Whelping Pause

My dog has stopped pushing and I know there are more puppies to come! Help, When should I go for C-Section? Actually NO! Hold fire…and read on.

Dog breeders and vets alike have fallen into the habit of identifying an event that is completely normal and natural during the whelping process for many bitches as “uterine inertia”.  The bitch has delivered one or more puppies and then she has stopped contracting.  She is no longer in labour.  She is in a “Whelping Pause”, a completely naturally occurring event.   This has been viewed as an emergency that requires the use of oxytocin and when that doesn’t work (and it doesn’t) it is followed by a c-section.

What happens when a bitch experiences a temporary cessation of contractions is not uterine inertia and it is not a medical emergency.  It is simply a “whelping pause” and it is nothing more complex than Mother Nature stepping in to give mom time to either replenish her natural supplies of oxytocin or parathyroid hormone, or time to bond with or feed the puppies that she has already whelped.  Perhaps the puppies left behind need a lot more time to work their way down the uterine horns and out the birth canal.   Perhaps they need a few more hours to develop surfactant in their lungs. Perhaps they were some of the last eggs that were ovulated.

This cessation of contractions can last up to 24 hours without harm to the bitch for a certainty and probably even as long as 48. This “pause” in the whelping of a litter is a normal occurrence and not a reason to panic.

There are signs and symptoms that will let you know the difference between a completely normal and natural “whelping pause” and “uterine inertia” which is actually quite rare.

The bitch has whelped one or more puppies but has other puppies still in utero. She has stopped contracting completely and totally. She is comfortable, sleeping, and nursing her babies and caring for them just as if the whelping is completed. She will happily eat a snack and usually an entire meal. She will pee, poop, and drink large amounts of fluid. She does not show signs of distress, pain, discomfort or anxiety.

Only in the veterinary world is a patient who is eating, sleeping, caring for her young and completely comfortable considered to be a medical emergency.

My opinions will not agree with those of your vet and I am sincerely sorry for that. I’m not disagreeing with vets for any reason other than to recognize that we often put them in a very bad position.  We are pleading for them to fix a non-existent problem and the only solution they have is a c-section.

The best way to know if there is a problem with your bitch is to WATCH YOUR BITCH AND THROW AWAY THE CLOCK!  If a bitch is sleeping and nursing her puppies, is comfortable and willing to eat something, she is perfectly fine.  This is clearly not a bitch that is experiencing a medical emergency.  Leave her to do the work that she has to do.

Here is a little reminder of how a bitch actually whelps.  Reviewing this and comparing it to what you have seen and experienced may help to give you courage to begin a more hands-off kind of whelp and give you the strength to begin to do important things.

Put the welfare of your bitch ahead of the welfare of your puppies.

Put the welfare of the species as a whole ahead of your fear and panic.

The bitch may take as long as two full days before she actually kicks into labour.  She may be alternating digging, sleeping, pacing, just generally acting uncomfortable for as long as 48 hours before she is actually in labour. These “wind up” behaviours are usually due to “Braxton Hicks” contractions, a normal part of gestation and occurring more and more frequently as whelping day approaches.  The key things for you to observe are:

  1. A)  Does she sleep after she’s done some digging and panting?
  2. B) Does she eat something offered to her?
  3. C) Does she consume fluids?
  4. D) Are there periods of time when she is not doing anything but normal activities?

If the answer to these questions is yes…she is not in labour.  Once she starts into active labour, she will usually (not always but usually) refuse food, often refuse to drink and until her “whelping pause” she will be awake, clingy and panting. Active visually apparent labour may last easily as long as 12 hours before she pushes out a puppy.  This is normal.  It takes time for her cervix to thin (efface) and open (dilate)…..12 hours is not at all unusual.

The bitch may have to urinate and even defecate frequently due to pressure on her bladder and bowel.  She will often present with an amniotic sac visible at the vulva, and sometimes what appear to be 2 or more sacs will be visible at her vulva.  The fluid in the amniotic sack may be clear or green tinged.   (Remember each puppy is in its own amniotic sac) She may not be having frequent or intense contractions at that point in time but once you can see a bag of fluid, you will know she is at least starting the process to one degree or another.  Try to remember that the first sign of a human delivery is frequently the bag of water breaking and yet mom has an easy 12-24 hours of labour ahead of her before she has even one contraction. The bag of water at the vulva is pretty much the same thing.  The bag of water at the vulva, no matter what colour it is does not constitute an emergency. It is an indication that she is beginning labour.  Her cervix has opened enough to allow the slippery little sac of amniotic fluid to slip through and begin to “hour glass” into the birth canal.

You can feel contractions by putting your hands on her abdomen, along the left and right sides until you feel the tightening of the uterine horns.  You time them from the beginning of one contraction until the beginning of the next one.  The sacs may come in and out and may remain at her vulva for a number of hours…..watch her to get an idea as to what is happening.

If she is biting at her rear end, squatting frequently like she has to urinate, pacing, crying, whining or pushing for an hour or two without results that is the time you need to consult your vet.  Here are some reasons why:

  • The shape and size of the pelvic canal. If the pelvis is narrow, either due to breed conformation or because of a previous fractured pelvis, delivering puppies may be difficult. This is especially true if the dog has a large head relative to the size of the pelvis.
  • The Breed. Breeds predisposed to dystocia include British Bulldogs, French bulldogs and boxers.
  • The size of the pups can cause dystocia. If the puppy is too large, it will not fit in the birth canal. This can be common when there is only a single puppy in the litter.
  • Puppies’ position are normally born either head first or rear legs first. If the puppy is sideways or bottom first, they become stuck.
  • Developmental defects that result in enlargement of certain body parts can make birth difficult.
  • Death of the puppy in utero can result in abnormal positioning and can affect uterine contractions.
  • If your dog is depressed, lethargic or her body temperature is more than 39.5°C. Possibly indicating an infection.
  • If she is bleeding from the vagina for more than ten minutes.
  • If a puppy’s tail is seen hanging from the vulva or alternatively there is a lump just behind the vulval lips and your bitch is straining, it is probably a breech delivery. Some breech presentation can be delivered without assistance, but often complications occur if you don’t intervene to remove the stuck puppy.

After she has delivered one or more puppies, she may stop contracting altogether, nap, nurse her baby/babies, eat and want to go outside to void.  (Take her out on a leash, with flashlight and wash clothes in your pocket.  Once the bladder has emptied, she may suddenly be able to pass the puppy that she has been working to whelp.  This is common.  Be prepared.)   A full bladder acts like a big water balloon that has been blocking the exit for the puppy. These outdoor deliveries are not about the walking part.  They are due to the good effects of an empty bladder freeing up the space inside the birth canal.

A whelping pause may last easily as long as 12-24 hours.  Her behaviour is going to tell you everything you need to know. Watch her.  Here is what you will observe in a whelping pause:

All contractions have stopped.  Mom is comfortable, happy, napping, nursing and caring for her puppies. Mom will eat if offered food often a lot of food, and will drink fluids. There may be vaginal discharge of any colour from green to black, to pink to possibly small amounts of red, resulting from the birth of the puppies who have been whelped.

As these puppies are nursing, short, mild contractions are occurring which are so mild as to render them impossible to monitor. She is silently “labouring down” as those puppies who were high in the horns gently work their way downward.  She is fine.

Once the whelping pause is over and mom has “laboured down” (the puppies remaining in the uterus have moved into position for whelping) mom will resume whelping. Be aware that possibly there will be none of the signs that were apparent prior to the whelping pause. No panting, no clinging, no pacing no drama.  Mom will grunt once and push out each of the remaining puppies in turn with no fanfare.

Give her small amounts of vanilla ice cream during the whelping process to replace fluids lost while panting, glucose to jump start the babies and as a bonus, it gives the mom calcium which is used to strengthen contractions.  If one of the puppies has died in utero, it will often take a good long while for that dead puppy to be delivered.  It can be a full day.  No worries.  Puppy’s dead body will go into rigor for 12 hours and take another 12 hours to pass out of rigor.  Why subject her to a major surgery to retrieve a dead puppy?  And sometimes they are born as long as 48 hours after the last puppy. As long as your bitch is not showing the signs of distress that I listed above she is fine.  Bitches very, very rarely die in free whelps but they die with some regularity in c-sections.

Text informed by Myra Savant