One way small animal veterinary medicine differs from human medicine is in the field of obstetrics. Human hospitals have entire floors devoted to labor, delivery and the newborn nursery. Most litters of puppies and kittens make their entrance into this world at home. Last week at The Animal Medical Center, a mother dog having a difficult delivery arrived in our ER.
Oliva arrived in the AMC ER after several hours of labor without producing a puppy. Assessment by the ER staff found a stuck puppy which was delivered. An x-ray was taken and two more puppies were awaiting delivery. Treatment with calcium and a hormone to strengthen the uterine contractions did not result in the birth of the two remaining puppies. The emergency surgeon on call successfully delivered the newborns via Cesarean section. Although Olivia’s family sought medical care at just the right time, other dog families may not know the signs of labor in a dog and when to seek emergency care. Below are some helpful hints for expectant dog families.
Checking the Delivery Date
Human mothers have nine months to prepare for the arrival of their bundle of joy. Dogs have on average only 63 days, and unlike women who usually have just a singleton, dogs get a whole litter. In order to be ready for the impending litter, use a dog pregnancy calculator. Here is just one example.
Using the calculator, type in the first day your female dog mated with the male and the calculator gives a due date. Since dogs can deliver two days earlier or later than the calculated date, plan to be on alert for signs of labor a couple of days before the calculated date. If, like Oliva, your dog’s mating date is unknown, an examination by your veterinarian can help pinpoint the due date. An x-ray showing the puppies skeletons beginning to calcify tells you the puppies are at 50+ days of gestation. After that, three times a day temperature monitoring of the expectant dog can be very helpful in pinpointing the impending delivery. The temperature will drop a degree, compared to prior days, just before puppies are born. When the temperature drops, it signals the arrival of puppies in 8-24 hours.
Signs of Labor
Dog families may not notice any signs during the early phase of labor, although the expectant dog may be restless, shivering and trying to make a nest in a safe place like a closet or under the bed. Keep her under a watchful eye without disturbing her, which may slow the birth process down. When abdominal contractions become visible, a puppy should be born within about 30 minutes. If a dark green vaginal discharge occurs, it suggests the placenta is separating from the maternal blood supply and if more than 4 hours elapse between successive puppy deliveries, then it is time for a trip to the animal ER. Labor and delivery is where the prenatal x-ray is critical. The x-ray allows the number of puppy skeletons to be counted, helping you to know when to stop worrying about the birthing process and focus on enjoying every minute you have with the delightful smell of puppy breath.
- Calculate or estimate your dog’s due date.
- Have an x-ray taken to determine the number of puppies expected.
- Monitor your dog and head to the animal ER if labor and deliver is not proceeding as planned.