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Whether your dog is done giving birth or not can be challenging to tell considering that it's not unusual for pregnant dogs to take their sweet time in delivering their babies. 

This is not really a time though for guessing, considering that not all deliveries go as planned. 

Ideally, a good breeder will have x-rays done prior to delivery so to know the exact number of pups to be expected. If you missed the boat though, veterinarian Dr. Ivana shares some signs of trouble and what you need to do to prevent problems.

There are No Stupid Questions About Dogs Giving Birth!

Your canine baby is having her own babies. She is about to become a proud mom. It is time for congratulations…or is it?

 Well…as magnificent as it is, the process of giving birth can be scary, especially for first time dog parents that simply do not know what to expect when their canine is expecting and in labor.

How long does the birth giving process last? Does it have different stages? When is help needed? How can we know the birth giving process is over? Are there any particular signs? Is counting the babies enough? 

The list of confusing questions is almost endless.

The Birthing Stages in Dogs 

The process of giving birth is also known as whelping or parturition. It usually occurs in three distinctive stages.

Stage 1 

Stage 1 starts when the uterus begins contracting and the cervix begins dilating. This is the longest phase and it can last between 6 and 12 hours. On rare occasions it can last for as long as 18 or even 24 hours. 

This phase is clinically manifested with signs like panting, pacing and restlessness. There is also a typical behavior that is usually known as "nesting". 

Some dogs may show signs like shivering, persistent whining and vomiting. 

This is because the uterine contractions are strong and often painful. By the end of this stage the cervix will be completely dilated – enough for the puppies to pass.

 During this phase, it is advisable to provide your dog with a quiet, calm and semi-darkened environment.

Stage 2

Stage 2 includes the passage of the puppy. During this phase the uterine contractions are more visible.

 Every pup is delivered after 10 to 30 minutes of forceful straining. Usually there is a resting period between different pups. 

The resting period lasts around half-hour. Sometimes it may last for as up to 4 hours (if the mother is inexperienced or exhausted). 

Since dogs, almost always, have multiple puppies, stage 2 and stage 3 alternate.

Stage 3 

The concept of this third phase is borrowed from human medicine and includes the passage of the fetal membranes and placenta.

 At this point, it is important to pay attention on the number of placentas. The number of placentas must match the number of newborns.

 If those numbers do not match – the number of placentas are smaller than the number of babies it means there are likely retained placentas.

 A retained placenta is a cause of concern since it can easily get infected and potentially become a life-threatening event.

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Is my dog done giving birth?

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The Importance of X-Rays

Knowing how many puppies your dog is expecting will help you determine when the birth giving process has ended.

In spite of being useful when it comes to confirming pregnancy, the ultrasound examination cannot show how many puppies your pregnant dog has. The vet may try to count the number of babies while they are still small (around 25 to 28 days after mating). 

However, this technique is unreliable because more often than not the babies are over-lapping. As the babies grow, the chances of over-lapping are increasing as well.

 Therefore, the babies can be either not counted at all or counted more than once. In both cases, the acquired information is inaccurate.

The only objective way of determining the exact number of puppies is through X-ray imaging. The X-ray image taken for the purpose of determining the number of babies is scientifically termed as "fetal count radiography."

The fetal count radiographs are quite valuable when planning whelping. They facilitate treatment in cases of retained and dead fetuses and enable prompt intervention in cases of dystocia (inability to give birth naturally).

From the above stated it can be concluded that fetal count radiographs are generally useful. Sadly, there is a catch – radiography, as a technique, portrays the puppies’ skeletons and the skeletons do not become visible until day 45. 

What About Radiation Exposure?

There may be some concerns regarding the safety of the X-ray procedure, for istance, the risks of radiation-induced carcinogenesis.

Sadly, there is no data about the risk of cancer in canine patients exposed to low levels of radiation. In human patients, the exposure to low levels of radiation slightly increases the incidence of cancer.

In veterinary medicine, the benefit of knowing the exact number of babies outweighs the risk associated with radiation exposure.

Since all radiation is potentially harmful, it is advisable to limit the radiation exposure. This includes:

  • Obtaining only one (lateral) projection
  • Performing the X-ray procedure at the right moment (after day 55) thus eliminating the need of repeating the procedure.

According to recent studies, certain homeopathic remedies and foods can significantly reduce the radiation effects.

Vets recommend x-rays to ensure accurate fecal counts 

Vets recommend x-rays to ensure accurate fecal counts 

Accurate Assessment of the Fetal Count

To ensure the acquired information is accurate and reliable, it is important to follow these advices:

  • Obtain the X-ray images either on or after day 55. As stated, this technique portrays the skeletons and if they are not fully mineralized they cannot be portrayed. The mineralization process is not completed until day 55.
  • Use the lateral projection. Ventro-dorsal projections create scatter and have decreased contrast which makes the counting more challenging. The lateral projection offers better visualization.
  • Count both the heads and the spines. If the number of heads does not match the number of spines, you need to count again.

Concluding Thoughts

In dogs, the whelping process is far less dramatic than it is in humans. Statistics show that 98 percent of all whelping processes occur without assistance and complications.

However, being familiar with the parturition stages is beyond helpful. Knowing things are proceeding on schedule and without hitches is comforting…especially if you are a first time dog owner. 

Another important moment is knowing the number of babies your dog is carrying.

In lack of other, cost-efficient and effective methods of confirming the number of babies, radiography is not only routinely performed, but also highly advised by most veterinary professionals.

Part of being a responsible dog parent is knowing what to expect when your beloved canine is expecting and in labor.

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