SUCCESS: HARD WORK MEETS OPPORTUNITY
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
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.