Mother Nature usually provides dogs with the instincts they need to whelp a litter of puppies with minimal assistance from humans, but occasionally, things can go wrong. Don't wait to involve your vet if you see these danger signs when your mother dog is in labor.
Know the signs that your mother dog is about to go into labor, so you will be able to tell if birth if proceeding normally. Take her temperature two or three times a day the week before her due date. A dog's normal temperature is between 100.5 and 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit. Roughly 24 hours before labor begins, most dogs' temperature drops to below 99. Your mother dog may lose her appetite the day before labor begins. She will dig in her whelping box and around the house the week before her due date, but just before labor starts, digging will intensify. As labor begins, she will pant. She may appear nervous and will want to be near you. These signs are normal and indicate that contractions are beginning, says Myra Savant-Harris, R.N., in Canine Reproduction and Whelping. This stage lasts from 4 to 24 hours. If labor is proceeding normally, she will eventually begin to push and you will see the water bag begin to emerge, followed shortly by a puppy.
If your mother dog goes through stage one of labor and has not begun pushing after 24 hours, she may be experiencing uterine inertia. This is more common in some breeds, when the litter is very small or very large, or there is a calcium deficiency. Overweight mother dogs can be prone to uterine inertia. It is important to know when your mother dog's labor begins so you can tell when whelping should start, advises Savant-Harris. Call your vet if your dog has been in labor for 24 hours without birthing a puppy. She may need medication or a C-section.
If your mother dog has pushed for 1 to 2 hours without either the water sac or a puppy emerging, she may have dystocia. Some mother dogs whelp a puppy or two before this occurs. A puppy may be in the birth canal, and you may be able to see a foot or the top of a head, but your mother dog is pushing and the puppy is not birthing. Put a leash on her and take her for a short walk, suggests Savant-Harris. The activity may produce stronger contractions. If it does not, call your vet immediately for instructions.
In a normal birth, a puppy will present either head or feet first with the spine facing up. A breech birth presents the puppy's rear end first with all four legs tucked underneath him. These positions are normal. But If the puppy is presenting stomach up, it is pushing against your mother dog's pelvis and, as she pushes, the head or feet are being pressed further up against the pelvic wall. Sometimes the puppy's head is turned and the puppy is emerging sideways at its widest part. These presentations require veterinary assistance to deliver the puppy. Time is critical in malpresentations, so call your vet immediately or head to the emergency vet in these cases.
Cause for Concern
Study your breed before your mother dog whelps so you're aware of any common whelping problems. Be prepared for emergency situations by alerting your vet to your mother dog's due date in advance. Have the phone number and directions handy for your local emergency vet. Consider having a pregnancy x-ray the week before your dog's due date so you know how many puppies to expect. If your mother dog is in labor for an extended time without pushing, or if she has pushed for 3 hours without whelping a puppy, call your vet for advice. If your dog appears to be in distress during labor, seek veterinary advice.