Edited  by June Hanson for The STC (England)

The following is an extract from a tape recording on whelping by a Veterinary Surgeon in general practice.


" Ideally the age for breeding is the first season after your bitch is one year old or any other season before she is three, older than this it is not a very good idea to breed a first litter. It is, however, still permissible if it is a repeat episode. We advise in the first place she be brought into the consulting room  and gone over to make sure there are no abnormalities which could make breeding difficult, dangerous or impossible. Aim for a summer litter, new born puppies need snug warmth, especially if the milk bar is slow to come into full operation, but super central heating these days can make winter puppies just as easy to rear.

Pregnancy diagnosis is done 24 days after the last mating , and we can usually count the number of puppies.  At the same time we like to check and make sure your plans are sound for the management, especially things like feeding - plenty of milk, meat, fish and eggs , and how to ensure during the last few weeks that really sufficient food is going in. It is easy to be misled by the size of the abdomen. You must keep a check on the muscles on either side of the backbone. These muscles must stay full and big , if they don't, the bitch looks huge before she has whelped, and after rather like a starved Greyhound , not an ideal start to suckling a litter.

Right up to whelping a bitch should lead a reasonably active life, never march her until she is exhausted, but allow all the usual activities, cut out the extremes as her girth increases. Puppies inside the bitch are remarkably well protected by a double fluid cushion and little bangs and falls do not do any harm to her or the litter.

Sending a bitch to kennels for whelping is a very poor idea indeed unless it is where she has previously spent long and happy holidays. The average bitch plunged into strange surroundings on the point of whelping will hold up the process for days and will then whelp within two hours of being sent home. It is equally bad to expect a bitch, used to having a place in the family circle, to happily retire for weeks to a hut at the bottom of the garden or some far distant attic.

She will require a bed big enough to lie out flat on her side and still have space all round. Wooden boxes are ideal with sides she can easily jump over, but will keep the puppies inside for the first two weeks. A big bitch may produce a large litter, and a shelf around the inside of the box helps to protect the odd puppy from being "overlaid". With regard to bedding, you cannot improve on masses of newspaper. The whelping and rearing of puppies is a very messy business and soiled newspapers can easily be destroyed.

Duration of pregnancy in the books is given as 63 days, but it does not mean she will automatically whelp on the 63rd day. It would be better to give a normal range and say she will whelp on the 63rd day, plus or minus 5 days.

The milk glands steadily develop through pregnancy. About ten days before she is due to whelp the vulva begins to swell, all the tissues around and about swell up. It is quite important, only tissues which have become well swollen and jellified stretch easily at the time of whelping. For some days before delivery, the bitch passes a few blobs of slime, slightly green or brown tinged, but basically clear stuff, this is the heavy jelly plug at the neck of the womb slowly breaking up. Quite suddenly the bitch's delivery process is switched on, no one knows quite how. A pituitary gland releases a hormone into the blood stream which stimulates the muscular wall of the uterus to squeeze. During the whole pregnancy these muscles have thickened and stretched. The original uterus was like two pieces of string, now it is the size of salami sausage with puppies inside. The bitch does not know what is happening, but usually any milk in the gland it let down into the teats and she feels uncomfortable, puffing and panting, turning her bedding backwards and forwards, wants attention, does not want attention, and wanders around rather like the gentleman in the television advert with mild indigestion looking for his "Rennies". Eventually, it may take as long as 48 hours, rhythmic pressure of the uterine muscles on the puppies inside their double bags of fluid stretches the neck of the womb wide open and a puppy is pushed into the delivery passage through the pelvis. This is called first stage. Now the bitch realises she has something to push out, rather like a severe constipation, and she starts to use the muscles of her body wall to strain. You know she is going into the second stage because she is straining, a water bag or a black green discharge may appear at the vulva. Never burst water bags, leave them to break naturally. While they are intact, they help lubricate and act as a hydraulic cushion keeping pressure even on the puppy. About this dark green material, it looks so peculiar. During pregnancy the bitch provides food and oxygen for the puppies and disposes of their waste products. Nearing the end of pregnancy, waste disposal becomes a problem, some is temporarily stored in the afterbirth conveniently dumped during delivery with the water, slime, bag and membranes, as so much surplus packaging material.

The straining of the bitch slowly pushes the first puppy down the birth canal. In a first litter nothing this size has ever gone this way before, the puppy is used as a wedge to slowly stretch the jellified tissues. The bitch alternatively strains and rests until with a few final pushes, first the head, then the body and pelvis of the puppy are delivered. A delivery of this first puppy is always slow, it cannot be hurried without danger of tearing the bitches tissues. Allow up to fours hours for delivery of this first puppy. Immediately it is delivered she starts to lick, nibble and roll it around and will not be satisfied until it struggles, squeaks and is licked quite dry. This process seems to be a marvellous maternal instinct, but we believe it is prompted by the delivery fluid having a very attractive flavour, encouraging her to lick the puppy, rather like licking her favourite food.

A completely revived puppy is deaf and blind and quite automatically snuggles up to any surface that is soft and warm, nuzzling about until it finds a teat, suckling by the puppy stimulates the production of more hormone which lets down milk and starts the uterine muscles squeezing again and encouraging delivery of the next puppy. More effort is needed to deliver the first puppy than any other.

Often the bitch rests for some time before pushing out the rest of the litter, gaps between puppies can be as long as four hours without being considered abnormal. In between puppies and after the last one, straining may produce a mass of afterbirth, you may never see it, she quickly eats it all up. At a normal whelping veterinary help is not needed, probably our most important check is to examine the bitch when whelping is apparently complete to make sure a puppy has not been left inside and all the afterbirth is clear.

Old text books give most peculiar advice on feeding. Modern advice is a bitch can have whatever she likes to eat or drink before, during and after whelping.

The bitch's whelping box is placed so that she feels secure and you can unobtrusively watch her. Play it by ear. Some bitches take the attitude 'this is my very own personal business, interfering will upset me and I might get nasty about it' others will expect continual attention.

Most puppies are born head first, a few come hind leg first. A backend first puppy must be delivered almost as soon as it enters the birth canal as the cord which supplies the oxygen is much interfered with. A first puppy presented backend first has obviously a poor chance of survival, because delivery must be slow. Any puppy can be helped out by grasping the presented part and just gently pulling and twisting - remember the birth canal comes horizontally through the bones of the pelvis and then drops downwards like a spout, pulling therefore must be in the direction vaguely 45degrees below the horizontal. A puppy whelping with extreme ease may be delivered complete in it's bag of slimy fluid. The bitch has about 2 minutes to tear off the bag and free the puppy's nose and face before it drowns. If she is vague and slow, pick up a pair of scissors and snip a fold of membrane, tearing the bag releasing the puppy, cleaning it's face, head, nose and mouth inside and out as much as you can. A few gasps by the puppy shows it has revived, if no gasps make sure it's head is free from fluid, shake it upside down to clear the back of the throat by gravity, massage it quite hard and blow into it's mouth. Try not to clean it up completely, you are removing the flavour which initially makes the puppy so attractive to the bitch.

Umbilical cords should cause no worry at all, as the bitch shuffles around cleaning up the puppies they break in a natural weak spot where there is a self healing mechanism. Cords may be a quarter of an inch to a foot long, don't worry, they wither and dry up after a few days. If a puppy has difficulty coming free from a cord, scrape the cord between the finger and thumb nail and it gives at the weakest spot. Never pull a cord, you may induce an umbilical hernia. If a puppy has a cord seeping with blood, there is no objection to tying a piece of thread tightly round it, but it is rarely necessary.

A fully competent bitch cleans and carefully nurses the first puppy while subsequent ones are delivered and dealt with. A few bitches are vague and will crush the first and second while dealing with the rest of the litter. Again, 'play it by ear', neglected offspring can be stored in a temporary incubator - a cardboard box containing a blood heat hot water bottle wrapped in a blanket piece. Don't do this for a competent bitch, it will upset her terribly and she will be convinced you are robbing her nest. Bitches are sometimes charged will killing their young. Their instinct is to lick, nibble and generally toss around a puppy until it wriggles and squawks. A puppy born dead never wriggles and squeaks and she may easily half eat it before giving up the project as hopeless. Never remove a dead puppy until she has definitely abandoned it, otherwise once again, she will regard you as a robber. Rarely we get a terrier who delivers and cleans her puppies and then suddenly decides they must be some kind of vermin her breed is committed to destroy - even these bitches will settle down once they find that suckling is a pleasant sensation.

Puppies have no idea about empting their bowel or bladder. Empting is stimulated by the bitch licking their back ends as they suckle. Sometimes there may be an error in her timetable and no milk is available when the puppies are born, again don't worry, they are alright for the first 24 hours at least provided they are carefully tended and kept warm.

A puppy should feel glowing warm in your hand, if it feels dank and cold, the dam is not keeping it properly heated. We know that puppies keep themselves warm by attaching themselves to the bitch's body, direct heat from electric fires and infrared lamps is only a small help, heat apparel which can be put into the bottom of whelping boxes is ideal.

All the materials licked up by the bitch at whelping are remarkably laxative - diarrhoea sometimes needs checking. Old books prescribe pre-whelping and post - whelping purgatives, we cannot think why.

New born puppies are rather lean and bony but over the first few days they quickly fatten. Between ten and fourteen days old their eyes and ears open, their tiny brains become properly connected, they learn to focus and toddle about. Once a puppy can see it's surroundings it can learn to lap, usually weaning is started and completed in the three to six week period, but a deposit can be advanced a full week to protect a bitch with a very large litter in danger of being suckled down to skin and bone.

The bitch must always be left an escape route if she wants to leave her puppies.

Each puppy makes for it's own one teat. The un-used teats and glands may become rather enlarged and slightly painful but when the puppies are three to five days old, they quickly fade away. A puppy on a teat backed by a large active gland thrives considerably, a puppy picking a poor teat does not do so well. However the latter is the first to tackle milk and meat at weaning and by six weeks old has caught up with it's luckier mate.

I am sometimes asked whether labour in a bitch can be induced. Commonly in women near term, for health reasons, labour can be induced, this is alright if there is only one baby to come. Similarly labour can be induced in a bitch and the first one or two puppies produced, but the final members of the litter can not be obtained naturally. The uterine muscles fail to respond to repeated artificial stimulus, we wait for the natural triggering mechanism".

The above article first appeared in The Scottish Terrier Club of England Year Book 1985.