Getting Through Labor and Whelping
About a week ahead of your bitch's due date (about sixty-four days after breeding), you should start checking her temperature twice daily with a rectal thermometer. A dog's normal temperature is 101 to 102 degrees. Within twenty-four hours of whelping, a bitch's temperature will drop to about 98 degrees. When this happens, call work and tell them you won't be in! If you have never whelped a litter before, ask an experienced breeder to be available to assist you, and be sure to stay in touch with your veterinarian.
During the first stage of labor, the levels of progesterone (which have kept the uterus from contracting) drop. The cervix starts to dilate, and the uterine muscles gear up. This stage could take two to twelve hours. While some bitches simply lie quietly through it, others will pant and pace.
The second stage of labor is when the puppies will actually be born. The uterus contracts and your bitch will lie down, panting and visibly straining. The pressure of the first pup in the pelvis stimulates the release of oxytocin (a pituitary hormone also called pitocin). The oxytocin makes the uterus contract faster and harder. Puppies will be born in a thin amniotic sac that the bitch should tear open, and if she doesn't, you must! She will also chew the umbilical cord in two. A good bitch will then lick her pup to stimulate breathing and dry it off. As the pups dry off, they will move over to nurse. The nursing stimulates the release of more oxytocin and keeps the uterine assembly line moving. Some bitches need injections of oxytocin or calcium to help with delivery, which will require the involvement of your veterinarian.
A bitch may need veterinary assistance if she has had hard contractions for an hour or more with no pup being born, or if she has rested for three or four hours and appears to have stopped contractions even though you know at least one more pup is expected. This is why it is so important to know how many pups are expected.
Generally puppies are born at thirty- to sixty-minute intervals. Some bitches deliver quickly, while others take long rests in between pups. A bitch that has whelped before is usually faster.
Along with puppies, your bitch may pass some dark green fluid, which is from old blood in the placentas. Any thick, dark discharge could indicate a stillborn puppy. Call your veterinarian if you see any unusual discharges! It's better to call about a minor thing than to wait too long and need a C-section to remove a stillborn pup.
By the third stage of labor, all the pups should be born. The bitch now has to pass any placentas left inside. Some bitches want to eat the placentas, and experts go back and forth as to whether allowing her to do this is really a good idea. It undoubtedly comes from the days back in dogs' evolutionary development when a whelping bitch would be stuck in her den with her litter and might not get any additional nutrition for a few days. Letting her eat a placenta or two should be fine, but most veterinarians and breeders do not recommend letting the bitch clean up more than that.