Breeding: Maternal Care: Behaviour during Pregnancy


If you are certain of the date of the last possible mating, don’t worry if your bitch goes over the prescribed sixty- three days by a few days, provided that she is eating and is generally well, has no colored discharge from the vulva, and has not been seen to strain on any occasion other than when passing a stool. But if any pups have not appeared within two hours of straining, consult your vet immediately. When birth is imminent, the bitch’s temperature drops by a couple of degrees. She becomes restless, may go off her food, pants fitfully, and prepares her bed. This means she wanders about, chooses a site quite different from the one you had chosen, may paw fret-fully at the bedding, and turns round round in circles before lying down, only to be up again in a short while. This state of pre-labour usually lasts about twelve hours, but it can be much briefer or continue for a day or two, sometimes with intervals of normal behaviour. If there is no straining, no colored discharge from the vulva, and the bitch is otherwise well in herself, all is in order. Labour proper can be regarded as beginning when you see the first strain by the bitch or the appearance of a colored (often bottle- green) discharge. Count from then. Within one hour the first pup should be born. A water sac appears first, and is sometimes ruptured by the licking of the bitch. Then follows the puppy, wrapped partly or entirely in the membrane of the water sac. Puppies are often born back feet first; this is not a breech birth and is nothing to get alarmed about once delivered, the puppy remains attached to the afterbirth by a cord until the mother severs it with her teeth. By licking the puppy clean, the mother stimulates it to take its first few breaths. If this doesn’t occur, and particularly if the puppy’s face is covered by membrane, you can help. Clear the membrane away from the nostrils and face and break the umbilical cord. Don’t use scissors. Pull the cord apart between the fingers of your two hands. Make the break about 11 1/2 in (4cm) from the navel. Return the puppy to the mother without delay. Between the birth of each successive pup the bitch may rest for minutes or for hours. The intervals tend to get shorter as labour progresses, but may well be irregular.

Emergencies during Pregnancy

The maximum time limit for the birth of any one pup, counting from the first strain, is two hours. Remember that this is two hours from the beginning of labour for that pup, not from the beginning of whelping. After the two hours are up, if the pup is still undelivered, contact the vet. The total time for whelping an average litter of four to eight pups is up to six hours. The afterbirths will be expelled either after each pup or irregularly, coming in clumps at intervals or at the end of whelping. It is normal for the bitch to want to eat them; do not let her have many, as she may get diarrhoea. Most bitches have no trouble giving birth; where problems do arise the vet may help the animal manually, use drugs, or advise a Caesarean operation. A Caesarean is usually recommended in cases where labour has lasted more than twelve hours. It does not rule out future breeding and normal labour in subsequent whelpings. You should only assist in labor when a puppy is half in and half out of the vulva and progressing slowly. With scrubbed hands, grasp the baby firmly and pull smoothly and gently, with a slight screwing action, at the same time pushing against the bitch’s body. Try to pull at the same time as the natural strainings of the bitch.