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An Introduction to Ethical Breeding Practices. PART 2.

Nursing Puppies
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What Comes Next…

For the second part of our Introduction To Ethical Breeding Considerations, we want to focus on what to expect and how to provide the best care for your pregnant bitch pre, during and post parturition.

Unassisted Birth- What To Expect

Unassisted birthing mothers should have little to no intervention unless the bitch or a newborn is clearly in distress. In the week leading up to parturition the mother’s temperature should be recorded at least twice per day as her temperature will drop approximately 24-36 hours prior to the start of birth. This decline in body temperature is known as pre-partum hypothermia. 

The bitch will go through five different stages of labour:

Stage of preparation- 

  • This is where plasma progesterone concentration declines and rectal body temperature decreases. At this stage you may also notice relaxation off the vaginal and perineal tissue. 

First stage of parturition- 

  • Starts with the onset of contractions which should last for no longer than 12 hours. 
  • During this time you should start to notice milk in the mammary glands and her behaviour may become a bit more frantic; she will be increasingly restless and begin panting or shivering. This is all quite normal, so try not to worry. 
  • Uterine contractions will push the first foetus against the cervix, which is beginning to dilate. This can result in the rupture and expulsion of the allantochorion and allantoic fluids. 

Second stage of parturition- 

  • During the second stage there is an increase in uterine contractions which initiates abdominal contractions and the propulsion of the new neonate. The time between straining and expulsion is variable but can be as quick as 10 minutes, or as long as 30 minutes, although can be slightly longer if the bitch is a first time mother. 
  • Time of the onset of abdominal contractions should be noted as well as the time of the neonate’s birth. 
  • After the first birth the bitch may experience an episode of rest. If a bitch is contracting for more than 2 hours with no sign of puppies, veterinary advice should be obtained as unproductive contractions could be sign of dystocia. Dystocia could potentially happen at any time during parturition which is why noting the onset of contraction is so important as it will help you to detect any concerns very quickly. 
  • The amnion that surrounds the foetus may appear and disappear during contractions and will normally rupture spontaneously, or occasionally the bitch may rupture it. The foetus may also be born within it. 
  • As soon as the neonate has been born the mother will immediately begin licking and cleaning, which in addition to cleansing will also stimulate the neonate to breathe (first cry). Young and inexperienced mothers may need some encouragement to do this.
  • If the mother fails to assist the neonate then the owner must; if the neonate is still within the amnion it must quickly be removed, then will require drying and stimulating. This is best achieved by holding the pup in a position where its bottom is higher than the head (to assist in clearing the airways) placing the neonate in a warm towel and vigorously rubbing.

Third stage of parturition-

  • The placenta is normally passed during the second stage after the delivery of the foetus, but in some bitches this can be retained and expelled during this stage. 
  • The number of placentas correlates with the number of neonates. Keeping notes of placentas delivered can be helpful in determining if any material has been retained. If you suspect this is the case for the bitch delivering, immediate veterinary attention should be obtained. 
  • After the bitch has finished you may notice a green coloured vulval discharge. This is normal and can be seen up until a week after birth and originates from the green pigment in the placenta. 


  • The period after birth when the reproductive system returns to a non-pregnant state. 
  • The uterus starts its involution and it can be common to notice a mucoid discharge which may last up to 6 weeks. 

Post Birth Care:

  • A nest should be prepared in advance that is large enough for the bitch to be able to stretch out, allow space for the litter and also high enough to prevent the puppies leaving the den for 4 weeks. 
  • As neonates are unable to regulate their own body temperature for the first week they rely on heat created from the mother and each other. Therefore the nest is ideally located in a draft and damp free room that is easily heated and away from the general business of the household. 
  • Neonates are subject to high hypothermic mortality rates, meaning the litter needs to be kept at a temperature of 25oc to 30oc for the first week. Cold neonates are not as responsive and may not feed as often or as well. 
  • After a week the room temperature can be safely reduced to 22oc . A heat lamp may be a good solution, as this would allow for the bitch to move away from the higher temperature.
  • Soiled bedding should be replaced often. It is also handy to have a set of small weighing scales and notepad available so the new puppies can be weighted and recorded daily. 
  • Milk replacement suitable for the puppies and suitable bottles should available if the mother is not able to feed herself. 

Assisted Birth- What To Expect

  • Some dogs will be chosen for an elective caesarian section scheduled at around 65 days (full term) with a veterinarian surgeon. Your bitch will be admitted to the veterinary practice and before general anaesthesia her heart rate, respiration rate, and temperature will be taken. She will also be checked to ensure her femoral and palpebral pulses are strong. Your veterinary surgeon may also suggest taking a blood sample to check her progesterone levels are low enough for the surgery to take place. 
  • Surgery length will mainly depend on litter size and condition of the uterus. Veterinary surgeons will always be mindful of the length of anaesthesia to prevent stress to the puppies and the mother. Medications will careful be considered and only used as required, while any intra-op or post-post medications will be administered when the puppies have safely been born. 
  • Puppies will be assisted in taking their first breaths, which is called puppy resuscitation. In a routine unassisted birth this would normally be done by the mother, but in the the instance of an assisted birth the team of veterinary nurses and veterinary surgeons take on the motherly role of cleaning and drying the pups, helping them to take their first breath and to keep them warm. 

Owners are not usually invited to stay with their dogs during the surgery, but many veterinary practices will choose to get the mother and her pups home as soon as it is safe to do so. Normally, the patient will be released after full recovery from the anaesthetic when she is up and walking, has enjoyed a post op meal and been observed successfully feeding the newborns. 

Post Caesarian Care:

  • The mother should have very small, easily digestible meals for the first 2/3 days to avoid gastrointestinal upset.
  • Exercise and toilet visits should all be very calm; no running/ climbing of stairs should be undertaken for at least 10 days.
  • The surgery site must be examined 2/3 times per day for any signs of infection which may include redness and swelling, discharge or foul smell. It should also be checked for any trauma that may have been caused by little puppy feet.
  • She will likely need a few post op checks; one potentially after 3 days, 7 days and again at 10 days.
  • Your veterinary practice will advise on specific post op care tailored for your bitch that may also include the use of pain relief and antibiotics if necessary. 
  • Apart from these extra considerations, care of mother and pups is the same as mentioned previously in “Post Birth Care”.


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