There are a number of reasons bitches can have trouble having their puppies. Sometimes their pelvic canals are too small and the pups are too big, or they may have had trauma or an injury in the pelvic canal. Sometimes a sole occupant can become enormous, regardless of the size of the dad, because it is receiving all the nutrition. If there are six puppies and the father is a large breed, the six puppies will probably fit.
Another reason for dystocia is when the puppies don’t present properly. It is similar to a breech or posterior birth – they are not going to come out easily, and sometimes the uterus just doesn’t work properly. This is the case for many brachycephalic dogs, such as Pugs, Bulldogs and, sometimes, French Bulldogs—the uterus doesn’t contract properly. Vets conduct a lot of caesareans on the type of dogs because they just won’t go into labour.
The three stages of labour
There are three stages to labour, and it is important to check for signs of dystocia along the way. During the first stage, they become uncomfortable, they start nesting and you can see they are restless. Their temperature drops noticeably—usually about a degree. A dog’s temperature is usually around 38.5, and during this stage it will drop to 37.5. This stage should last around six hours. When your bitch is in labour, her hormones will change, and we can measure these levels and confirm the change.
During stage two, contractions occur and this is when the pups should be born. This stage lasts for about 30 minutes. Once a puppy is in the birth canal, it should be born within 15 minutes—any longer is fatal for the puppy, so keep an eye on the clock. Bitches sometimes rest between puppies, for up to four hours or so. What you need to find out is whether she is just resting or actively contracting. If she is actively contracting, that pup should be out within an hour. If a puppy is presenting and if you can see it coming down the birth canal, then the puppy must be out within 15 minutes. Stage three is when the placenta is passed following the birth of the puppy.
Signs of dystocia
So, when do you worry? If there are signs of green, red, or black discharge that comes out before the puppies are born, this could mean the placenta has separated from the puppy – and the placenta provides the oxygen for the puppies. If you are seeing that discharge, you have a problem and you need to call the vet straight away. Once you have had one pup, you are going to see that discharge because once one puppy has come out, the placenta will then separate.
If they are in active labour and contracting for more than an hour and there is no puppy – that is a problem. Call the vet. If your dog goes longer than three or four hours and is not contracting at all, this is also a problem. This means her uterus is not working properly and is dystocia. Call the vet.
When to seek help
What can you do? If the contractions are not strong, calcium can help. Many bitches get tired and their contractions become weak. I advise people to give calcium syrup to their bitch for every second puppy—it helps the muscles to contract. It’s something that is safe to do at home.
My final tip is a whelping bitch is one of the few cases where I advise panicked owners not to come in because the stress of coming into the vet can make her stop labour, which may have been progressing well. In these cases, we often end up conducting a caesarean because once they stop labour, it is really hard to get them going again.