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Your Bitch Delivered - What New Problems can occur!

The bitch, having given birth to her litter, usually is in fine health. However, from time to time, larger and lesser complications could arise.

Milk fever

This ailment has some other names: Hypocalcaemia or Eclampsia or Puerperal Tetany. Every academic discipline has its own very special and specialized vocabulary and phraseology. We vets are no exception.

We can play erudite too - as in "Your canine companion is suffering from a disequilibrium of the endocrinological metabolism emanating from super-foetation and exhibiting itself in puerperal neuromuscular tetanic paresis and ataxia." Well, all of that just means that the bitch might have had too many puppies which are sucking her dry and creating a calcium deficiency which results in cramps. In fact, that is what 'milk fever' is.

The symptoms of milk fever are:

i) Restlessness

ii) Excessive panting

iii) Excitable behaviour

iv) Trembling/muscular spasms

v) Convulsive seizures (legs 'paddling')

vi) Increased saliva production

vii) Lateral recumbency (animal lying, almost comatose, on its side)

One encounters this ailment more often in small dogs with large litters. But we also see the problems in larger dogs (Dobermans, German Shepherds, etc). It occurs usually within the first week of the birth of the pups. Further, let me tell you that the progress of this ailment is rapid. Within hours of the bitch showing the first set of symptoms, she keels over onto her side and begins to 'paddle' with her legs.

As an aside, I should mention that often the muscle spasms of the face/head muscles cause the skin on the bitch's forehead to contract into a frown and the skin of the face to be pulled back to create a 'smiling' effect. Once you have seen this, you won't forget it.

Moreover, it is highly likely that if milk fever occurs once, it will recur after the next pregnancy.Bitch Litter

For that reason one should preventatively begin to offer the animal calcium, phosphorus and cod liver oil (under veterinary advice) during the last weeks of pregnancy.

The first thing to do, if the bitch is showing the signs, is to remove the puppies immediately. (We will be dealing with the hand-rearing of newborn puppies shortly.) The second act is to procure professional help. This is an emergency! If you have calcium tablets, give her one quickly before she even goes to the vet, who will inject the calcium and phosphorus immediately into the bloodstream. If you wait too long, then the animal could die, even after veterinary intervention.

Inflammation of the uterus

This is an infection of the womb. This infection could be caused by:

i) Dead puppies in the womb

ii) The retention (in the womb) of pieces of the afterbirth (placenta)

iii) Any other contamination of the womb (eg dirty fingers/instruments which may be used when trying to extricate puppies from the vagina; a disease in the vagina, etc).

The signs of an infection in the womb could be:

i) Fever (ergo lethargy, loss of appetite, increased thirst, etc)

ii) The bitch refuses to suckle her puppies

iii) Thick bloody/greenish discharge occurring soon after the birth of the pups

iv) Sometimes vomiting and diarrhoea.

v) Again, your first act is to remove the puppies from the suckling (the milk could contain toxins from the infection which could make the puppies seriously ill). In any case, the ailing mother is as sick as a dog, and will hardly want to suckle her offspring.

Antibiotics (as prescribed by your vet) and other supportive therapy (reducing the fever, offering her nutritious liquids, keeping her warm and away from drafts, etc) will be indicated.

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