There is something about all that soft fur and cute playfulness of puppies that wins the hearts of many. Even in dogs that are bred with a job in mind, the joy of puppies being born is easy to embrace. Having puppies is not all sunshine and rainbows, however. There are whelping issues that can present themselves and your dog and her pups may need assistance from you or a vet. Because of this, there are many things you need to know and for which you should prepare when the arrival of pups is impending, especially when it comes to being able to recognize a normal labor in comparison to an abnormal one.
Photo: Sunshine Beagle Pups
Pregnancy in dogs lasts an average of about 63 days, with smaller dogs sometimes delivering earlier and larger dogs going longer. This means a small beagle may not make it to 63 days and could deliver sooner, so it is key to be prepared in advance of what is deemed normal or average just in case. If you have a female due to give birth in the coming weeks, a good indication of when she is getting close is her body temperature. Normal body temperature falls between 101-102.5 degrees Fahrenheit but a dog about to give birth will experience a drop in body temperature to below 100 usually within 24 hours of giving birth. To determine temperature, a lubricated thermometer should be inserted rectally.
Photo: Cabin Fever Vermont
Canine labor begins with the dilation of the cervix in order for pups to pass through. It is as this begins that you may notice unusual behaviors in your dog. These may include pacing, shivering, whining, vomiting, refusal to eat, or other signs of discomfort. You may also notice nesting behaviors, such as looking for a private place to settle in or rooting around in bedding to create a comfortable spot to birth pups. At this time, if not before, your whelping box should be ready to go. It may take up to 18 hours for the cervix to fully dilate, during which time uterine contractions will begin, going on to increase in frequency and intensity until the placental water sacks burst, resulting in a release of liquid.
Photo: Hunting Boards
Once the water sacks break, the first pup should soon follow. Pups are generally born every 30 minutes or so but some can take up to four hours; anything longer than this and your vet should be contacted, especially if you are certain more pups remain (an ultrasound or palpation by a vet prior to labor can help estimate a number of pups) that have yet to be delivered as a caesarean may become necessary. Straining on the mother's part may occur but if it is prolonged for more than an hour, veterinary intervention may be required. Helping the mother can be done at your own risk as it is possible to injure her or the pup, by pulling gently downward on exposed legs. A difficult labor can also be aided by administering calcium to as it has been said to stimulate contractions.
Photo: Animal Hospital of Woodstock
As each pup enters the world, it will be contained in an amniotic sack which will need to be removed to enable breathing. This is a job most mothers will perform, licking the sack away from the pup as well as biting off the umbilical cord and continuing to lick to stimulate breathing. If necessary you can aid the mother in rupturing sacks, but as a general rule, this is a job for the mother as it is an essential part of the bonding process. Should a pup not start breathing on its own, be sure to clear the mouth and nose then rub vigorously until breathing begins.
Photo: Perch Project
Once all of the pups have passed, the mother should give one final push to dispel the remaining contents of her uterus. Despite this, sometimes a portion of the contents still remain and can cause infection that will present in a few days in the form of foul smelling discharge or pus. With all of the pups born, they should begin nursing and the mother should appear alert and attentive to them. Her appetite should be hearty and pups should be pleasantly plump but if you notice their condition waning or that they do not sleep, check the mother's flow of milk, which should come easily. If there is a problem with milk flow, consult your vet to determine how to best proceed as milk fever, a fatal illness, could be the cause. Mastitis may also be responsible which is painful for the mother and can make bottle feeding necessary.
If at any time the mother appears disoriented, weak, confused, or has a drop in body temperature, contact your vet immediately as a life-threatening condition may be present. Red, hot, and engorged teats are also a reason to contact your vet. By being attentive to your dog as she carries, births, and nurses her pups, you give all involved the best chance of survival. Some pups may be lost despite our best efforts, but in order to improve the odds optimum care should be given. The more you know about your dog's normal behaviors as well as whelping in general, the better the experience will be for both you and her as well as the pups she brings into the world to be part of your hunting future.
Best of luck with your future hunters! May they be everything you wanted and more, giving you the goal you set out to achieve through selective breeding of proven lines.