Chances are you'll be there as an observer rather than as a participant, but it still pays to know what to do if necessary.Don't panic
The first time your pet goes into labour, you'll no doubt behave much like a first-time human father - anxiously hoping all goes well and invariably saying the wrong thing at the wrong time.
But in fact, dogs are much better equipped to deal with the whole birthing process than humans are. So your role should really be confined to making sure your bitch is comfortable, watching from a sensitive distance, and only intervening if something goes seriously wrong - which, happily, is highly unlikely.
However, there are still a few things you should know to make sure everything goes as smoothly as possible.Be prepared
It's always a good idea to have your vet's out-of-hours number, as birth often occurs at night. And make sure you have all the essentials to hand, just in case. These are:
The last week
- Nail scissors;
- Heavy thread;
- A clean dry towel or cloth;
- An extra basket - so if the litter is a large one, there will be plenty of room for the newborn puppies.
In the final week of pregnancy, begin taking your dog's temperature, rectally, twice a day. The first noticeable sign of labour is a drop in mum's temperature from 38.5ºC to 37ºC (although normal body temperature can vary slightly from bitch to bitch). This usually occurs 12 to 24 hours before birth.
In the final stages, pregnant bitches will go off their food, may possibly vomit, and will probably scrabble at their bedding to prepare the nest for the imminent arrival of the puppies. Contractions are another obvious sign, during which she will tense and then relax as they pass. You can also expect mum to become very restless and unsettled and even begin to pant and shiver.
The final sign is a discharge from the vagina. This will often start out clear, change to a pale green and then to a dark green. This dark green means the placenta has become detached and the puppies are imminent. If your bitch has not had any puppies within an hour of this discharge, contact your vet for assistance.The birth
Puppies are usually born within 20 minutes of each other. However, it is quite normal for bitches to 'take a rest' partway through delivery, so they may not strain at all for up to two hours between pups.
But if you see your dog straining hard, appearing unsettled and restless for over an hour, or taking longer than a four-hour break, consult your vet.
Expect some puppies (probably half of them) to be born tail-first. This is not abnormal for dogs. Mum will deal with them, licking each puppy to ensure the sac is cleaned from the face so they can breathe easily, and biting through the umbilical cord.What you can do
If your bitch is giving birth for the first time, she may need a little extra help and reassurance, so be ready to offer some soothing words. Occasionally, the mother will be in the middle of delivering the next puppy when the one she's just given birth to needs help. If this happens, do the following:
- Remove the membrane around the puppy;
- Take a piece of heavy thread and tie a knot approximately one inch from where the cord attaches to the body, then tie another knot a little further from the first;
- Use clean scissors to cut the cord between the knots;
- Dry the puppy against the grain of the hair, using a clean cloth (facecloths are the perfect size);
- Vigorously but carefully rub the pup with a warm cloth to dry and warm him and also stimulate his first breath. Crying clears all the fluid from the puppy's airway. If you have a suction bulb, you can gently use it in each nostril.
If labour lasts a long time, the mother may need to go to the toilet before or between deliveries. Make sure you watch carefully in case she starts giving birth to the next pup at the same time.Afterwards
Once the entire labour is over, get the mother something to eat and drink, and help her go outside (although that may be difficult). Remove and replace the soiled nest covers, then give the new family some time alone.
However, if your bitch doesn't seem to be taking care of her puppies, you may need to take over - and should consult your vet immediately.