Whelping your first bitch is probably one of the most exciting and worrying times of your period connected with dogs. Most owners approach it with trepidation but you have to remember that it is an act which comes naturally to the bitch and in nine times out of ten, she could do quite nicely without your interference, but for safety sake it is best you are there giving her a helping hand. Whelping is a subject where you can get conflicting advice, as breeders have their own ways which have always served them well and which they will never change. So treat this article as a common sense guide and you wont go far wrong. Hopefully you have had your bitch insured for some time, if not make sure she is insured before you mate her. Whelping can be expensive if things go wrong and veterinary costs are covered for most, but not all breeds.
Like all things, prepare yourself well and you shouldn't panic if the unexpected happens. Your first decision is where will you expect the bitch to whelp? It must be an area where you can offer her and her pups warmth, no draughts, privacy yet human contact when needed, easy access to where she can toilet and an area you can allow the pups to toilet as they age, without causing you too much inconvenience. I personally do not like the idea of garages but a utility room can be ideal.
Next you must build a whelping box. Now this is not easy to generalise on as breeds differ in size so much. For an average size dog, say a Boxer, I suggest using "White Contiboard". I would purchase four pieces 15 inches by 36 inches to make the four sides and a base of 36 inches square. The base needs to be raised off the ground, I screw five rubber door stops underneath and I then cut a door out of the front to give the bitch easy access. Some breeds who are particularly clumsy, require "pig rails" to help reduce the risk of them sitting on the pups or trapping them in corners. A pig rail is easily made up using broom stick handles, four pieces 36 inches long. You can screw them into the insides of the box three to four inches away from the sides and the base. This gives the pups an area where mum cant sit on them, or if she does, they edge out to the sides into a secure area. As I said, the size of the box depends on your breed and should offer enough space for mum to lie down flat, stretched out. It is important to bring mum into this room and get her used to the box as a sleeping box about two weeks before she is due to whelp.
Nearer the day, you have to prepare for the actual whelping. Number one is always to have a chart ready, for you to log her progress, times and events, just in case you need to call the vet for help. A list of her progress will help him decide on any course of action which may be required. Always give your vet advanced notice of the impending birth out of courtesy, just in case you need to call him at some ungodly hour.
I would suggest the following list of items is ready, four to five days prior: Plenty of newspapers. Get your friends to collect these as well because you will need an awful lot over the next eight weeks. The larger the better, my dogs love "The Times". A thermometer if you intend taking her temperature. A few pieces of "Vet Bedding" to make her whelping box comfortable and clean. To clean the newly born pups, I always use boiled unused nappies, which are the ideal size and texture, one for each of the expected pups. A pair of blunt scissors soaking in sterilising fluid (Milton). A baby's bottle with two teats with large holes soaked in Milton (just in case its required). A pack of puppy milk. Glucose powder. Two hot water bottles. A reel of cotton. The Vets Phone Number Near Phone.
THE BIG DAY NEARS
Once a bitch has been mated, she goes through a gestation (pregnancy) period of about 63 days if she is in whelp. Her food intake should be increased up until six weeks, after which she should be given all she will eat. The bitch should be wormed within four weeks of the mating (with a preparation purchased from your vet not a pet shop).
If all goes to plan, she will be ready to whelp app. 63 days after the mating. It is not often exactly 63 days, as she may not have fertilised on the exact day of the mating, but a few days later so don't be alarmed if the pups don't arrive to order! It is important to watch the bitch carefully the week before as some bitches can whelp 5 to 6 days early. The signs to watch out for come in three stages as follows:
1 - She will become restless and probably (but not always) ignore the meal prior to labour. Many bitches will start panting and shivering and will tear up their bedding, shredding any paper in her whelping box and forming it into a "nest". Her temperature will drop for a few hours to around 97-99 (it is usually 101.5). This stage is where the neck of the womb or cervix is relaxing which is brought about by the pressure of the intra-uterine fluid. At these signs, labour should start in about 4 to 24 hours. It is most important to ensure that she is allowed privacy, children and neighbours should be kept well away as she will not feel comfortable with an army of onlookers who would only serve to delay her progress.
2 -The second stage is when the cervix is fully dilated and she starts labour, straining or contracting in a purposeful manner, with more vaginal discharge being seen. A water bag normally pops out of the vulva quite soon after this and if followed by further forceful efforts, a puppy plus its placenta should follow within the hour. Keep a check on the number of placentas expelled as there must be one for each puppy. I personally let my bitches eat all of these, but opinions vary in this area. It is natural in the wild and so too for my girls. If the full number of placentas are not passed by the end of whelping, seek veterinary advice. Some pups may present themselves tail first but this is not a problem. If a puppy gets stuck half in and half out with mum straining excessively, you can help by pulling the pup gently DOWNWARDS and TOWARDS MUMS HEAD until the pup is released. Pups are normally (but not always) born inside the membranes. Although you can leave it to mum to rupture them herself, I prefer to take hold of the pup, tear the membrane open and run my finger through the pups mouth to clear any mucous, cut the cord with a blunt pair of scissors, semi dry the pup and then let the bitch take over. If the cord does not stop bleeding try pressure on it for about one minute (holding it tight between your fingers) and if this fails, tie it tight with cotton. The action of drying the pup, stimulates it into consciousness, gets it breathing correctly and kick starts it into life. Once this is established, try to put it on a rear teat as this is where the goodness is concentrated.
3 - The third stage is the rest period between pups. This rest can vary between 5 minutes to one hour, but provided she is not over restless or straining for longer than 30 minutes with no results, there should be nothing to worry about. The whole process normally takes any time from between two to twenty four hours. Some people believe that pups should be removed each time mum starts to strain again, but I believe that this action is likely to worry her and delay further births. Afterbirths do not necessarily follow one after each pup and it is quite natural for a batch to arrive at any time.
You may find that mum might be appear to be off her food for a few days after whelping, but she is probably loathed to leave her pups to eat or drink herself. If this is the case, offer her food and water whilst she is in the box and you will usually find she will eat with gusto. Even with the length of time I have been breeding, I like the vet to check mum out within 24 hours of her finishing, to ensure there is nothing left inside which shouldn't be there. Owing to the fact that veterinary surgeries are likely to have sick animals visiting them, it is preferable if the vet will visit you for this inspection.
In conclusion, contact your vet urgently if no pups have presented themselves within 2 hours of her beginning to strain or if 4 hours has passed between pups with no sign of more presenting themselves. Never panic as this will only help to upset the bitch, but if you are in any doubt at any time, contact your vet telling him all the events which have taken place and he will advise you what to do next.