To tell if mother dog still has puppies inside it's important to better understand the whelping process. Mother dog's whelping is a complex process. It requires participation of multiple body systems and involves several different hormones, both from the mother and from the puppies. In spite of its complexity, in most cases, dogs are capable of giving birth on their own, without difficulties and complications. However, sometimes it may happen that mother dog has puppies stuck inside.
The Whelping Pause
Sometimes the whelping process occurs continuously and the pups are whelped one after another in a sequence. However, sometimes there is a pause period between the different pups. This period is called a whelping pause. The so-called whelping pause is a completely naturally happening event. It occurs when the bitch delivers a pup and then the uterus stops contracting.
The whelping pause is nature’s way of helping the mother in labor. Simply put, the birth giving process is overwhelming and the mother needs time to rest. She also needs time to naturally replenish her oxytocin and parathyroid hormone supplies. Plus, the mother needs time to bond with the already whelped puppies and of course to feed them.
There is no rule to how long does the whelping pause last. Every dog is different and different dog breeds usually have different whelping pause lengths. For example, dogs with slim heads (doliocephalic breeds) such as Dobermans and Collies usually deliver all of the pups at once within 2 to 3 hours. On the other hand, flat-faced dogs (brachycephalic breeds) such as Pugs and French Bulldogs have particularly long labors – they give birth to one puppy and then have a long pause before whelping the next one. Generally speaking, the whelping pause may last anywhere from 5 minutes to as much as 48 hours.
Many breeders consider the whelping pause to be a medical emergency that requires immediate attention. If a whelping pause occurs they usually mistake it for uterine inertia and administer shockingly high doses of oxytocin to initiate contractions. At this point, the oxcytocin shot is almost useless and more often they not, they opt for a Cesarean section.
Statistics show that 60 to 75 percent of all female dogs giving birth experience a whelping pause during labor. Logically, something that happens in 60 to 75 percent of the cases cannot be considered a medical emergency.
However, most breeders are reluctant when it comes to asking for professional help and they often confuse these two conditions. As previously stated, while the uterine inertia really is a medical condition that requires immediate attention, the whelping pause is a completely normal phase of the birth giving process.
Dog Whelping Pause Versus Uterine Inertia
As a responsible dog parent it is advisable to differentiate between a whelping pause and uterine inertia. If dealing with a whelping pause, you will notice the following:
- One or more puppies have been whelped, but there are still unborn puppies inside the uterus
- The contractions are either weak or absent
- The mother is quite comfortable and spends most of the time either sleeping or nursing the babies
- The mother eats, drinks, poops and pees normally
- The mother does not show signs of pain, distress, anxiety or discomfort.
If dealing with uterine inertia, you will notice the following:
- The mother is compulsively biting at her rear end
- The mother seems anxious, she is constantly pacing, crying and whining
- The mother frequently squats (it seems like she is trying to poop or pee).
Generally speaking, you need to contact your vet as soon as possible if:
- There is no pup after 20 to 30 minutes of strong and continuous contractions
- There is no pup after 2 to 3 hours of weak and infrequent contractions.
How to Tell If Mother Dog Still Has Puppies Inside
In most cases dogs give birth to more than pup. As a matter of fact, dogs can easily give birth to 10 or even 12 puppies. Therefore, determining whether the birth giving process is finished can be quite tricky especially if you are a first time dog parent.
Generally speaking, you can observe your dog and look for signs that signalize the whelping process is over and all of the pups are successfully delivered. To recognize the end of the whelping pay attention to the following steps:
- Check if the contractions have stopped – it is useful to know how many puppies to expect. In general, each set of contractions is followed by delivering a puppy and each puppy is followed by pushing its placenta. After delivering the last puppy, the bitch will experience several more contractions whose purpose is to expel the last placenta.
- Look for signs that the mother is calming down – the birth giving process is usually accompanied by moaning, whimpering and panting. If these signs are present chances are the mother still has puppies inside her. On the other hand, if these signs are absent, the birth giving process is likely finished.
- Carefully monitor your dog for at least 2 hours – if you are not sure whether your dog is simply taking a break or finished whelping, you need to be extra patient and supervise your dog. If the dog calms down within those 2 hours, usually the birth giving process is finished. However, if the dog starts contracting or shows sign of restlessness, chances are it was just taking a break and it still has puppies inside.
The above stated tips are useful, but the only way of knowing the exact number of puppies your dog is carrying is to perform abdominal radiography (x-rays). There is slight controversy when it comes to the use of x-ray imaging in pregnant dogs. However, in most cases the benefits outweigh the risks. Knowing how many pups your female dog has is the only way to successfully guide her through the whelping process.
About the Author
Dr. Ivana Crnec is a graduate of the University Sv. Kliment Ohridski’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Bitola, Republic of Macedonia.
She currently practices as a veterinarian in Bitola and is completing her postgraduate studies in the Pathology of Domestic Carnivores at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Zagreb, Croatia.
Ivana’s research has been published in international journals, and she regularly attends international veterinary conferences.