A Glimpse into the Whelping Process

We are praising God for a beautiful, healthy litter! Mia safely (and rather quickly!) delivered seven puppies last night. We have four boys and three girls. I love seeing them all snuggled together like this!

Some of you may be happy to stop reading right here. Others of you may wish to continue on. I thought perhaps some of you may be interested in a more detailed description of what it’s like caring for a pregnant dog and helping her deliver her puppies. If you don’t want details, feel free to stop reading and carry on with your day. 🙂

Caring for puppies begins long before the due date. Rewind back to March. We did some testing on Mia to help determine her ovulation and most fertile breeding period. We were fairly certain we bred her too early on her previous two litters, because of the very small litter sizes and suspiciously late whelping (delivery). The late whelping dates hinted that she was ovulating later than we thought. This time around, though, we seem to have done it right!

During her pregnancy, Mia remained mostly herself- around people anyway. However, she became very moody around our other dogs, especially poor Jade. Mia is usually a very willing playmate for Jade; but while she was pregnant, Mia wanted nothing to do with Jade. Jade found this baffling and tried repeatedly to engage Mia in her playful antics. Mia usually sassed her with a warning growl that simply meant, “GO AWAY. I DO NOT WANT TO PLAY.” Jade usually left her alone after that, until the next day anyway.

About halfway into the pregnancy (which lasts nine weeks), we did an ultrasound to see if Mia was indeed pregnant and get an estimate on the litter size. We were told to expect 4-5 puppies, so we got a few extra blessings this time around!

Around that time, I slowly started to increase Mia’s food intake, and I began giving her a scrambled egg each day to boost her protein. She tends to be a picky eater while pregnant, so I basically free fed her, allowing her to eat little snacks whenever she wanted.

When she was seven weeks pregnant, I wormed her using fenbendazole. When pregnant, it’s very common for females to contract worms. Their immune system isn’t functioning as well as normal, so they are more susceptible to parasites and other infections. In order to keep momma healthy and to prevent the spread of parasites to the puppies after birth, I like to worm the mother approximately two weeks prior to birth.

In the last three weeks of pregnancy, we could definitely see Mia’s belly getting bigger and lower. I was expecting four puppies, because I didn’t think she looked that large, but Zach was guessing six or seven.

As we came closer to her due date, I began taking her temperature twice daily- morning and evening. A dog’s normal temperature is 100 to 102, slightly higher than a humans. Approximately 24 hours prior to delivery, a female’s temperature will take a sudden drop, usually hitting 98 degrees. By tracking her temperatures, I was able to pin point the night she would have her puppies. (Dogs like to deliver at night, so it’s important to have a good idea of when the time is coming.) Yesterday morning, Mia’s temperature dropped, so I knew the puppies were coming that night.

I made sure I had all my whelping supplies on hand. Dental floss to tie off cords if necessary, clamps, suction bulbs, scale, blankets, gloves, lubricant, liquid calcium, and my computer spreadsheet to record birth weights.

That evening, Mia kept sneaking off upstairs into the dark corners she could find up there. I finally had to close the door at the bottom of the stairs and encourage her to lie in her whelping box.

Zach stayed up with Mia until close to midnight while I got a little rest. Then I took over the puppy watch. Mia was very restless. She kept waiting at the door to the stairs, but I gently guided her back to her box each time. Eventually, she settled in there. Around 1:30, I saw the first puppy. Before the first puppy and its placenta were totally born, the second puppy came. Within half an hour, Mia had four puppies born.

I was planning to record the weights of each puppy and put some kind of identifying mark on each one. I was also wanting to give Mia small amounts of liquid calcium in between each puppy to give her uterine muscles a boost to effectively continue labor. However, the puppies were born so quickly, I eventually gave up. I simply tried to keep track of how many males and females were born! She had seven puppies in less than 90 minutes. She only got one dose of calcium during labor, which I’m sure she wouldn’t have needed anyway based on how quickly her labor went.

Bunny trail: I am grateful that Mia is able to free-whelp. I like to be close by to help if needed, but she has always been able to deliver and care for her puppies herself. Even though she has free-whelped in the past, I do not allow her to deliver unsupervised. Why? Because there are so many things that can go wrong. If someone is there to assist, many of these problems can be corrected. If nobody is there, these correctable problems can very quickly claim the life of a puppy, an entire litter, or even, in some cases, the mom herself. Sometimes a puppy is born breech. This is normal; but when a puppy is breech, it needs to be born quickly. If the mom is tiring out and the birth takes longer, the puppy can drown before it’s born. Some human assistance can prevent this and revive a non-responsive puppy. A puppy could get stuck. Sometimes with some calcium to strengthen contractions and a little lubrication, the puppy can be safely delivered. Other times, an emergency trip to the vet is needed. The sooner the problem is addressed, the better than chance of saving the stuck puppy and all remaining unborn puppies. It’s also pertinent to count placentas. On occasion, a placenta may be retained in the uterus. This will lead to an infection that will result in the mother’s death in a matter of days if it’s not caught in time. So I approach each delivery prepared for situations like these. Thankfully, things have always gone smoothly for Mia, but it’s still in everyone’s best interest to be prepared.

Back to the story. After five puppies, I thought we were done based on the vet’s prediction. So I took a picture of them. But I noticed Mia wasn’t quite relaxed yet.

Then, to my delight, another puppy was born, followed by the seventh a little before 3am. After that, Mia visibly relaxed. She began to very thoroughly clean the puppies. She stretched out comfortably and rested. I knew she was finished then. I waited up another hour just to be sure. During that time, I made sure each puppy was able to nurse. Then I went to bed for a few hours of rest.

This morning, I recorded the weights of each puppy and put a colored string around their necks to easily identify them. That lasted all of two minutes before Mia tore one off and ate it. I have now been forced to find other ways to tell them apart. They each have some white markings on their chest or feet. I did my best to find distinguishing features for each one. One puppy has a white spot on his back left paw. One puppy has a white spot on her chest shaped like a right angle. One has a spot on her chest that can best be described as shaped like a palm tree. This puppy here is Huckleberry (Huck for short). He has the biggest white marking on his chest and neck.

Today I haven’t done much with the puppies, besides dab the umbilical area with rubbing alcohol to help prevent infection. Mia has been taking excellent care of them. I will be monitoring them to make sure each of them is nursing; but otherwise, I will simply allow Mia to do her thing. I weigh each puppy twice a day. This is to monitor growth and also get them accustomed to being handled. However, I try not to handle them too much during the first week or so, because it clearly stresses Mia to have her babies removed from the nest.

And here are some pictures of everyone nursing and resting comfortably. Check back later for the individual pictures of the puppies!

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