It was my first litter. I was excited and more than a little nervous. My dog went into labor. She made herself comfortable in the whelping area, and I settled in for a long night.
She birthed several puppies. She did very well, cleaning and removing the cord from each puppy. She clearly knew just what to do, and I was left to watch in wonder.
I went to sleep that night sure that she had four puppies. She was clearly done with labor. She was moving around. She was caring for the puppies and even eating. However, when I woke up to check on her a few hours later, I was surprised to find that she wasn’t finished after all. She had birthed two more puppies, hours after I was sure labor had stopped.
Can dogs have puppies days apart?
Whelping is a natural event, but one that can be stressful for dogs and their owners. The veterinary world has decided that a failure to progress during labor often constitutes an emergency, but this isn’t usually the case.
Experienced breeders say that a dog can go 24 or as long as 48 hours between birthing puppies. This is a natural process known as a whelping pause. Some cases are a veterinary emergency, but many times the issue is actually a worried owner.
A whelping pause is a natural occurrence. The dog gives birth to one or more puppies. Then the contractions stop. You know or suspect that she has more puppies to birth, but the labor has stopped.
At this point, many owners call their vet. They are afraid that, since labor has stopped, it won’t start again. They fear the loss of their dog and her pups still inside.
Why a whelping pause occurs isn’t fully understood. It’s possible that the pups need extra time to develop before entering the world. It’s possible it’s to give the mother time to clean the pups she’s birthed and bond with them. It’s also possible that mom needs some time to rest before birthing the rest of the puppies.
What is known is that in most cases, labor restarts when the mother’s body is ready. The pups are healthy, and so is the mom.
Many breeders and vets give oxytocin to restart labor. This is problematic for two reasons. First, it isn’t likely to restart the labor. The dog’s body has thrown it’s off switch, and labor won’t resume until her body turns it back on.
Oxytocin is produced during labor. However, when oxytocin is administered, it causes the placenta to disengage from the uterine wall. If there are still pups inside, it can harm them.
Oxytocin is useful if there is a placenta that hasn’t been cleared. It’s often used after labor to ensure all the placentas have made their way through the birth canal. The placenta usually arrives with or shortly after the puppy. However, mothers often consume the placenta, which can make it hard to account for all of them.
Dog Gestation Period
Some experts recommend using the dog’s ovulation date to determine pregnancy, while others suggest you use the date of her first breeding. These dates are usually pretty close together, and neither will give you an exact conception date.
Generally, you can expect your dog to give birth about 56-58 days after the end day of the heat cycle, or 58-72 days from the last day she allowed breeding.
There are tests that can be performed to give a more exact due date. These include blood tests that check for pregnancy hormones. X-rays and ultrasound can also be used. These determine gestation by measuring the size of the pups.
Primary Uterine Inertia
Primary uterine inertia occurs when the mother goes past her due date. If more than 70 days have passed since she ovulated, she has uterine inertia.
Other signs of primary uterine inertia include signs the mother is experiencing discomfort. She may whine, pace, or be lethargic. Of course, pregnancy itself can be uncomfortable as well.
Other signs of primary uterine inertia are clearer. If she has a green discharge from her vagina, this means the placenta has detached and birth should begin. If she doesn’t give birth within a few hours of the discharge, contact your vet.
The other, and most concerning signs something is going wrong is shock. A dog in shock will have pale pink gums and appetite loss. They may also be very lethargic or disoriented.
The causes of primary uterine inertia vary. If the mother only has one puppy, her body may not produce enough birth signaling hormones. If she is old or overweight, her uterus may not be strong enough to contract properly. This can also occur with very large litters that stretch the uterine muscles. Low calcium levels can also prevent the mother from starting labor.
Stress can also delay labor. If it’s your dog’s first litter or the environment is chaotic, she may be too stressed for labor. This can also occur if she doesn’t have a proper whelping area. Allow her to relax and give a little time, and things should commence on their own.
It’s also possible that the due date was miscalculated. If she’s showing no signs of labor or discharge, you may need to confirm the due date with another test.
If your dog is showing signs of distress or shock, don’t hesitate to call the vet. If she is acting relatively normally, it’s probably only a matter of time.
Secondary Uterine Inertia
The whelping pause we discussed previously is often considered secondary uterine inertia. Intervention is not needed during a normal whelping pause. However, uterine inertia due to problems during birth does require veterinary care.
In many cases, the mother’s body is exhausted and needs time to rest before continuing labor. If she’s caring for her puppies, eating, and drinking, simply monitor her.
Hypoglycemia can occur during the birthing process. Mild cases can be treated by feeding your dog some sugar water. A small amount should ease hypoglycemia. Then, offer her regular food. Low calcium can also cause labor to halt. Don’t give a calcium supplement until she’s had the first puppy without veterinary guidance.
Secondary uterine inertia can also occur because the puppy can’t physically pass through the birth canal. The puppy may be in the wrong position, or be too large for the mother’s body to pass.
Breeds with large heads may need a cesearan section for this reason. If the mother mated with a much larger dog, the puppies are more likely to be too large for her.
There are a few things you can do to help your dog. If you can visibly see the puppy, you can try pulling gently while she is contracting. If the puppy doesn’t come with gentle pressure, the mother may need veterinary intervention.
If you suspect the puppy might be turned the wrong way, you can try the wheelbarrow. Pick up her hind legs, so she’s supporting herself on her front paws. Hold her at a 45-degree angle. Keep her in this position for a few minutes and then let her lie down. Walking can also aid in the birth.
When to Worry
If the mother acts distressed or in pain, call your vet. If she’s experienced strong contractions for more than 30 minutes, she could have a problem getting the puppy out. You can physically check for a puppy and aid her if possible, or try walking her. If she hasn’t delivered the puppy after an hour of strong contractions, she needs veterinary care.
How long can a dog go in between having puppies?
Up to 48 hours is within the normal range. However, there are stories of puppies being born even further apart. This often occurs because the owner is blissfully unaware that the mother hasn’t birthed all the puppies. Nature is allowed to run its course, and the other pups are delivered safely.
There is a concern of metritis if the mother doesn’t pass all the puppies. If a puppy or fetal membrane is retained, it can cause infection of the uterus.
The mother will have a foul red discharge from her vulva. She will be depressed, fatigued, and have little appetite. Metritis requires veterinary care, and can be fatal if not treated.
When to Worry
You should worry if the mother is in distress. If she isn’t caring for the puppies already born or is in significant pain, this indicates a potential problem.
If she stops having contractions but doesn’t have an appetite, you’ll need to monitor her closely. She could simply be busy caring for her puppies. However, if it continues, she may need care. If she shows severe fatigue or disinterest in the litter, you’ll need to call the vet.
Remember she was born to do this. Her body knows what to do, and in most cases, no assistance is needed. Still, emergencies do happen. If you are concerned, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Can puppies be born 24 hours apart?
Yes, puppies can be born 24 hours apart safely. As long as the mother is caring for the pups, eating, and pottying, the pause is nothing to worry about.
How do you know if there is still a puppy inside?
It can be difficult to know when your pooch is done delivering. Since a whelping pause is common, waiting a few hours won’t tell you for sure.
Feeling for Puppies
One way to determine if your dog is finished whelping is to feel her stomach gently. You may be able to feel any remaining puppies. However, this technique is far from full proof. Puppies are small and can be difficult to find with this method.
Your dog should deliver a placenta for each pup. It can be difficult to keep track of how many placentas she’s delivered, particularly because she will likely eat them.
If you believe there’s still a placenta to be delivered and it hasn’t come soon after the last puppy, this can indicate a problem.
It’s a good idea to go for a post partum checkup. It’s imperative if you believe there’s still a placenta inside, because it can cause infection. It’s safe to wait till the next day to visit the vet if the mother isn’t showing signs of distress.
If there’s still a placenta to be delivered, it increases the odds of there being another pup. The placenta should be delivered immediately after the puppy. If it hasn’t come, things have stalled or gotten stuck temporarily.
Veterinary Prenatal Screening
The most reliable way to determine if your dog is finished delivering is knowing how many puppies she has to deliver. Then it’s as simple as counting the existing puppies.
This is most commonly done by an ultrasound. This allows the vet to see the puppies in the womb. They can count the puppies, estimate their size, and check for proper development.