A WATCHED BITCH NEVER WHELPS (or at least it seems that way)
by Vicki Sandage, DVM
All articles have been previously published in either the PWCPA Newsletter or Pembroke Welsh Corgis in America volumes. No article can be reprinted without express written permission of the author.
The time has come. You spent hours with friends and fellow breeders discussing & rediscussing the virtues and faults of every stud dog in the country. You sent your precious girl to the stud you finally decided on and entrusted her to the care of a fellow breeder (or just did it yourself with a boy at home). You spent 3-4 weeks with the same friends persistently asking "is she pregnant?". You may have even taken her down to the vet for palpation or radiographs just to be sure in the second month of pregnancy. You have told the boss you may have a "family emergency" coming up and you will be taking a few days off suddenly. And now, (oh my God!) she is going to have puppies. How do you get them out safely?
Of course, the first rule to getting puppies safely on the ground is to have a mature bitch at the prime of her life and in excellent condition. I feel that bitches should have their first litter between 1 1/2 and 3 years of age. Every single season the uterus is bombarded with progesterone (even if she has not been bred) and this ages the bitches uterus. It should be noted, therefore, that the uterus of a bitch that comes in frequently is going to age more rapidly than a bitch the has longer intervals. The more aged the uterus the more difficult it is to begin and maintain a pregnancy. Waiting until the bitch is 5 years old increases the risks of not getting a litter safely on the ground. If a bitch has had no problems in whelping, most corgi bitches can safely have a litter up through the age of 7. Reproductive performance generally declines and the incidence of pyometra rises after the age of 6 years. Of course, you have already taken this into consideration in addition to having her in good weight and health.
It behooves us to begin with a bitch at good weight and maintain her neither too thin nor too fat. The puppies make few demands before 5 weeks of pregnancy. At this time, I have my bitches on a good brand of puppy food (I happen to use Eukanuba Puppy). Many bitches will go off their food sometime during this period and may even show some vomiting. For those that reduce their eating, I do nothing if the duration is less than a week and the bitch is obviously healthy. If this finicky eating goes beyond a week, I may offer some canned puppy food to encourage eating, realizing as I do so that I may have to suffer through finicky eating through the time the puppies are weaned. For those bitches that seem to have some vomiting during this period (and again are obviously healthy otherwise) I have found that feeding them twice daily or free choice seems to take care of it. I do not give them anything for the vomiting as it is usually mild and transient, and I wish to avoid any unnecessary drugs in my pregnant bitches. Between 5-8 weeks of pregnancy, there should be a gradual and slight increase in food consumption. If you are not already feeding twice daily meals or free choice you may want to begin now. Expect her to get a little finicky at times but don't go to any lengths to get her to eat more than she wants. At 8 weeks, the puppies are growing at their fastest rate and mom has a uterus occupying most of her abdomen with little room for a full stomach. At this point I am usually leaving out dry food for her to eat free choice in addition to offering her canned food twice daily. Or you can make her fancy wet meals 2-3 times a day. Whatever "recipe" you wish to use try to stick to well balanced ingredients. The most common thing I add as an enticement is Esbilac or Ensure Plus (a human liquid supplement). I will also try liver, steak, cottage cheese, pasta, baby foods, and sundry canned cat /dog foods but usually reserve these for after whelping when I will take more extreme measures to get a bitch to eat. I don't force feed a pregnant bitch- that is reserved for a last resort after whelping when everything else has failed. Since I use high quality puppy foods, I do not use any supplements. It is important to not supplement with calcium or high calcium foods before whelping as this may ironically encourage the development of hypocalcemia at the time of whelping. Thyroid supplementation may be beneficial in pregnancy if low or borderline thyroid values have been seen in the bitch; but this problem needs to be analyzed and the bitch begun on thyroxin before breeding. I have routinely put my bitches on amoxicillin 200mg every 12 hours two to three days before their due date. This is a very innocuous antibiotic. I do this because when I assist in whelping I tend to be invasive. I use sterile gloves, but if you really have to assist, you will invariably drag bacteria in with you. As a rule, in the pregnant bitch avoid drugs (except amoxicillin as stated above) and keep in mind she needs a little more food but with the same balance as before. The puppies WILL take what they need- just try to prevent extreme thinness in the bitch. Encouraging her to be fat will make fat puppies that are harder to get out and not help her push in the least.
As whelping approaches, the bitch should have a room of her own and be going out without the bother of playful dogs or kids. You may X-ray her at 8 weeks along if your are worried about a one puppy litter or just want an idea of how many puppies to expect. I don't find X-rays of value in determining if the puppies can be delivered naturally except in the case of one puppy. A one puppy litter would need to be scheduled as an elective c-section. Don't expect the count of puppies in a large litter to be accurate-many times you may have a few extra that just could not be visualized on a x-ray. Now, if you are planning on a full litter and hope she can free whelp them, then you need to plan your whelping strategy. You may wish to whelp her right in the whelping box or use the whole room where she is at so everyone can move around. Plastic and sheets/blankets can be placed over carpeting if the room you are doing this in is not blessed with hard flooring. In the whelping room, you will also need a phone, appropriate phone numbers, a scale for weighing puppies, sterile gloves, materials to attend to the umbilical cords, a chart for recording weights and the bitches temp, and lots of towels. I cover the floor and/or whelping box with blankets and towels. I will also make up a basket for holding puppies. I place a thick towel around a heating pad set on low in a basket or box. I also will put my indoor/outdoor thermometer in there with a washcloth over it to make sure the basket does not get too hot. (you don't want it over 95degrees.) This basket is useful for getting the puppies out of the way during active contractions (if it does not distract the bitch) or for holding puppies when you have to run mom to the vet. I also have Pedilyte and water in the room available to the bitch. Also important is the comfortable chair, futon or bed with novel, snacks and caffeine rich beverages handy for your long vigil.
The vigil begins about one week before she is due to whelp. I take a bitch's temperature 2-3 times daily and record the readings to get an indication of HER unique trend in temperature. Most bitches drop to a range between 100.0 and 100.9 the week before whelping. Some will tend to stay above 100.5 while others will dip to 99.7. Most bitches will drop at least a degree from their average prepartium temperature 12-36 hours before whelping. Usually a drop to 99.4 or lower is significant however, it is important to establish your bitch's trend as some can go down this low without whelping. If I have a bitch that is routinely between 99.6 and 100.2 that last week I probably would not consider her drop significant until it was below 99.0. On the other hand, a bitch that has been above 100.5 consistently, may whelp after a temperature drop to 99.6. The more you know your bitch, as well as her line, the better you can use temperature to predict whelping. Further, remember this is an abrupt drop. You may not be catching it at the peak low. If you think it is on the decline (i.e. you take it when you get up in the morning and it is a questionable 99.6 ), take it again in a few hours to see if there is further decline to a more significant temperature. If you have had a significant drop and the temperature begins to climb to normal non-pregnant levels (between 101 and 102) then whelping should be within 3-12 hours as this is just an expected effect of normalizing metabolism and the result of the trembling and restlessness that start before whelping. A somewhat questionable drop (say to 99.5) followed by a return to the temperature she has been all week, is probably not significant especially if she is showing no other signs of labor. Sometimes our bitch will go out for a run with the other dogs or guests come over and she gets excited- keep in mind that exercise or excitement may temporarily cause her temperature to go up above 101. Retake it in a few hours to see that it has come back down to a normal pregnancy level. Any temperature above 102 the week prior to whelping in a bitch that has been laying around (not up and excited about something) would be a cause for concern and may require a trip to your vet to evaluate. Occasionally, a bitch will have a sudden dip in temperature well before the expected whelping date. If no other indications of whelping are present, don't panic, just monitor her.
In addition to monitoring temperature, there are several other significant indicators of impending whelping. For a few weeks before whelping, you will be noticing a clear mucus discharge. This will get fairly heavy a few days before whelping but should never anything but clear, or slightly cloudy, mucus. Any other color or consistency is cause for concern. "Lumping up" will be noticed up to a week beforehand. This is where the abdomen periodically gets hard and "lumpy," not smooth and rounded as it normally is. (Think of a sack of large rocks-that is how a lumped up bitch feels) The frequency and intensity of this "lumping up" increases as whelping approaches. The larger the litter, the more dramatic this can be. Once the hour of whelping arrives, the bitch seems "lumped up" almost continuously. Restlessness and digging at bedding are vague indicators and can occur up to a week before whelping. Intense panting and a distant look to the eyes usually do not occur more than 24 hours before whelping- and often start closer to whelping than that. Most bitches will refuse food 12-24 hours before whelping; they often have a little diarrhea and straining the day they are going to whelp. A bitch that scarfs down her breakfast (and keeps it down) and has a normal bowel movement will probably not be whelping in the next 12 hours. I have found that this criteria and the absence of intense/frequent lumping up has helped me on some of my bitches who have had early, premature temperature drops. One needs to look at the whole picture and not be confused when one criteria is causing panic.
Panic can set in when our bitch is panting intensely, is looking distant/distracted, her belly feels like a sack of rocks, her temperature has dropped to the 98-99 or so range, she didn't eat this morning and now there is diarrhea in the whelping room. So far, a very normal presentation. This first stage labor can last 24 hours though usually is shorter particularly when you know what to expect (and are a little more comfortable defining first stage labor.) During first stage labor, the cervix is slowly dilating. In this stage, the bitch is restless and uncomfortable but does not have contractions. Mucus may pour from vagina but should never be anything but clear or slightly cloudy. The bitch will often urinate and may strain to defecate though both of these may occur with more frequency once contractions have begun. Any valvular discharge, other than a clear or slightly cloudy mucus, is a danger sign during this stage. I automatically do a C-section on a bitch with a green discharge (with or without black flecks) that occurs before any puppies are whelped. (Green discharge is normal after the first puppy is whelped). This color discharge, which often has black flecks, can occur up to several hours before whelping and indicates degeneration of one or more placentas. I have seen healthy litters whelped with it and also whole litters of weak or stillborn puppies. One degenerated placenta with one dead pup is not a threat to the rest of the litter, but unfortunately, it is nearly impossible to determine from the outside if just one or if all placentas are deteriorating. I feel the safest recourse is to c-section any bitch with a green discharge. A bloody discharge before whelping is a less common problem but may be a more serious one, indicating an infection or hemorrhagic disorder that needs veterinary attention. Any bitch that is extremely weak (can't stand), has unrelenting vomiting (some vomiting is normal), has severe abdominal pain (without labor), or is having severe tremors (to the point it looks almost like she is seizuring) needs immediate medical attention. Fortunately, most of our Corgi bitches will progress though this stage without complications. If everything seems to be progressing normally, I make a last minute check to be sure I have everything in the whelping room I need; then I settle down on my chair or bed (or floor) to wait.
Waiting takes on a life of its own as time goes by and we wait for our bitches to whelp. How long does one wait? Our presception of when whelping should be taking place is very often a much shorter time frame than what the bitch wants to proceed at. Sometimes progesterone testing back when she was bred will help us. The bitch should whelp 63 days from the day of ovulation, give or take 24 hours. Unless you have progesterone tested the bitch, you do not know when she ovulated; so whelping date from breeding dates can vary tremendously. If the bitch has had a litter before, you can count backwards and determine the date and day of heat she ovulated on the last time. This is helpful as most bitches ovulate the same period in their heat each time, however, some will vary making this less accurate. The progesterone test can be used the last week of pregnancy as well to help with determining whelping. Progesterone levels drop in the bitch 24-48 hours before whelping. (This is actually what causes the temperature drop.) The disadvantage is that the use of the test wells for this is not as well established- there is some variation between bitches. I think it is an important tool however, in 2 cases. The first is the case of the bitch that has a temp drop very early on- if her progesterone is still up you can probably relax. Also, it is useful in the case of the bitch we think is going past her true whelping date. This is a bitch that may not show any signs of impending labor but is beyond a reasonable whelping date- say is 63 days from her last breeding. Most of the time simply waiting if the bitch is otherwise doing well, will solve the problem. But if we are worried, we can run a progesterone test. If progesterone is still up- I would probably just be patient. If progesterone is really down, a c-section would probably be safe. For the bitch that shows no sign of even first stage labor, I would ideally test progesterone first. Or if I could not test progesterone right then, I would probably section a bitch if she was 65 days from the last breeding or 64 days from the day of ovulation (based on a progesterone test at the time of breeding.) Then there is the bitch whose temperature has dropped and seems to want to stay in first stage for the rest of her life. Again, patience will probably solve the problem. However, if a bitch was not to go into labor within 36 -48 hours after a definite temperature drop and was clearly in first stage labor (not eating, temors, lumping up frequently, etc.) then I probably would do a c-section. Be patient. Watch for normal progression of labor. Don't hesitate to ask for help if you think there is a problem but remember a bitch whelps at her pace not yours. Most bitches will eventually whelp.
Waiting for that first contraction, then that first puppy to appear, tests the patience and nerves of us all. Often the first contraction is a ripple over the bitches abdomen that one is not sure was a contraction or a twitch. Then it happens again 5-25 minutes later. The third one that follows is a little more serious- the bitch may moan. And so on the contractions progress over a 30 minute to 3 hour time span. They slowly become more frequent and intense. The allantoic sac appears as a fluid filled bubble at the lips of the vulva at some point in the early stages of labor. Let it be- don't pull on it. That won't help anything- it will break on its own in its own time. Its appearance usually indicates the start of serious labor. Usually within 15 to 60 minutes the bitch will have hard frequent contractions stimulated by the first puppy coming up into the pelvic canal. In hard labor the bitch will visibly strain and groan- she may stand up and strain as if defecating. Hard, frequent contractions should result in a puppy within 30 minutes. Puppies can be born either head first or breach- both are normal in the dog. However, it is important to keep in mind that a breach puppy has less time to linger in the pelvic canal. His umbilicus is cut off and his head is stuck in a bag of fluid, so he is in a little more urgent situation to get born once he has entered the bony pelvic canal. I don't hesitate to assist the bitch by pulling a puppy once I can reach it. Dry washcloths work well to help get a grip on the wet, slick puppy. Wrap the washcloth around the head, hips, or legs if that is all you can reach (you may need to slip the lips of the vulva back a bit) and pull the puppy down toward the hocks with continuous firm traction. Clean, dry bare hands also work well. Unfortunatly, gloves do not grip well though I still use them if I have to reach up into the pelvic canal. The maiden bitch is often quite painful with the first puppy -someone to hold her head if you have to pull would be a good idea. The next puppies follow at varying intervals. The bitch "works up" to hard contractions like she did for the first puppy but usually does not take as long. The contractions for the second puppy can begin normally anywhere from 5 minutes to 2 hours after the first puppy. A bitch that is quietly resting and not contracting is probably not a concern. Persistent labor without production of puppies is a concern.
I usually give my bitches 2 hours from the start of contractions to produce the first puppy. If a puppy has not been produced in that time, I will go up the bitch with a glove to determine the position of the puppy and see if I can help the bitch. If there is a puppy within the pelvic canal, then I help the bitch by massaging the roof of the vagina. I try to hook my fingers behind the puppy's head or hips as soon as I can reach then and assist the bitch by pulling the puppy out and down( toward the hocks). Once the puppy is within the pelvis, contractions should be strong and delivery imminent- usually within 10 minutes. If there is clearly a puppy at the pelvic brim (not in the pelvis yet) then I would not give the bitch more than one hour more. I am a little more patient if I do not feel a puppy at the brim, and the bitch is not in severe distress as this probably means the cervix is not completely dilated yet. Once puppies have been produced the bitch may take rest periods of up to three hours without concern. (I have had one of my bitches take a very leisurely, relaxed 5 hour break between puppies.) Once active, intermittent contractions have resumed, I would give her one hour to produce a puppy. If none have been produced, I would again feel the birth canal for the presence of a puppy and proceed as I mentioned earlier. The important point of recognizing normal versus abnormal is to realize labor is progressive. You may start with one contraction in 10 minutes than 3 contractions the next 10 minutes then 5 contractions in the next 5 minutes to hard contractions that produce a puppy. Intermittent contractions that really don't increase in frequency are a concern. If after 3 hours a bitch has not given you any puppies despite intermittent contractions, I would be likely to do a c-section. In a bitch that has gotten past the first puppy, I would probably only tolerate 1-2 hours of intermittent contractions. Likewise a bitch that has shown nice normal progression in labor than suddenly stops without getting into hard contractions again within 1-2 hours is a candidate for a c-section. A nap between puppies with no contractions can last and be normal up to several hours as long as the bitch is clearly unstressed and resumes normal progressive labor to produce a puppy. My decision to intervene medically or surgically is based on how early the trouble begins, what the bitch has done in the past, (or what her dam did), how easily whelping is occurring, and the possibility of a malpresentation.
When you have decided that trouble is occurring, the question arises whether to use obstetrics and oxytocin or surgery. I find only limited use for oxytocin in the Corgi. The more I use oxytocin, the less inclined I am to reach for it. Oxytocin will cause premature detachment which can lead to stillborn puppies. The main stress in a routine whelping is when the puppy is within the pelvic canal. Breech puppies, especially, need to be delivered quickly when present within the pelvic canal. (i.e. their hindend is hanging out the vulva) You can use oxytocin at this point but I prefer to stimulate contractions by feathering (messaging) the roof of the vagina with my fingers, ready to hook the hips or head. If the bitch is having intermittent contractions, the sac around the puppy is intact, and the puppy is not entering the pelvic canal, then the puppy is under little stress and can safely remain there for at least a few hours and probably a lot longer until delivered. One exception in which I will use oxytocin is to help deliver the last puppy in a large litter if mom is simply exhausted and needs help. I will also use a few doses of it the first day or two after whelping to help flush out the uterus. It is important to realize that nursing puppies will stimulate natural oxytocin release in the bitch - which is probably the best way to get it. (So, get those babies nursing between periods of hard labor). Usually, when a bitch is in trouble I am very quick to do a c-section. As I said above, a bitch who has not produced a puppy in 3 hours of contractions is a c-section. Or if the first or second puppy was a horrendous struggle, and the next one in line is not plunked out easily, I go for a section. I experienced too many times in earlier years, of sweating and straining to get four or five puppies out (with a few dead from the hard labor) only to have to do a section to get the last puppy out. That is ridiculous because now you are doing surgery on an exhausted bitch. Far better to do surgery on a fresh bitch with puppies unstressed from hard labor. I have found many times in the Corgi, if you are having trouble with the first half of the litter, you are often going to have to do a section for the latter half anyway. I would rather do a c-section on an unstressed bitch unnecessarily, than take the risk of having to do one on an exhausted bitch.
One condition that needs to be recognized, as it often needs a c-section, is a malpresentation. They come in all forms, and can be difficult to detect and correct. If a bitch is having problems with getting a puppy into the pelvic canal, go up her with a glove and feel that puppy. You will probably be able to feel the very foreparts with the tip of your finger. In a normal forward presentation, you should feel a head resting on the top of two limbs with the pads down. In a normal breech, you should feel a tail (pointed end) with two legs underneath with pads pointed up. If you reach in and do not feel this, it is safest to assume you have a malpresentation. Never use oxytocin when you have a malpresentation-you would run the risk of rupturing the uterus. You must correct the problem before you get the puppy out. First, try to decide which end is coming first. If you feel two legs with pads down, you probably have a head back. If you have only one leg, you may have a leg back or both a head and a leg back. In both cases, try to push this puppy back with one hand on the abdomen and with your finger inside the bitch, push back and try to slip you finger around the errant body part. It is difficult to correct a malpresentation. Do not waste more than 15 minutes in your attempt. If you can't do it or simply don't feel confident enough to try, it's time to go to the vet. Don't procrastinate- malpresentations rarely correct themselves. The good news is that bitch that have a c-section from a malpresentation often can free whelp the next time.
If we are anticipating problems with whelping, we can choose to do an elective c-section. As I stated before, a one puppy litter is a section. This is because the puppy is often large and a single puppy can not stimulate hard labor well. (The puppies play an active role in determining when they are whelped). For similar reasons, dead puppies do not stimulate labor well but usually we do not anticipate that as a problem ahead of time. Doing a c-section for an extremely large litter is also done though is probably less necessary. Large litters, though exhausting, can be often free whelped. Large size of the sire or small size of the bitch is not an indication for a c-section. Birth size is primarily determined by the bitch and is not related to her adult size. Uterine inertia and malpresentations have nothing to do with the size of the bitch and are probably the most common causes of dystocia (labor difficulties). Ironically, I have had more free-whelping Corgi bitches who weigh under 22 pounds than ones that were over 23 pounds. Except for a one puppy litter, the only other indication for an elective c-section on a maiden bitch would be the case where the bitch had pelvic fractures from a prior accident or some congenital problem that would prevent normal whelping. Most bitches who needed a c-section with a previous litter, will need one again. The exceptions to this would be a bitch that had a one puppy litter or clearly had a malpresentation requiring a c-section. I would probably allow a bitch that had had a c-section previously to go into labor, but would not give her as much time to get down to business as a bitch I expected to free whelp. I would defiantly not give oxytocin or go to any extreme measures to get her to free whelp- if she can not readily get a puppy out on her own- go with a c-section. It is certainly reasonable to plan an elective section on any bitch who has required a section for a previous litter. I would automatically plan an elective section on a bitch who had had two or more c-sections regardless of the cause both because the chance of her free whelping is remote and adhesions from previous surgeries could cause a problem with free whelping. A condition that can arise in free whelping is premature placental detachment. This is a problem where a bitch has free whelped but many of the puppies are stillborn or very weak and die soon after birth because their placentas released from the uterus too early in labor. If I suspect this has happened in a litter, I will plan on doing elective c-sections on that bitch from then on. It can be a hereditary problem in some bitches, so be suspicious of it if others in that line have had similar problems with weak or stillborn puppies. You can time elective c-sections a variety of ways. The best is by doing progesterone testing to determine the time of ovulation when she is in season. In this case, the section is scheduled 63 days from the day of ovulation. You do want to take her temperature just as in free whelping whether you have done progesterone testing or not. In most of my elective c-sections, I have waited until the bitches temperature has dropped. Once it is dropped, I would plan on the section as soon as the veterinary staff is at full capacity. For example, if it drops in the morning, I would take her in that day for the section; if it drops in the late evening, I would probably wait until the following morning to do the c-section so that the full staff is present at the hospital. Planning a c-section based on breeding dates alone would be very risky. In this case you would hope to have some indication from past breedings when she would whelp or wait until you believe she is going into labor. Neither would be ideal. Fortunately, most of the time in these cases, you will have decided on an elective c-section for the litter before she is bred and can do progesterone testing to help determine the timing for the c-section.
Whether a c-section is done as an emergency or elective procedure, you should have it planned out ahead of time. Be sure you have a good veterinarian that you trust that will be on call for you. They should have at least one experienced technician or assistant that will be on call with them. They should trust you enough to have you help revive puppies- there is no such thing as too many people to help with the puppies. I like to run a PCV and calcium on the bitches that come in for a c-section- I can run it quickly on in-house equipment though not all general practices will have that and this is not absolutly essential. Most bitches will have a slightly low calcium but a very low value (say of 4 or 5) will defiantly needed to be treated. Most bitches can be clipped and have a preliminary scrub before anesthetic; this reduces the time the bitch and puppies are under anesthetic. An intravenous catheter and fluids are essential. IV fluids will help maintain blood pressure and good flow of blood not only to heart, kidneys and brain but also to the uterus and placentas. This is important because whenever you put a patient under anesthetic, blood pressure drops and blood flow is reduced to non-vital areas like the uterus and mammary glands. This can compromise the puppies and does reduce milk production. By giving IV fluids, homeostasis is maintained and effects on the mammaries are reduced; you also have an IV line in place for shock rate fluids, blood and drugs if an emergency situation occurs. It is just plain good medicine- don't accept less. There are three routines that I feel are acceptable in anesthetizing the bitch for a c-section. The easiest on the puppies and the most troublesome on the staff is an epidural. I have not used this method myself as I really like my own results and the logistics of keeping the bitch on the table in a good position for surgery is not something I wish to worry about. However, it is a very reasonable alternative in the hands of a surgeon and staff that are accustomed to working with it. The other two methods involve using isoflurane gas anesthetic. The method I use involves no injectable drugs for anesthetic. We place a face mask on the bitch and mask her down with the gas until we can place an endotacheal tube. Isoflurane is an extremely safe anesthetic- it is very easy on the heart and both bitches and puppies wake up quickly since they only have to breathe to get rid of the gas. (They do not have to metabolize it.) The viability of the puppies should be equivalent to free whelping within minutes after removal from the uterus. In fact, most of the time I have puppies wiggly and crying (once I break the sack) as I pull them from the uterus- still attached by the umbilicus. I have to tear the ammoniac sacs off their faces usually before I can complete the puppy "extraction" by pulling the placenta out. I have had many bitches standing within 10 minutes of turning off the gas anesthetic. I am extremely happy with this method and I am very comfortable with doing c-sections because of my experience with it. The third method involves using an injectable drug to initiate anesthetic and intubate them to place them on isoflurane. Until recently, I have not liked this method unless I felt the puppies were all dead to start with; this is because an injectable is passed directly to the puppies and most injectable anesthetics need to be metabolized and excreted, which newborns are not good at. However, 2 years ago, a new drug was developed called Propofol. Its duration of action is very short and I am told that the bitches and puppies seem to recover as quickly as when they are masked down. I have not used this drug yet but at this point it sounds like a good alternative to masking down. Whichever method is used, be sure your veterinarian is comfortable with it and that he or she is experienced enough to the job done quickly and safely.
Whether the puppies come by free whelping or c-section, they need immediate attention. My hands are on the puppy as soon as I can get a grip on it. Certainly, getting the puppy clear of the bitch and quickly clearing the sac, mucus and fluid from the head of the puppy is the first step to getting that puppy breathing. I do not worry about the placenta or umbilicus until the puppy is breathing, unless there is excessive bleeding from the umbilicus. I swing the puppy, head down, between my knees while rubbing vigorously along the chest. Be sure to support the head and neck when you swing; clear the fluid from the nose and mouth frequently. By now the healthy puppy should be crying. I usually check the puppies palate and weight at this time as well as check for any other obvious deformities. I will tie off the umbilical cord about 1/2" from the body of the puppy with cat gut suture (coat thread dipped in betadine, then air dried, works well too) and swab the umbilical stump with betadine. I then plug the puppy on to a nipple. Some will take it immediately, others take several minutes before they are up to nursing. If the newborn is pink but gaspy, I continue to rub the puppy down and swing occasionally to help clear mucus in the respiratory tract. Be sure the rubbing is vigorous, the head is pointed down at all times, and that you suction or dry any fluid from the nose and mouth as soon as it appears. If the puppy is born and has not started to breath within 30 seconds of you clearing the sack from the head, you may need to breath for him. Gently put your mouth over the puppy's nose and mouth. Be sure the puppy's head and neck are well extended. You will be blowing air into the stomach as well as the lungs- be sure some is getting into the lungs by closely watching the chest for a rise and fall as in normal breathing. Blow just enough to slightly elevate the chest as in normal breathing. Repeat every 6-10 seconds, while still swinging and rubbing. (You can remove the excess air from the stomach with a feeding tube after the puppy is revived.) While you are starting into resuscitating this puppy, take a second and do a quick check for any obvious deformities, such a cleft palate, hydrocephaly, or evisceration; also check for a heart beat. If no heart beat can be felt, you may still wish to work on this puppy. Pinch the chest two times a second and give breathes six to ten times a minute for full CPR. While you obviously are not going to revive a dead puppy, you may bring back one with a very slow heart beat you could not feel. If you can find a heart beat, but it is very slow (120 beats per minute) and weak, be vigorous in rubbing and swinging and don't stop breathing until the puppy is breathing on its own. If you have an excellent vet clinic close you can try to get the puppy there, though unless you have a lot of help, it may be better to stay with the bitch and puppies rather than take off on the off chance of saving a poor doer. If you have Dopram and/or atropine on hand and are familiar with using them, you can give them to assist with respiration and heart rate. If you find your bitch has several normal appearing but stillborn or extremely weak puppies in a litter she may have a problem with premature placental detachment. While certainly many stillbirths may be the result of congenital defects or infectious diseases, I feel that most arise from the placenta detaching too early. While oxytocin use can certainly cause this, there are probably inherent or hormonal causes as well. To determine how to prevent it, you must decide what could have caused it. Autopsy of stillborns may or may not yield results but should be done. Avoid the use of oxytocin, especially early in labor. If the bitch has a history of a large number of stillbirths and weak puppies, check her thyroid levels, and if normal consider an elective c-section next time.
Corgis do seem to have more than their fair share of whelping problems. Probably most dystocia is due to malpresentations and uterine inertia. We also seem to have subjectively a fairly high mortality rate in both our bitches associated with whelping, and our neonatal puppies. Whether this is due to poor will to live or some other genetic factor is not known. When working with your veterinarian, make sure they respect this tendency in the Corgi. Don't worry, all watched bitches will eventually whelp- one way or the other- and getting those puppies out safely will hopefully be well worth the wait.
**I recommend "Canine Reproduction" by Phyllis Holst as an excellent book on reproduction, whelping and raising puppies.