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By Walker Miller, MRCVS, BVMS, DBR (Walkon Boxers)
Published in Boxer Quarterly March 95'

When the bitch gets to 4 weeks post-mating, to enable us to know whether we have a pregnant bitch or not I palpate the abdomen and if she is pregnant, then I feel a row of round balls about 3cm in size. If your bitch is unsure of the vet and is tender to the touch then there is a blood test which can be undertaken at about 28 days. After 35 days, it is very difficult to palpate a pregnant bitch easily, as all the foeti and fluid join up and give a fluid filled tube which is very awkward to feel. By the time a bitch reaches 50 days and if the owner is still unsure then an x-ray will show the calcified bone of the foeti. One other method of pregnancy diagnosis is ultrasound which can be carried out from day 25 when the foetal heart beat can be heard.

During pregnancy I give no extra food for the first six weeks, after that I increase the protein content of the meal. By the time gestation arrives, the ideal weight increase for a normal sized litter is 35%. I give no extra minerals or vitamins during pregnancy and just feed a balanced ration. The only additive I give is raspberry leaf tablet (twice daily) from 4 weeks after mating until 4 days after whelping and although I don’t use a lot of herbal treatments, I do believe it causes easier whelping and less chance of retained after births.

The average gestation period for a single mating is 57-68 days, with a mean being 63 days. Following multiple matings the average is 57-72 days. The first sign of the first stage of labour is that the bitch’s temperature drops and this happens 12-36 hours before whelping. I believe that once a bitch’s temperature drops below 98.8°F that parturition will occur within 12-24 hours. The normal temperature for a bitch is 101°F and it will drop and rise for a few days pre-whelping but once it falls below 99°F whelping will occur within 12-24 hours in 90% of bitches. The temperature returns to normal before parturition occurs in most bitches and will then rise slightly for a few days post whelping. The bitch will then become very restless and will start nesting and puffing and panting. She will also start to scratch and claw at the bedding and this why I put plenty of newspapers in the bottom of the whelping bed so that the bitch can make her own nest. I also put a piece of vet-bed in as well so that, as the puppies are born, they dry of quicker and all fluid is soaked through into the underlying newspaper.

First stage labour can last from 6-12 hours and during this period the uterus starts contracting but no abdominal contractions occur.

Second stage labour starts with the dilation of the cervix or neck of the womb, and is then followed by the pushing of the first puppy into the pelvic canal and all this involves contractions of the womb and abdominal muscles. Once visible, abdominal contractions start when the first puppy should have been delivered within two hours and if not, please phone your vet immediately as he/she may be busy and take a while to come. If this is case then take your bitch to the surgery for quicker attention. Please, please inform your vet that your bitch is pregnant so he/she can be prepared for an emergency. Remember we are busy people but if we are aware of an impending event then we will be prepared.

Puppies should appear on a regular basis after the first puppy has arrived, but if more than two hours lapses between puppies then please phone your vet and get them to check that everything is okay. If inertia has occurred then an injection of pituitary plus or minus Monzaldon (which I always give) should be given and if no pup appears within 30 minutes, then after examination and no abnormalities found the injection should be repeated. Cases of inertia are caused by malpresentation of a pup or puppies, presentation of an oversized pup, blockage of the canal by afterbirths or just inertia of the uterus due to oversize or exhaustion. If no pup appears after two injections of pituitary then I believe a caesarean should be performed within 60-90 minutes if a viable litter is required. On the subject of caesarean , please make sure your vet uses a gaseous anaesthetic only applied by mask and this will not pass to the puppies and they will be born full of life an not anaesthetised and sedated and the bitch will recover much quicker. If your vet insists on using an injectable anaesthetic before putting the bitch onto gas anaesthetic then make sure they use one of the modern ones which does not sedate and anaesthetise the puppies as well.

Following each pup or along with each pup, there should be an afterbirth. If the puppy is born with this attached to the umbilical cord then either let the bitch chew it off or break it leaving 1-2 inches of cord on the puppy. If an afterbirth does not appear with or after each pup, then do not panic as they will usually come later. I have found it very rare for an afterbirth which is retained to cause a problem. To prevent this from happening I give my bitch Pituitary about 2-4 hours after the last pup to make sure she has one final series of contractions of the uterus to evacuate all afterbirths. I always give her an injection of antibiotic to reduce any chance of infection and I do not believe this crosses into the milk and cause problems with the pups.

A final few tips if I have not lost you already, is to make sure there is a good source of heat over the whelping bed so if the bitch or pups are cold they can move under it, or if they are to warm, away from it. An overhead heat source is therefore better than an under bed one. The correct temperature of a whelping environment is room temperature of 20o C. If the pups are kept in too cold an environment then hypothermia will occur leading to a high chance of fading puppy syndrome. If the whelping room is too hot then the bitch will have to puff and pant and this could lead to a calcium shortage. Please make sure the whelping bed has a pig rail all the way round to prevent overlying of the puppies. Another very important thing is to ensure the bitch and puppies have a dry, clean bed to lie on at all times, and this is only achieved by changing the bedding twice daily or else you could get mastitis in the bitch or a naval infection in the puppies.

Finally please give your bitch the opportunity to have a drink during whelping of preferably warm milk and glucose to give her energy to continue.

If I have confused you I apologise but I hope you have learned a little and if you disagree, and you have your own winning combination then continue with that but please remember to keep in contact with your own vet and let them know the progress as they are the people who have all the experience and you must trust them at all times. Happy Whelping.