WHELPING DIFFICULTIES IN THE CARDIGAN WELSH CORGI
by Karen Harbert
The Cardigan Corgi, with its long body and generous rib cage, looks like a breed that should whelp easily. Unfortunately, that isn't always the case. Caesarian section is common enough, and serious complications frequent enough to make this article worth writing.
My first vet believed that breeding a bitch obligated the breeder to be present throughout her whelping, up to and including surgery (and anyway, he could always use an extra set of hands). Although that first experience left me a little queasy, I'm thankful for his training. These days I'm good at reviving drugged puppies, I know my way around the shelves in the surgery to fetch more supplies, I can scrub and help with a badly stuck puppy, and I've occasionally been called to help out with someone else's Caesarian. In short, I have the dubious honor of being one of the breed's experts on bad whelpings.
An important factor in any whelping is to have a good relationship with your vet. Some special problems may arise in connection with surgery; when you discuss these, your vet should not feel you are trying to tell him or her how to do the job. Always keep your vet informed of the progress of the whelping. A good many of us are trusted with the home phone numbers of our vets; I check in daily with mine during the last few days to keep her informed of the bitch's temperature, behavior and any other indications of how soon I expect activity.
Equally important is that you know your bitch, and whenever possible, her mother. Most bitches will mirror the whelping behavior of their dams.
When is she due? Charlie Maclnnes and I have this argument occasionally: he'll tell me a bitch whelps two days early; I'll tell him she whelps on time, for her. I remember a frantic call one holiday season from the buyer of one of my bitches: the bitch was in whelp; her temperature had gone down, she was tearing up papers, and her owner said she was several days early. I asked how many days it had been since the mating; she replied that the bitch wasn't due for four more days. I repeated my question and got an answer: fifty-nine days. "She's not early," I said, "her mother whelped every litter on the fifty-ninth day from the first breeding." A lovely litter was born that night. Sixty-three days is the average for the entire species, Chihuahua through Great Dane. We all know how unpredictable births can be in our own species; why should we expect clockwork precision from our best friends?
What's normal? Any whelping that results in a live litter with a minimum of human intervention and a duration of two hours or less per puppy. Generally speaking, the bitch's temperature should drop from its normal range of 100 - 101 degrees F. (37.8 38.3 C.), to somewhere in the 97 - 98 degree F. (36.1 36.7 C.) range approximately 12 hours before the onset of labor. Once labor starts, a puppy should be delivered every two hours or less until whelping is finished.
What isn't? A bitch in labor for more than two hours without producing a pup may be in
trouble. This is when you should be ready to phone your vet because after three hours of labor with nothing to show for it, you may be sure there is a problem. Your call to the vet after two hours of unproductive labor allows time for you to meet at the clinic before the bitch has worn herself out straining with a badly presented puppy. At that point the vet can determine how the puppy is presented and whether or not it can be delivered naturally. This timetable applies to each and every puppy throughout the whelping process. Sometimes a simple oxytocin injection is enough to get things moving. There's always the possibility that the reluctant puppy will be born on the floor just as you dash through the vet's door. If so, don't be embarrassed, you'll get the bill anyway. Seriously, you'll be surprised how dependable your instincts prove to be; by the time you phone the vet, you'll be very certain you need his or her services and chances are you'll be right. I once spent a night with a co-owner while our matron bitch tried unsuccessfully to deliver the first puppy. Out of courtesy we called her vet first. His answer to us at 6:30 a.m. was "Ladies, just be patient and let Nature take its course. These things take time." Courtesy satisfied, I immediately phoned my own vet who listened to my description of the placement of the head and the elapsed time, and said, "Bring her in." He agreed with me that the puppy's head was tucked under a front leg and that no amount of letting "Nature take its course" would result in a live litter. That Caesarian resulted in the survival of all seven puppies, one of whom became an American, Canadian, Mexican Champion AND CD.
What can I do? You may actually be able to deliver a badly presented puppy if you can get a grip on its head and turn it or help pull it in time with her contractions. If you do, scrub well with disinfectant soap or better yet, don sterile gloves; when you assist under these circumstances, you may become a source of infection. If you must help to this extent, monitor her temperature carefully throughout the first week and be sure to tell your vet what you had to do. An infection may be expected and it's best to catch it immediately. Today's antibiotics can often be administered to a nursing bitch with no ill effects to her puppies. Generally speaking, a difficult whelping is the result of a single puppy being presented poorly. Sometimes, with luck, you or the vet can straighten that puppy out. When all else fails, surgery is indicated.
When all else fails. A Caesarian is necessary to save the life of the bitch and some or all of her litter. Never forget that this is major abdominal surgery and can be life-threatening in spite of the fact that many breeders, and even human parents, schedule Caesarians for the convenience of everyone from the doctor to the golf course caddy. There are two things to discuss with your vet before a Caesarian is performed:
1. This is the most important thing I have to tell you. Something in Cardigan
metabolism occasionally makes short work of absorbable sutures that should normally last 10 to 12 days. When this happens, your bitch dissolves or absorbs her sutures with the result that she comes undone. If this is going to happen, it will probably happen within approximately 72 hours following surgery. Some outstanding brood bitches have died. I ask my vet to use suture material that will not dissolve. This is even sometimes a problem with a routine spay; whenever a Cardigan bitch has abdominal surgery I urge you to discuss this problem with your vet and when possible, use non-absorbable sutures. If possible, try to have someone home with her for the first three days following surgery. Should you notice any sign of suture failure, wrap a towel around her abdomen, pin it tightly and get her to a vet IMMEDIATELY.
2. Cardigans are at some risk of overdose when an anesthesia is administered, probably
because the dosage is usually calculated according to the weight of the dog. The heavy bone in this breed leads to a higher than average ratio of bone to soft tissue, and soft tissue is what absorbs the anesthesia. Again, your vet should be alerted to this possibility before surgery.
The following is a description of a typical Caesarian birth: Your vet may first administer a shot of a morphine derivative to make her vomit; this is to prevent her doing so under anesthesia and risking aspiration pneumonia. You will, no doubt, be asked to hold the basin. Next, your bitch will be anesthetized, then spread-eagled on the operating table, her feet tied to the four corners. She will be shaved and her mid-line washed with disinfectant. The first incision, through skin and muscle tissue, sounds like a rusty zipper. Had enough? Maybe dog breeding isn't for you after all.
The vet will clamp off blood vessels and carve through all the layers of muscle and tissue until the puppies are reached. Now you will be handed puppies in quick succession, your job is to get them cleaned up and breathing. This is why you did the breeding in the first place, right? And the vet bill is going to be worth pick puppy. Caesarian puppies may not start breathing on their own. A CPR (Cardio-Pulmonary Resuscitation) class that covers CPR for infants will teach you the technique to help jump-start them.
Be prepared: "I hope you're not reading this article on the way to the vet for a late night Caesarian because there are a few things you should do in preparation. Take along a box for the puppies, with a heating pad inside and a towel to cover it. As every puppy is safely delivered you can pop it into the warm box; a brief boost to HIGH before you drive back home should keep the puppies warm until you get them back into your own whelping box. Take several full-sized dog towels; Mama will probably need and get a bath as soon as she's off the table and that's sure to be the week all of the clinic's dog towels went to the laundry.
The first night: Did anyone tell you that Caesarian puppies scream bloody murder all night long? I knew they did, but not why, until my experiences in child abuse work with drug-addicted newborns. The babies/puppies absorb whatever drugs go into Mama's system, in this case, the anesthesia. As they cry and fuss through the night, they are suffering the pains of withdrawal. You can sit up with the puppies and try to soothe them, or go to bed as far away as possible and shut all the doors; I've tried it both ways. If you stay up you can try to quiet them by rubbing and stimulating them, which may help, but only a little. If you go to bed you'll always wonder if the puppy dead in the morning died because Mama rolled on it, and if you could have saved it by staying awake. Consider Murphy's Law; if you stayed up but dozed off for half an hour, that's when you'll lose the puppy. Do what seems best to you.
The first few days: I repeat, try to have someone home with the bitch during the first three days following surgery to check the incision frequently. Check her temperature daily as well. Some elevation is normal, especially if she is sharing the heating pad with the puppies, but any rise over 102 F. (38.9 C.) should be discussed with the vet. At the end of the first week, if the puppies have doubled their birth weight and Mama's temperature and behavior are normal, you may relax your vigilance.
My own rule is that a bitch will not be bred again after a second Caesarian; in twenty years of breeding, with a Caesarian as my first whelping experience, I've only once had a bitch repeat a Caesarian. Generally speaking, the source of the problem is a single puppy presented just a little wrong. So one Caesarian does not necessarily mean there will be another.
Other problems: Eclampsia is caused by a deficiency in the bitch's calcium level. Nursing and milk production are normal activities and normally the body is able to adapt to the increased demands. When it does not, it is a functional problem and a medical emergency, not something that can be cleared up with dietary calcium. Luckily, this is one problem I've never experienced. All books on the subject of whelping cover the symptoms and treatment of this condition. Symptoms range from restlessness to collapse and convulsions.
Mastitis in an inflammation of the mammary glands caused by the production of milk that is not removed from the breast. The milk duct may be clogged, but this usually results from a small litter with enough milk so that one or more duct is neglected. A bitch that prefers to lay on only one side while nursing may contribute to the problem. The symptoms are easy; the breast appears swollen and is hot and hard to the touch. You can usually handle this one at home by applying hot compresses and gently milking the breast until milk flows freely again. It may take some time at first since the stale milk has probably formed a plug blocking the flow. You may have to keep up milking her for a few days as the stale milk will also be sour and unappealing to the puppies. Strangely enough, it doesn't seem to bother the cats. If you have to do this for a few days you might practice shooting a stream at the cat. With practice you should be able to hit the cat's mouth from three feet away, and it helps relieve the boredom of milking the dog for half an hour.
And on that low note I'll end, and hope that this article is as close as you ever come to experiencing these problems.
Published in the CWCCA 1992 Handbook and reproduced with the kind permission of the author.