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Options for whelping include natural whelping or a planned C-section. Litter survival rates are generally higher with properly timed Cesarean sections (C-sections) which is why many clients who are concerned about breed whelping risks or potential puppy losses (for example a very special frozen semen pregnancy) may elect to schedule an elective C-section. C-sections are usually scheduled for 57 days from the onset of diestrus or 63 days from ovulation (the time progesterone reaches ~ 5 ng/ml). Diestrus can be determined from the vaginal cytology and ovulation day is determined from progesterone +/- LH testing. It is very import to perform pre-breeding ovulation timing if you are even considering the potential for an elective C-section for your bitch. Because the normal bitch may stand for breeding for a wide window of time around ovulation, if ovulation timing was not performed, determining the best date for an elective C-section is more difficult in order to prevent delivery of premature puppies.
If natural whelping is planned, the radiograph just prior to her expected whelping date allows evaluation of the estimated size of the puppies as well as expected number of puppies. The radiograph is not harmful to the developing pups when performed in the last week of pregnancy. In the last trimester of pregnancy, x-ray has been reported to be 100% accurate for pregnancy diagnosis. X-ray is not as accurate an indicator of fetal viability as is ultrasonography, and so these two diagnostic tests may be combined based on the recommendation of a member of our reproductive staff. Late gestation x-ray is the most accurate modality for assessment of puppy number or expected litter size, with a reported accuracy of 93%. Degree of mineralization of the puppies can be also used to assess gestational age and roughly predict whelping date, although gestational aging is more accurate with ultrasound. In addition, x-ray can assist with determination of obvious fetal-maternal disproportion which may increase the risk for difficult birth (dystocia) and assist with the decision to pursue and elective C- section.
Dystocia or difficult birth should be identified as early as possible as early intervention is the key to minimizing puppy losses and maintaining the health of the bitch. It is important to call with any questions or concerns. Some evidence of a problems include but are not limited to the bitch going for more than 2 hours between puppies delivered without producing a pup, strong straining on the part of the bitch for 20 minutes without producing a pup, or development of a black or green vulvar discharge before any pups are produced as this discharge indicates placental detachment. Call and bring your bitch in to be evaluated immediately by a member of our professional staff if you suspect your bitch is experiencing dystocia. It is very important to call with any questions or concerns, as often something that may seem minor could be a symptom of a more serious concern. We strongly recommend that you call our reproductive team with daily status updates as your bitch approaches her planned due date and when she begins labor. After-hours, if an emergency develops that can not wait, please call the emergency clinic.