket. The whelping box is then cleaned, disinfected and clean blankets are laid down. Each puppy is thoroughly inspected from head to toe for any birth defects. Cords are inspected for any signs of bleeding, by the next day they will begin to dry-up and will be clipped short. After inspection, each is placed back into the whelping box to wait for "mom's" return. Then it's "mom's" turn for some TLC. I frappe a few cups of dog food in a blender then mix it with water and cottage cheese to make a gruel and allow "mom" to eat. I make an appointment with our vet to bring the new family in for inspection later on in the day. If needed, x-rays, an oxytocin injection, and antibiotics are administered to the new mother at that time. Throughout the next week, I continually monitor her body temperature to ensure that there is no infection and inspect her mammary glands periodically to ensure that mastitis does not set in.
During the first 3-4 weeks, "mom" does most of the work keeping the pups and whelping box clean between my daily cleanings and disinfections since newborn puppies require stimulation from the bitch to urinate and defecate. During the first few weeks after birth, the puppies will sleep most of the time. Unable to stand, they will however crawl from one end of the whelping box to the other. Between 2-3 weeks they will eventually begin to get their legs beneathe them and start to take steps--wobbly ones at first. Between 3-4 weeks of age some personality traits will begin to surface and they will begin to play with one another--they are a bit uncoordinated, though. Weaning also begins between 3-4 weeks after birth, and that's when the breeder's work really begins since clean-up is left solely to the breeder from this point. Between 4-6 weeks, the hierachy of the litter is established and personality traits become very distinct between puppies. It is also at this point in time that I evaluate the puppies for their structural traits.
Robin Camken's "Breeding" Health Information Links