Dealing with a dystocia, or difficult birth, can be heartbreaking for any breeder. The risk of losing your bitch and/or the puppies weighs heavily on you. Luckily most Belgians free whelp with ease.
Recently Dr Margaret Root Kustritz, DVM PhD, DACT of the University of Minnesota Veterinary College spoke about this topic at a continuing education meeting. Dystocias can be treated medically or surgically and as a breeder you need to be prepared for all possibilities.
A breeder often has a “heads up” that problems may occur. A singleton litter with one large puppy may simply have trouble fitting out the pelvic canal. Generally you know this ahead of time from ultrasounds or radiographs so yo can be prepared. Singletons can be born naturally so most Belgian breeders will watch extra carefully but attempt a natural birth. On the other end of the spectrum, a very large litter may also require some veterinary assistance. Your bitch could truly get exhausted with a litter of 10 or more pups. Again, many Belgian bitches deliver large litters with no problem, so most breeders will choose to watch and see how things go but be extra aware.
There are some obvious signs that your pregnant bitch should receive some veterinary attention. A bitch who has had any pelvic trauma or is currently acting ill herself should be seen. The trauma could have reduced the size of the pelvic inlet so that even normal size pups won’t fit. Illness in the bitch means that she may not have the strength to deliver a litter. If your bitch shows the typical dramatic pre partum temperature drop but no pups or labor occurs within 24 hours, it is best to have her evaluated.
There is a normal green discharge during canine births but that color discharge should not appear BEFORE any pups are born. If you see green but don’t have any puppies, you need to head to the clinic and expect a C-section may be required. If you notice a puppy trying to come out but obviously twisted around so he can’t, you need help. An experienced breeder may be able to shift the pup around but you risk damage to the puppy.
Once your bitch goes into first stage labor – acting restless, possibly pacing and panting – a puppy should appear within 12 hours. Generally once the first pup shows up, the rest will come within two hour intervals at the most. Most Belgian bitches are quite efficient and puppies come much faster than that. If your bitch is straining and no puppies are coming, she should be evaluated by your veterinarian.
Some general rules to follow: Have a late term radiograph taken so you have a solid idea of how many puppies to expect. Have your bitch in excellent shape both before you breed her and throughout her pregnancy. Moderate, sensible exercise and a proper diet are important. Know the breeding health and whelping history of the bitches behind your girl. If you have any doubts about how things are proceeding, call your veterinarian and be prepared for a trip to the clinic and a possible C-section.