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Whelping: New Puppies On The Way!!

Whelping and new pups! Well, you've really gone and done it now, haven't you! That moment you've been waiting impatiently for is here and you have to face the facts that you are going to be a mother...of sorts. Luckily, the vast majority of bitches will have their pups without any help from you or anyone else. You may be able to just sit back and watch the entire process.

Nevertheless there certainly are times when you MUST intervene; times when the bitch and the neonates will need your assistance. Your local Veterinarian will present a good guideline for you to consider when you are observing the whelping of the new pups to help you know when to help and what to do.

Picture: Ash at 6 months Old
Mrs Barbara Barganska


Most female dogs "go into heat" (estrus) about every 6 or 7 months beginning sometime before their first year of age. It is best to allow the bitch to reach full growth before breeding her - we suggest strongly two years (see the Ethics section on the right.) Why put the added stress of forming and nursing a litter of pups while her body is geared toward making her own structures? Always wait until she is fully developed before breeding her.

Picture: Lexi at 2 weeks old
Mrs Barbara Barganska

The bitch is usually ready to stand and hold for the male to breed to her about ten to twelve days into the heat cycle. 

Start counting days at the first sign of any blood discharge from the vulva. Just remember that every dog is different regarding when she will allow breeding, so keep good records of everything you note regarding dates of first bloody discharge, how much discharge is occurring, how much swelling of the vulva is noticed, and the bitch's attitude and temperament.

Important note:

You should mark the day you first see any discharge "day one"...However, you may have missed a few light flow days. In these cases, what you are calling "day one" may really be day three, four or five! So, when do you bring the male to her for breeding? Do not wait until the tenth day; bring the male to her a few days ahead of time because if she's ready you better breed her now! She will let you know if your timing is right by her willingness or unwillingness to stand for the male. If she's ready, regardless of what number day it is, she will crook her tail off to one side, stand in front of the male, and even back into the male. Just because we think she should breed on a certain day has no influence on her hormonal levels. Try to get the bitch and stud together a number of days and times earlier than that tenth day of bloody discharge. Another good guideline as to when to breed is that often the discharge will turn from a dark, bloody colour to a more lighter, almost tan colour.

Picture: Lexi at nearly 5 weeks old
Mrs Barbara Barganska

A note about doing a slide smear..

So many breeders ask their veterinarians to "do a smear so I know what day to breed her". They are asking the impossible! A "smear" of the vaginal discharge is done by swabbing onto a microscope slide a small amount of the vaginal discharge. Those cells are dried and stained and the types and maturity of those cells are noted. When the preponderance of those cells have lost their nucleii and become more old appearing, the technician can safely say that the peak of the heat cycle is approaching. That's all. In no way can a determination as to the "right time to breed" be made with a high degree of accuracy from a vaginal smear. All your veterinarian or veterinary technician can do is to say "She hasn't reached peak cycle yet" or "It looks like she's about at her peak now" or "I think she is past her peak breeding time now". Anything more specific than that is pretty much just a guess. The best way to know when to breed is to get the male and female dogs together and see if THEY think it's time. Always bring them together sooner than you believe is the peak of her cycle. It is far better to be five days early than five hours late. Remember, she won't be in heat again for half a year! she and the stud bred twice the first day and twice the second day and once the third day. Nice goin'! There's a great chance she'll become pregnant. The sperm will fertilize the eggs and the fertile eggs will migrate down the two uterine horns looking for a favorable area to attach to the lining of the uterine wall. Attachment will occur a number of days after the breeding (that's why some anti-fertility medications can be given after the breeding. These medications make the uterine lining a hostile area for the fertilized eggs so the eggs can't find an inviting area of the uterine lining. If they do not attach to the uterine lining they eventually degenerate.)

Picture: 3.5 Weeks Old
"Blessed Are The Wee Ones ..."
Mrs Nancy Moser

New Puppies...

If impregnation into the uterine lining has occurred, your veterinarian will be able to feel the swollen areas along the uterus about the twenty-second to the twenty-fourth day after the last breeding. A good estimate of the number of active areas can be made, too, so you can start lining up all those potential buyers for your pups! The pups are usually ready to enter our world sixty-three days after conception. It is best to count days starting from the last known breeding since many bitches will allow breeding to occur for two to four days in a row.

What To Expect When "It's Time"...

Let me suggest that you forget about using a thermometer to aid your guess as to when the pups are on the way. Some bitches' temperature will drop from a normal range (101 to 102.5 degrees) to a degree or so below their normal a few hours prior to whelping...but many don't. And if her temperature does drop and no puppies are forthcoming, are you going to rush her into surgery? Of course not! Recording the temperature, and over-estimating its importance, can cause you more turmoil and anxiety than any value taking the temperature may have as a prognosticator of labour, so don't bother with it if you don't want to.

The first signs... The first sign that the new puppy-family is on the way usually is signalled by the bitch's lack of interest in food about twenty-four hours before whelping. Then you may notice she will lick at her vulva and have slight abdominal cramping. Then the abdominal contractions become more frequent...about every half hour. All of a sudden you may notice a shiny, greyish sac drooping through the vulva; it looks like a grey water balloon. The bitch may walk around with this hanging out and will often open the "water sac" and a clear fluid will run out. The pup's on the way! In most cases the pup will be delivered within an hour of this sac being presented for your viewing pleasure since now the pup is surely in the pelvic canal. The first pup often is the most difficult for the bitch to pass, and she may strain quite hard and even moan a bit. Don't panic yet. (Although, it is a good idea to call your veterinarian and announce proudly "she's havin' 'em!". Now the entire animal hospital staff will be on the alert that you will be calling every fifteen minutes with updates on her progress.) If she hasn't passed the pup within one hour of the "water sac" showing, do call your veterinarian and discuss the need for her to be seen right away to help pass the pup, if you do not have a Vet go to the two links below, and get the information.

The Birth...

When the pup is passed through the pelvic canal and into our world it will be covered in a thin membrane that looks like plastic wrap. If the bitch does not lick and nip this membrane away from the puppy right away, and most do, you should remove it so the pup can breathe. (The pup has about six minutes of "grace period" before it must breathe, otherwise brain damage or death will occur.) Give the mother a few seconds to remove this membrane; if she doesn't, you do it.

Picture: Sir K B. Barganska

You will notice that the pup is attached to a yucky looking mass of tissue by the umbilical cord. You can separate the pup from this blackish-green tissue, which is the afterbirth. (The afterbirth is the tissue that attaches very closely to the lining of the uterus. Through the afterbirth the pup "breathes" and acquires nourishment via the umbilical cord; now that the pup is born, though, there's no need for this equipment any more. Now it's nasty looking and yucky so throw it out.) There is no real benefit for the bitch to eat all the afterbirths so discard them if you wish. In fact, some dogs can get digestive upsets from consuming a large number of afterbirths. Those of you who for some reason want their bitch to eat the afterbirths, be my guest...

Licking and cleaning the new pup is the bitch's first order of business now that the membrane is removed and the umbilical cord is chewed through (or separated about an inch away from the pup by you). If she ignores the pup, you can take a clean towel and rub the puppy dry; this will stimulate it to breath and it will protest a bit. Ouch...Welcome to our world! While doting over the new pup the bitch will probably start the process over and present another we go again! While the new pup's brothers and sisters are yet to see the light of day, the first pup, having found a nipple, is already having breakfast. (I say breakfast because the vast majority of whelping occur in the very early hours of predawn darkness!)

Time Period... In any litter the entire process of whelping can take from two to twenty hours. In some cases, they may have three pups in the first hour, take a break for three or four hours, have a few more, take a break, have one, take a break and finish up sometime the next day. All that may be perfectly normal. However, if a bitch is really straining, with contractions coming every minute or so and no pup is presented within half an hour, get the veterinarian on the phone.Often, if the bitch seems to be doing nothing for a few hours and you are sure there are more pups to be delivered, the bitch often can be energized to have more contractions by a brisk walk outside. She may not want to leave the pups but fresh air and a short run or walk will get things started again. Have food and water available for her, too.

Problems... Sometimes the litter will be so large, either in numbers of pups or size of pups, that a problem with Uterine Inertia can occur. In these situations the bitch will fail in weak attempts to pass the pups. She may not even show any visible contractions. Here is a good example of why you should keep good records of dates and times of breeding. If the bitch has progressed to the sixty-fifth day after breeding and still no pups are on the way, there's a problem! If the uterus has been so stretched and fatigued by a large litter or large size of the puppies, she may not be able to pass them. Uterine Inertia also is common when an older bitch has a single fetus that doesn't stimulate the uterus enough to begin contractions. Your veterinarian must be consulted. Medical intervention will be tried first, an x-ray may be taken (don't worry, a single x-ray in full term pups presents practically zero risk) and if medications do not induce's time for surgery!

Be Prepared... It is much better to prepare yourself ahead of time by reading and talking to an experienced breeder if this is your first time at breeding a dog. Be certain that your bitch is wormed or has a negative fecal exam, be certain that the diet is excellent... not just "good". Avoid the notion that you must supplement the diet because of the "stress" on the mother. The real stress nutritionally comes after the pregnancy when the pups are between two and four weeks of age. That's the time they are extracting the largest amounts of nutrients from the mother, and making all that milk can really tap into the bitches' nutrient reserves. Over-supplementing is a mistake. A high quality diet containing large amounts of quality protein and fat is important; high fat, high protein and low carbohydrates (grain) is best.

It is a good idea to get a small postal scale and weigh the new pups daily. After the second day they should gain steadily every day. If you notice a pup that is slower, colder, softer or whinier than the others, take special care of that one. It just may need your help to survive. Each day the pups should put on a bit of weight; one that is not may be a "poor doer" and could need veterinary care.

Special thanks to two breeders,
Mrs Barbara Barganska (UK)
Mrs Nancy Moser (USA),
for the use of the photos
on this page.

Code of Ethics:

  1. The primary role of this code is to serve the welfare and interests of the Elkhound as a breed and individually. In any activity involving ownership, breeding, sale and exhibition of Elkhounds, members should act with this in mind. All members/owners in accepting membership undertake to adhere to its principles.
  2. The acquisition of an Elkhound is to assume responsibility for its welfare and behavior until its death or transfer to a new home.
  3. A breeder should only breed from Kennel Club registered Elkhounds which conform to the breed standard and are believed to be free from any hereditary defects e.g. Epilepsy, Progressive Retinal Atrophy and Glaucoma, and are mentally and physically sound and not suffering from acute nervousness or aggressive tendencies.
  4. All whelping should be acceptable to the Kennel Club and it is recommended that bitches do not whelp after the age of eight years. Bitches should not be expected to whelp under 2 years of age nor on consecutive seasons. It is further recommended that a bitch's first litter should be whelped prior to the age of 5 years. No bitch should be expected to produce more than four litters.
  5. Any puppy sold over the age of twelve weeks should be innoculated and ideally no puppy should leave the breeder under the age of seven weeks. It should be accompanied by a five generation certificate of pedigree, diet sheet, dates and details of worming and must be registered with the Kennel Club. All puppies sold should be insured for a minimum period of four weeks.
  6. Breeders should make use of Kennel Club endorsements whenever necessary and inform the prospective owner of the reasons for this action. Purchasers should be asked to sign signifying their acceptance of endorsements.
  7. No puppies or adult dogs should knowingly be sold to any retail or wholesale dealer, nor exported to countries where they are not protected by anti-cruelty laws. Ideally they should be sold directly to their new homes, every effort having been made to ascertain that the new owners have the facilities, time and commitment to correctly raise, train, exercise and are sympathetic to the Elkhound's special needs.
  8. Breeders should be responsible for stock they have bred and sold, and be prepared to take back or make provision for dogs of their breeding at their own expense wherever possible.
  9. Stud dog owners must satisfy themselves as to the suitability, breeding and condition of any bitch presented to them, also the conditions under which any resultant litter would be reared. If the owner of the bitch is not an member of the Club they should be made aware of the Club's Code of Ethics.
  10. Stud dog owners should be honest about possible problems in each breeding program and discerning about the use of their dog.
  11. No one should engage in false or misleading advertising or other falsification of their Elkhounds. They should exhibit good manners and sportsmanship at all times.
  12. No one should agree to be willing to participate in a program of improvement within the breed which will include completing breed survey questionnaires and should notify any defects thought to be hereditary immediately they are diagnosed in the Elkhounds they own.
  13. No one should being aware of any case of mistreatment of any Elkhound should report this to the appropriate authorities RNZSPCA / NZ Police and the Club Secretary of the NZCC in writing.
  14. Prior to being used for breeding all breeding stock must:-
    1. Hold a Hip Score certificate issued under the Kennel Club of New Zealand or Veterinary Association Hip Dysplasia Scheme.
    2. Hold a clear Eye Test certificate issued under the KC/BVA Scheme. The certificate to be dated no earlier than twelve months prior to mating.
    3. In order to provide the breed with as much information as possible it would be appreciated if members had their Elkhounds tested as above.

We, as a responsible owners, totally agree with the above statements: John & Jacque Nagle, 11th August 2002