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After a mother dog (bitch) successfully whelps her puppies, there are specific things you as an owner want to look for to make sure both the newborns and their mother are doing well. Here are some tips on what to expect and what you should do to care for the new family.
Within twenty-four hours of birth, have the pups and mother checked by a veterinarian. The doctor will check for signs of congenital defects in the pups, such as cleft palates or limb deformities. He will also make sure the bitch’s mammary glands are producing enough milk for her babies.
He may administer an injection of oxytocin to start the uterus contracting and shrinking back to pre-pregnancy size. This will also reduce any bleeding from where the placentas were attached, and help expel any remaining material from the uterus. Mom may continue to have some discharge for up to eight weeks after birthing babies, but as long as it doesn’t smell or look foul, there is no cause for alarm.
Keep an eye on the new mother to make sure that she is caring for all her puppies and knows what to do with them. In some cases, bitches that give birth for the first time become aggressive or confused over their role, and she may lie on her puppies, accidentally crushing them.
New mothers will also need good nutrition to feed her pups, so small, frequent meals are a great idea. Her milk production will reach its peak at around three weeks after birth. She will be especially hungry at this time, so feed her puppy food for a few weeks. It has more energy per ounce than regular adult dog food so she can get plenty of nutrients without over filling her stomach. You will also need to weight the newborn puppies regularly to confirm they are growing and getting enough milk.
Watch for any signs of mastitis. Red, swollen, or painful mammary glands are the classic signs, but mom may also be very lethargic, feverish and off her food. Another potentially dangerous condition is metritis, an infection and inflammation of the uterus usually caused by a long or especially difficult labor.
If the mother starts to pant, tremble, or have seizures, she may be suffering from a calcium deficiency called eclampsia, which is a serious condition that needs immediate attention and treatment. It’s more common in smaller breeds of dogs, and tends to occur when pups are two to five weeks of age. This is when they’re growing fast, and drinking lots of milk. Mom puts lots of calcium into her milk, which leaves her deficient.
A vet must treat eclampsia quickly because it can be fatal. Treatment is intravenous calcium supplement, and mom may also need sedation to stop the seizures. If your bitch develops eclampsia it’s usually a good idea to wean the pups and hand raise them.
In the majority of cases, moms and pups do just fine and don’t need human intervention. Even so, be sure to keep a good eye on them so if a problem develops, you can get on top of it straight away. This will ensure the best outcome for mom and babies.
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The whelping process will be easier for both you and your bitch if you know what to expect and plan ahead for any potential problems.
Your bitch will indicate to you that she’s approaching labor. The more obvious signs of laboring behavior are restlessness, panting or shivering, and preparing a nesting area.
It’s a good idea to provide a proper whelping box to keep mom and her babies warm and clean. A sturdy cardboard box lined with clean newspaper is an inexpensive solution, and is easy to dispose of after the pups are weaned. When your bitch starts to shred the newspaper and arrange her nesting area, delivery is only a few days away. It is a good idea to have supplies such as tissues, paper towels, clean towels and garbage bags set out ahead of time to prepare for whelping.
Just before whelping, your bitch may lose her appetite and become very clingy. Her temperature will drop in that last day before birth, from a normal rectal temperature of between 101 and 102 degrees Fahrenheit to around 98.5 degrees. She may also begin to leak milk from her nipples.
The birthing process has three distinct stages. During the first stage, regular uterine contractions begin, and become more frequent as her delivery gets closer. Your dog may vomit and she may begin to discharge clear, mucoid fluid from her vagina.
The second stage begins when the bitch’s abdomen starts contracting hard, and pushing the puppies out. She will either lie down or squat to deliver her pups. Normal deliveries usually begin within ten to sixty minutes of the onset of hard contractions.
The puppies may be born in their amniotic sac, and your bitch will immediately begin to break the bag, clean her babies and chew through the umbilical cord. If she doesn’t, you will need to step in to make sure the puppies are freed from the sac and breathing properly. Once the babies are dried off, the cord can be carefully tied off and snipped so the mother can continue to care for her new babies.
The final stage of whelping involves delivery of the placenta, or afterbirth, for each puppy. The placenta may or may not still be attached to the pup. The bitch may attempt to eat her placenta, which sounds gross but is quite normal behavior. If she doesn’t want to eat it, that’s fine too, there’s no specific nutritional value in it.
Newborns may attempt to suckle their mother during her delivery. This is a good thing, because it stimulates the production of oxytocin. This hormone helps the uterus to contract, and speeds up delivery of any remaining pups. Keep a close watch on your bitch, so she doesn’t accidentally lie on her newborns as she delivers the remainder of her litter.
This is what happens in a normal delivery. If complications arise, don’t hesitate to call your veterinarian. If your bitch has a fresh bloody discharge from the vagina, a rise in rectal temperature beyond 102 degrees, or hard contractions that don’t produce a puppy for more than thirty minutes, contact your veterinarian immediately.
If your bitch becomes depressed or exhausts herself to the point where she stops delivering, she may need a cesarean section to deliver her litter.
The birthing process can be long and arduous for both dog and owner. By being prepared for any eventuality before your bitch gives birth will help make the process as stress free as possible.
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