Dr Caroline Romeo has been with AREC since 2014. Her interests include diagnostic imaging, and she has done extended study in both ultrasound and radiology. We love her gentle and thorough approach to animal care. Below she guides us through the things to be aware of when dogs are in labour.
Although giving birth is a natural process, it is common for dogs to have problems with labour. It is helpful for dog owners to know what is considered to be a normal birthing process in dogs, as well as some guidelines regarding when veterinary assistance may be required. Of course these are guidelines only, and if you have any concerns about your dog during her labour then please contact a vet. If your dog is experiencing problems giving birth, it is safest for mum and her puppies to seek veterinary assistance as soon as possible.
What does a normal labour in dogs look like?
In the first stage of labour the body is getting ready to start passing out puppies. Your dog’s uterus will be causing some discomfort by contracting although you won’t be able to see it. The first stage usually lasts for 6-12 hours. Your dog may be seen to be restless, panting, shivering, pacing, nesting and wanting to go to a quiet area. Some dogs do not show any behavioural changes in the first stage.
The second stage of labour is the fun part – giving birth to puppies! It usually lasts 3 to 12 hours. In this stage abdominal contractions can be seen. Your dog’s waters may break, which will be seen as clear fluid. In normal labour, your dog may show weak and infrequent straining for up to 2 hours (or at the most 4 hours) before giving birth to her first puppy. Normally the mother will break the membrane that still covers the puppy, lick the puppy all over and chew through the umbilical cord. Sometimes the mother might need help to open the membranes so that the puppy can breathe. The next puppies are usually delivered every 30 to 60 minutes, although up to 3 hours between puppies can be normal. A green-black discharge is normal once the first puppy has been delivered.
The third stage of labour involves passing of the placentas. This often occurs during the second stage, with each puppy’s placenta usually passing out within 15 minutes of each puppy being delivered.
It is important to allow your dog to give birth to her puppies in a quiet area without being stressed by her surroundings. You should be observing your dog enough to know that she is safe and that her labour appears normal, without adding to her stress, as this may cause her labour to stop.
My dog is in labour. I think she might be having problems. Does she need to see a vet?
There are many reasons why problems can occur in the birthing process. These include a uterus that is not contracting enough to be able to pass puppies out, and puppies that are too big to pass out of the mother’s pelvis. Problems may occur after the first few puppies have been delivered, with more still requiring to come. If your dog is having problems with labour, or you are uncertain whether things are progressing normally, it is important to seek veterinary advice as soon as possible.
Some of the reasons to contact your vet include:
- No puppies have been delivered by 2 to 3 hours after your dog’s waters broke
- Your dog has had weak, irregular straining for 2 to 4 hours without any puppies being born
- Your dog has had strong, frequent straining for 20 to 30 minutes without a puppy being born
- More than 2 hours have passed between delivery of puppies
- Your dog has been in second stage labour for more than 12 hours
- A large amount of green or black discharge passes out before delivery of the first puppy
- Large amounts of blood at any time in delivery
- Your dog is showing signs of severe pain over the abdomen, has collapsed or appears generally unwell
- The green-black discharge from the vulva is foul smelling
- The puppies appear abnormal
- Not all the placentas have been passed within 4 to 6 hours (although this can be difficult to tell as some of them may be eaten by mum)
- More than 72 days have occurred since breeding last occurred
What happens if my dog does need to see a vet?
The ideal treatment for difficulties in birth differs depending on why your dog is unable to deliver all her puppies normally. Examination of the patient, blood tests, ultrasound and x-rays can be used to help determine what is the best course of action for the individual patient. In some situations, giving medications to help labour along may be enough to allow your dog to continue to deliver puppies. Sometimes a puppy that is stuck in the birth canal can be removed to allow labour to continue normally. In other situations, we are risking the safety of both the mum and the puppies if we even attempt treatment medically, and a Caesarian Section surgery is required. In certain circumstances it may be safe to see if medical treatment is enough to labour to continue normally, and if this is not effective to then perform a Caesarian surgery.
If you do need to take your dog to see a vet, bring any puppies that have been born along too, and make sure they are kept really nice and warm as they are not able to regulate their own body heat properly as newborns.
Is there anything else I need to know?
Yes! If you know that your dog is pregnant then it is important to have a consult with your regular vet as early as possible in the pregnancy in order to have all the information you require on how to care for your dog during and after pregnancy. With the right advice there is much that you can do to help support your dog to have a healthy pregnancy and labour.
Being prepared, knowing what is normal and what is abnormal, and contacting a vet early on if you think your dog might be experiencing problems is the best thing you can do to keep both mum and pups healthy and happy.