AKC eNewsletter

Summer 2011

The Science of Breeding

Since 1967, Royal Canin has been at the forefront of developing innovative nutritional responses in the field of dog breeding. Even if nutrition is fundamental in breeding, it cannot give all the keys for success. Application of reproduction techniques is the deciding factor.

Whelping Management

by Melinda Fleming, DVM

Even for experienced breeders, whelping can be a very stressful experience, especially when dealing with a new mother-to-be. Concerns can escalate when the anticipated event seems to be late in starting or past due. The importance of knowing the time of ovulation, as closely as possible, is essential to have a predictable date for when whelping might occur. This is even more vital when planning cesarean sections for certain breeds.

The duration of gestation is an average of 63 days in all breeds. However, if breeders begin calculating the date of whelping based on the time of actual mating there can be a variable of up to 10 days! This timing is referred to as “apparent” duration of gestation, and does not correlate to the “actual” duration, which will be approximately 63 days from the date when fertilization of the eggs occurred. To have a more accurate idea of when whelping may occur, it is important to work with a veterinarian to discuss appropriate diagnostics. These will most likely include blood tests such as progesterone and luteinizing hormone assays to help predict ovulation, and ultrasound to detect embryos early in the pregnancy.

The apparent duration of pregnancy can vary considerably, depending on the mating date in relation to ovulation. The actual duration however is 62 to 64 days after ovulation.

Physical Indicators
There are a number of signs exhibited by the mother that whelping is imminent. It is a good idea to carefully trim the hair from around the nipples and the perineum to aid in monitoring some of these signs. Milk appearing in the teats usually occurs one week prior to whelping but this is not a reliable indicator. Dogs that have had previous litters may develop milk sooner than a first-time mother whose milk may not appear until after delivery. The breeder may also notice that the dog’s vulva is distended, and within 24 hours of whelping there may be a clear to milky discharge that stems from the release of the cervical mucus plug. The latter sign may not be noticeable so is not very reliable. However, the appearance of dark green discharge from the vulva, due to the beginning of placental detachment, warrants careful observation for the start of whelping.

When the predicted date of whelping is near, it is helpful to know that the mother’s rectal temperature will drop one to two degrees Fahrenheit within 12 to 48 hours of the start of the process. Normal temperature for a dog is approximately 100°F to 102°F. It is recommended that the breeder monitor the dog’s rectal temperature twice daily for at least four days prior to the expected delivery date to allow ample opportunity to observe the decrease in temperature.

Behavioral Indicators
Other indicators of the approach of whelping are related to the mother’s behavior. Some dogs may seem constantly hungry, but it is more common for them to refuse food as whelping nears. The inclination for the mother to demonstrate nesting behavior is another indicator of the onset of whelping. It is critical that she has been given a quiet space and provided with a whelping box of the appropriate size and away from other activity where she can feel safe, comfortable, and undisturbed. On the other hand, she may insist on being with her owner so the breeder may need to stay with her in the whelping area and provide reassurance. It is probably a good idea to provide for the owner’s comfort in the delivery area since he or she may be spending some time there!

Stages of Whelping
It is important for breeders to be aware of their own behavior. They should remain calm and reassuring. This helps to relieve stress and soothe the whelping mother. One of the most frequently asked questions is, “How long is it supposed to last?” While the duration of whelping is affected by variables such as breed, litter size, and parity (how often the mother has given birth), most whelping is completed in four to eight hours. Most of the time puppies are born within 20 to 30 minutes of each other but this is not an indisputable rule. At the end of parturition, the length of time between the births of puppies can increase. It is advisable that a veterinarian be consulted for intervals longer than three to four hours between puppies, or if there are no contractions. If the mother is having contractions but no puppies are being born this condition should also receive veterinary attention.

Rectal temperature must be checked twice a day to observe the drop of 1ºC, which occurs 12 to 48 hours before parturition.

Stage One
Labor does not occur spontaneously but is a gradual occurrence. At the onset, the expectant mother will appear anxious and start to pant, pace, shiver, or vomit. Uterine contractions may or may not be outwardly visible. This is referred to as Stage One of whelping. The uterus is contracting and the cervix is relaxing to allow for passage of the puppies into the birth canal.

The first structure to appear in the vulva after labor has begun is the fetal membrane called the chorion, which has formed around the fetus. Fluid called the allantois, which is sometimes present in this sac, is usually clear with a slight amber or reddish color. The next phase will be marked by the mother’s vigorous contractions, followed by the appearance of the second fetal membrane called the amnion. This sac may still contain amniotic fluid which protected the fetus in the womb.

Appearance of the amniotic sac at the vulval fold.

Stage Two
The birth of the puppy is Stage Two of whelping. It is important to note that if the sac is intact and the mother does not break it, then the breeder must do so immediately. Otherwise, the puppy’s first attempts to breathe air will not be possible.

Stage Three
The placenta is usually passed within 15 minutes of the puppy’s birth. This is Stage Three of whelping. Some breeders allow the mother to eat one or more placentas. While this is instinctual for some dogs, it is not necessarily an ideal practice. Ingestion of placentas can cause vomiting and diarrhea which lead to anorexia and dehydration. Also, saving the placentas and counting them is an excellent way to ensure that all of them have been delivered. There will be one placenta per puppy. A retained placenta can cause serious medical problems for the mother which in turn affects the puppies.

Clearly, having a predictable whelping date provides an advantage in planning for the whelping event. The mother dog should have had appropriate veterinary care (including physical exams, vaccinations, regular deworming, and heartworm prevention) to ensure she was healthy enough for breeding. Additionally, she should have received ideal nutrition between breedings and throughout the reproductive cycle, lactation, and weaning. These basic health care provisions will give her and her puppies a good head start on a successful pregnancy and whelping.

Copyright Royal Canin USA® 2011

Ronald N. Rella, Director, Breeder Services
Email: AKCbreeder@akc.org
Customer Service | Phone: 919-233-9767 | Email: info@akc.org

© The American Kennel Club 2011