What Comes Next…

For the second part of our Introduction to Ethical Breeding Considerations, we will focus on what to expect and how to provide the best care for your pregnant dog before, during, and after birth.

Unassisted Birth: What to Expect

Unassisted births should involve minimal intervention unless the mother or a newborn is clearly in distress. In the week leading up to labor, the mother’s temperature should be recorded at least twice daily, as it will drop approximately 24-36 hours before birth. This decline is known as pre-partum hypothermia.

The mother will go through five stages of labor:

Stage of Preparation:

Plasma progesterone concentration declines, and rectal body temperature decreases.
You may notice relaxation of the vaginal and perineal tissues.

First Stage of Labor:

  • Starts with the onset of contractions, lasting no longer than 12 hours.
  • Milk may appear in the mammary glands, and the mother’s behavior may become more frantic, with restlessness, panting, or shivering. This is normal.
  • Uterine contractions push the first fetus against the cervix, which starts to dilate, possibly leading to the rupture and expulsion of allantochorion and allantoic fluids.

Second Stage of Labor:

  • Uterine contractions increase, initiating abdominal contractions and the birth of the first puppy. The time between straining and expulsion can vary from 10 to 30 minutes, sometimes longer for first-time mothers.
    Note the onset of abdominal contractions and the time of birth.
  • The mother may rest after the first birth. If contractions persist for more than 2 hours without any puppies, seek veterinary advice as this could indicate dystocia.
  • The amnion surrounding the fetus may rupture spontaneously, or the mother may do so. If the mother does not assist the newborn, the owner must intervene by removing the amnion and stimulating the neonate by holding it so that its bottom is higher than its head and rubbing it vigorously with a warm towel.

Third Stage of Labor:

  • The placenta is usually passed during the second stage after the fetus is delivered but can also be retained and expelled during this stage.
  • Keeping track of the number of placentas can help determine if any material has been retained, which requires immediate veterinary attention if suspected.
  • A green-colored vulval discharge, originating from the placenta’s pigment, is normal for up to a week after birth.

Puerperium:

This is the period after birth when the reproductive system returns to a non-pregnant state.
The uterus begins involution, and a mucoid discharge may be noticed for up to 6 weeks.

Post Birth Care:

  • Prepare a nest large enough for the mother to stretch out and accommodate the litter, with sides high enough to prevent the puppies from wandering for the first 4 weeks.
  • Neonates cannot regulate their body temperature for the first week, relying on the mother and each other for warmth. The nest should be in a draft-free, easily heated room away from household activity.
  • Keep the litter at a temperature of 25°C to 30°C for the first week to prevent hypothermia, then safely reduce the temperature to 22°C. A heat lamp can help, allowing the mother to move away from the heat if needed.
  • Replace soiled bedding frequently.
  • Weigh and record the puppies daily using small scales.
  • Have milk replacement and suitable bottles ready if the mother cannot feed the puppies.

Assisted Birth: What to Expect

  • Some dogs may require an elective caesarian section at around 65 days (full term) performed by a veterinarian. The dog will be admitted to the veterinary practice, where her heart rate, respiration rate, and temperature will be checked. Blood samples may be taken to ensure progesterone levels are low enough for surgery.
  • The length of the surgery depends on the litter size and the condition of the uterus. The veterinary team will minimize the anesthesia duration to reduce stress for the puppies and mother. Medications will be carefully administered as needed.
  • Veterinary staff will perform puppy resuscitation, cleaning, drying, and stimulating the puppies to breathe and keeping them warm. Owners are typically not present during surgery, but the mother and puppies will be sent home as soon as it’s safe, usually after the mother has recovered from anesthesia, is walking, has eaten, and is feeding the newborns.

Post Caesarian Care:

  • Feed the mother small, easily digestible meals for the first 2-3 days to avoid gastrointestinal upset.
  • Keep exercise and toilet visits calm, avoiding running or climbing stairs for at least 10 days.
  • Inspect the surgery site 2-3 times daily for signs of infection, such as redness, swelling, discharge, or foul odor, and check for trauma from the puppies.
  • Schedule post-op checks at 3, 7, and 10 days as advised by your veterinarian, who may also recommend pain relief and antibiotics if necessary.
  • Apart from these additional considerations, the care for the mother and puppies remains the same as outlined in the “Post Birth Care” section above.