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Whelping Your Litter

"At the head of every river lies a spring." -- B. Rice

By Kathy V. Moll
Deep River Collies

Mother Nature has blessed you, and your girl is in whelp. If you're a stickler for exact timing or you're one of us "working stiffs," then knowing what day she is due may mean planning your vacation around your litter.

So let's go back to the breeding we did in last month's article. During estrus, your collie ovulated. Approximately 48 hours afterward, her eggs were ready for fertilization. If you do vaginal smears daily during estrus, you can determine the onset of diestrus (three days post fertilization). Your litter will be born on the 57th or 58th day from the onset of diestrus. Your veterinarian can read slides for you under a microscope. With experience you can do them yourself. In the case of a larger than usual litter, the whelping date can be a day or two earlier.

A couple of days before her due date, trim the belly coat and remove as much hair as possible from around her nipples. Trim the skirts and the area around the vulva. Take leg feathers down as well so that the puppies won't get tangled in hair. If your girl is smooth, you're home free. Rough or smooth, brush her, give her a bath, clean her nipples with mineral or baby oil, and clean her teeth thoroughly.

During the final week of pregnancy, the expectant mother's body temperature is lower than usual. Often it will run from 100 degrees to slightly under 101. Begin taking her temperature with a rectal thermometer (digital is easiest) two to three times a day. A drop to between 98 to 99.5 degrees 24 to 36 hours prior to the birth of the puppies is typical of most bitches. Of course, if her temperature drops an hour after your last check, the time prior to whelping will be shorter. The temperature drop coincides with the progesterone drop that signals birth - (a bitch's progesterone level stays elevated throughout her pregnancy). If more than 36 hours pass from temperature drop without the birth of a puppy, something may be wrong. A visit to your veterinarian is a must.

Wash and disinfect your plastic wading pool during the final week of pregnancy and layer it with newspaper. I put it in the area where I plan to whelp the litter and give mom access to it. Most will spend at least some time lying in it so it becomes a familiar spot.

First stage labor takes up most of the post temperature drop period, and most collies will nest by scratching up the newspapers in the pool. Your girl may appear restless and look in corners and behind furniture. These periods of activity are often followed by periods of sleep. Some display nesting behavior for many hours, some for only a couple of hours prior to whelping; a few show none at all. Most will not eat during this period although some will eat right up to whelping (often throwing up what they've eaten). The sign that second stage labor is beginning is often an urgent need to eliminate. A puppy present in the birth canal seems to make most bitches think they need to relieve themselves. Usually, your collie will ask to go out several times in a row. Walk her on a leash or loose in a small fenced area. Take a towel with you just in case. Visible contractions often begin at this time. Sometimes you will see the water (cervical mucus plug) break, but not always. Some collies deliver the first puppy after only two or three contractions but others need more. More than 30 minutes of hard contractions could spell trouble, so consult your veterinarian.

Your collie may lie down or stand to deliver her puppies. I hold a towel under those who prefer to stand to catch the puppy. If you see a puppy but it is not expelled immediately, don't worry. The puppy is usually safe and will make its appearance shortly. If a puppy seems to be stuck, you may give some help by gently pulling, in tandem with a contraction if possible. Usually, the puppy is still in the fluid filled (amniotic) sac. However, a ruptured sac is not typically a problem. The placenta will be attached in most cases. A dark green placenta usually indicates complete or partially detached and some lack of oxygen; however, the puppy may be fine. On the other hand, some may need stimulation to breath. Black coloration means longstanding detachment, and the puppy will be dead. In about 60% of births, the puppy's head presents first from the vulva, but rear legs first is also normal and happens about 40% of the time. Breach means that the puppy is in an abnormal birth position and may be trying to present back first. This is a problem, which may well require a gloved hand and an attempt to turn the puppy. If you have no success, see your veterinarian right away.

Many collies will immediately know what to do once the first puppy is born, but some seem confused and need your help. I believe the minimal interference school is best. I do not like to take a puppy away from its mother and keep her from doing the jobs she was intended to do. However, do keep a close eye and help when necessary. If she does not open the sac, you must do so, starting with the head. Allow the mother to lick and stimulate the puppy, chew the umbilical cord and eat the sac and placenta if she wishes. Sometimes a second puppy will follow close on the heels of the first. At that point, take care of one while your collie works on the other. Once the sac is removed, check the puppy's mouth and point its head downward to allow any fluid to drain. Clamp the umbilical cord with a hemostat and cut the cord with dull scissors just above the hemostat. Wait a few seconds and unclamp. Clean the instruments with alcohol between puppies.

If the puppy seems to have fluid in its mouth or airway, wrap it securely in a towel, and holding tightly, make a small downward arc two to three times. If mom is busy, rub the puppy in the towel to stimulate it. Then allow it to rest. Some puppies will immediately begin searching for milk; others take their time. Place a large towel under the puppies so that they have traction and can nurse and snuggle. Keep the puppies with the mother; nursing stimulates oxytocin, which promotes contractions. When she begins to move around and have more contractions, transfer the puppies to a towel-lined box or laundry basket with a heating pad at the bottom set on low. Place a towel over the top of the box and keep it close by so that your collie won't fret about her puppies while she's in labor. Depending on the litter size and the individual mother, whelping a litter can take an hour or up to ten hours. Some take short breaks between deliveries while others rest for an hour or two.

When the whelping appears to be over, stand your collie up and feel from behind the rib cage back. If you believe she has no more puppies, set up your whelping box (you may have done this in advance) and transfer mom and the puppies. Use indoor/outdoor carpet or similar material for the floor of the box for traction and place two covered heating pads set on low inside the box. Unless the puppies seem small and lack subcutaneous fat, don't use a heat lamp but do keep the room warm - at least 75 degrees. Give mom half of a cc of Oxytocin if you are not certain that all of the placentas have been excelled; otherwise, it's unnecessary.

You are probably exhausted but are also overjoyed with your beautiful litter. Next month we'll take up the all-important care of mother and babies through lactation and weaning as well as steps to take if trouble finds your tiny charges.

Kathy Moll of Deep River Collies has been breeding Collies since 1974. She has owned or bred between 70 and 80 collie conformation champions, approximately 30 to 40 in each variety. She also earned the Collie Club of America Presidential Award for Smooth Collie Breeder of the Year for 1998 and was tied for the same award for Rough Collie Breeder of the Year in 1999.