Potential Whelping Problems
Many breeders rarely encounter whelping problems, while others face them fairly frequently. Breeders of brachycephalic breeds – those with broad skulls and flat faces, like Bulldogs, French Bulldogs, Pugs and Boston Terriers – have problems so often that many routinely schedule cesarean sections before their dogs go into labor. “Dystocia” is the medical term for a difficult birth. Knowledgeable breeders and veterinarians have made some broad generalizations about whelping:
- Large breeds, and breeds with long legs, tend to have fewer problems delivering puppies.
- Short-legged breeds, and breeds with heads that are disproportionately large compared to their bodies, tend to have more whelping problems.
- Older females, fat females and those delivering large litters have a greater chance of dystocia.
Common Signs To Watch For
Here are some of the more common signs suggesting that the whelping isn’t proceeding normally:
- Labor starts less than 57 days after the breeding (too early)
- Labor hasn’t started by 68 days after the breeding (too late)
- Stage I labor lasts more than 4 hours
- Strenuous stage II labor lasts 30 minutes with no signs of a puppy; steady straining and hard contractions
- More than three hours between puppies
- Few or no contractions for 1 to 2 hours after part of the litter has been whelped (uterine inertia; more common in small, short-legged breeds and overweight, out-of-condition females)
- A puppy is stuck in the birth canal and isn’t moving
- Only the puppy’s appears, with no further movement
- A puppy is coming out rump first (breech delivery), or front feet first (posterior presentation); these are common and are not cause for immediate concern, if all else proceeds normally
- A puppy is coming out upside down, either head first or in breech position, with its stomach being pressed on by the roof of the pelvis
- A puppy is in the birth canal with its head turned backwards and its neck or back appearing in the vulva
- Two puppies are trying to come out at the same time
- The protective fetal sac filled with amniotic fluid that looks like a bubble (“waterbag”) is coming out the vulva but doesn’t break and no puppy comes out
- The waterbag breaks inside the birth canal (a “dry delivery”)
- A puppy is born alive but has obvious birth defects (cleft palate, hare lip, intestines outside the abdomen, edema/“water puppies,”)
- Signs of distress or pain in the dam; hyperventilation; rapid pulse; weak pulse
- Mother shows no interest in her puppies
- Dark green, bright red or pale, foul-smelling vaginal discharge
- Lethargy or weakness in the dam
- Mother is trembling, convulsing or recumbent
Owners should call their veterinarian if any of these things happen. A shot of oxytocin, or a cesarean section, may be necessary to save the lives of the puppies and their mother. Sometimes, puppies are stillborn, and there is nothing that a responsible breeder could have done or can do about it.