In the event of a puppy birthing in reverse presentation (around 40% of cases), whelping will take longer and it may be necessary to help the bitch, by lightly pulling the whelp outwards in time with the abdominal contractions. The bitch should be standing and the puppy can be pulled gently downwards.
Once the puppy is safely out, it is important to perform a number of tasks. These tasks must be performed swiftly and competently, as this can significantly reduce the incidence of neonatal mortality.
1. Free Up the Airways
Once the pup is out of its sac, the newborn has to be able to breathe properly. The first thing to do is to clear the bronchial tubes of the small amount of amniotic fluid inside them. Mucus can be cleared with the help of a nasal aspirator designed for human babies. The nasal aspirator can be used in the pup’s mouth and then in its nostrils. There are other techniques to clear the airways, but this is the most effective. The suction power should be low to avoid causing a spasm in the larynx and a drop in heart rate.
2. Dry and Stimulate the Puppy
Once the airways are cleared, the pup must be rubbed rigorously over the thorax with warm, dry, clean towels to stimulate it (the pup will often only start squealing at this point). A hairdryer should not be used as it can dehydrate or easily burn the puppy.
3. Disinfect the Umbilical Cord
If the umbilical cord has not broken, the umbilical cord must be immediately tied with a short suture line or clamped off. It should then be cut a further 1 cm from the belly. The stump should be disinfected using either iodine or chlorhexidine to prevent infection.
4. Weigh the Puppies
It is important to weigh the puppies at the time of birth. Monitoring their weight in the first few days after birth is an essential part of assessing the health of the newborns. Although they do not generally gain weight during their first 24 hours of life, they should gain regular amounts over the following days thereafter.
5. Identify any Problems Connected to Whelping
It is important to identify any problems the bitch may have as soon as possible after whelping. Any problems with the bitch can affect the health of the pups.
Acute mastitis is inflammation of the mammary gland, most commonly due to bacteria present in the teat duct. With mastitis, the bitch can quickly become exhausted and can lose interest in properly caring for her litter. The teat (generally one of the two inguinal teats) becomes warm to touch and sometimes painful , necessitating the intervention of a veterinarian. Regular monitoring of the state of a healthy female’s teats is important to detect the first signs of any mastitis. The deterioration or death of puppies may be the first warning sign.
Eclampsia is a disease connected with the sudden drop in the bitch’s blood calcium levels after whelping. It is most common in small breeds when the litter is large, and calcium need is high due to lactation. A common mistake that increases the likelihood of eclampsia is excessive calcium supplementation during gestation. Generally speaking, crises will usually occur within 15 days of birth. The bitch becomes anxious and salivation increases, before losing consciousness and starting to convulse (seizures). The crisis tends to last 5-10 minutes; however it can continue longer or recur several times. Your veterinarian should see the bitch urgently to administer a calcium solution (IV) (with close monitoring of the heart). They may also decide that it is necessary to prescribe calcium supplementation for a few days.
Vulval discharge can continue for some time after birth. Reddish discharge (lochia) is normal in a female who has just given birth. This discharge can continue at a low level for up to a month.
Fortunately uterine haemorrhage during whelping is rare. If there any clots expulsed from the vulva post whelping that appear in larger and larger quantities, seek veterinary attention for the bitch Emergency surgery may be needed and in the case of extreme blood loss sometimes a blood transfusion is required.
Postpartum acute metritis (pelvic inflammatory disease) can occur in the days following whelping. It is characterised by a purulent, foul-smelling discharge from the vulva a few days after whelping, coupled with the rapid deterioration in the bitch’s general state of health. It is often due to poor hygiene (often when obstetrical acts are performed in an unhygienic fashion), but can also occur in the event of a retained placenta. Seek veterinary attention for the bitch if this discharge is noted. If one of the placentas has not been expulsed by the mother, the puppies will have to be isolated immediately so the mother can be properly taken care of.
- The newborn has to be able to breathe properly: the first thing to do is to clear the airways of any fluid.
- Drying and stimulating the puppy with warm clean towels is important to keep the puppy warm. Once the puppy is stable and warm, record its weight.
- If the umbilical cord has not broken, it should then be cut a further 1 cm from the belly.
- Regular monitoring of the state of a healthy female’s teats is important to detect the first signs of any mastitis.
- Eclampsia is a disease connected with the sudden drop in the mother’s blood calcium levels after whelping. It requires treatment with calcium supplementation by a veterinarian.
- Vulval discharge can continue for a long time after giving birth. Any foul smelling discharge or large clots could indicate a problem associated with whelping and a veterinarian should be consulted.