Preparing for your Labrador bitch's labor is critical. Keep track of your dog's breeding date. After about 35 days of pregnancy, the mother's food intake will increase. She will require twice as much food as normal, increasing to three times as much when she begins nursing. The best Labrador nutritional plan is to buy an approved dry food and feed according to the package. These foods are balanced and require no supplementation. They have the extra calories needed by the pregnant or nursing mother. Do not use calcium as this can cause metabolic imbalances, and excess vitamins may be harmful to the Labrador puppies. Exercise of the pregnant bitch need not be restricted until after the first 4-6 weeks of pregnancy.
At about the 45th day of her pregnancy, your lab mother should be examined by a vet. As well as assessing her overall health, your vet can x-ray your Labroador to ascertain how many puppies she is expecting. Earlier in the pregnancy, ultrasound can be used to confirm pregnancy and, after 25 days, the embryonic heart may be seen beating.
The gestation period of the Labrador bitch is considered to be 63 days.
Two weeks before your labrador’s due date, begin to take her temperature. Lubricate a rectal thermometer with margarine or KY jelly and insert it about an inch. Leave it in place for three minutes. Your Labrador's temperature should be between 101 and 102.5 Fahrenheit. When the pet’s temperature drops below 100F the bitch should deliver the pups in less than twenty-four hours.
Stage One of Labor
During the first stage of labour the cervix dilates and uterine contractions begin. Contractions are not as easy to see as in humans but can nevertheless be very painful and distressing to the Labrador bitch. She may appear uncomfortable, restless, pacing, shivering and panting. The mother lab will probably not eat, she may even vomit and whine persistently. She may occupy herself building a nest. This is the longest stage of labour, generally lasting six to eighteen hours. During this period, keep the mother’s environment quiet and calm, possibly shutting her off in a darkened area such as the bathroom. By the end of this period her cervix will have completely dilated so that the puppies can pass..
Stage Two of Labor
During the second stage of labour, contractions continue. The placental water sacks breaks and fluid is passed. Placentas are expelled after each puppy during labour. Pups usually appear approx every half-hour after thirty minutes of straining. The bitch will lick the puppy clean and bite the umbilical cord. It is during this time that the mother bonds with her puppies and recognises them as her own. The licking of the bitch stimulates the puppies to breathe. The mother lab will eat the afterbirth. If the bitch does not tear away the sac and lick the pups, you should tear the sac open, clear all fluid away from the pup's nose and mouth, and vigorously rub the pup to stimulate breathing. The mother will take rests during labour and up to four hours can pass between puppies. If more than four hours pass without a puppy or the mother strains forcefully for over an hour without producing another pup, immediately take the bitch to a veterinary hospital. It is not abnormal for puppies to be born rear feet first. If you see the rear legs of a puppy protruding from the lab’s vagina you can assist the mother by gently pulling the puppy in a downward and rearward arcing motion. You must do this very gently because puppies are fragile and easily hurt.
Stage Three of Labor
The third stage of labour is a very indistinct period for Labradors. Once all the puppies have been born, the bitch enters this third stage during which time the uterus expels the remaining placenta, blood and fluid.
New Born Puppies & Colostrum
Colostrum is the first milk produced by the mother shortly after giving birth. It is rich in antibodies which will protect the puppies for the first few months of life. Colostrum is only produced for two days and the puppy is only able to absorb its antibodies for a day or two. If their bitch did not nurse during the first 2 days of life, the puppies have a serious immunological disadvantage. Great care should be taken in cleanliness and the puppies can be vaccinated as early as 2 weeks old depending on their circumstances.
Set up a comfortable whelping area for raising the puppies. The Labrador bitch should be able to come and go as she likes while the puppies remain confined. The mother dog should be isolated from all other dogs for three weeks prior to labour and 3 weeks after delivery to prevent infection. Herpes is spread by sniffing and licking between dogs. Adult Labradors rarely have any symptoms but the new or unborn puppies will die.
Infant Labrador puppies are unable to take care of these matters. Normally the mother / bitch does the job as she washes them. If necessary, use a cotton swab, tissue, or your finger to gently rub the baby's genital area. Have a tissue ready to catch the urine. Rubbing the anal area may also be necessary if the babies do not seem to be defecating as much as expected. Watch for diarrhea. Normally the puppy stool is very loose but should not be watery. It is normal for puppies to have very round bellies, however if you think the baby might be constipated, taking the temperature rectally with a normal rectal thermometer usually provides enough extra stimulation to get things back to normal.
Starting Solid Food
When the puppies start biting and chewing they may be ready to start on some solids. At first it may be necessary to mix solid food with a little formula and to smear a little around their mouths gently with your finger. Between 4 and 6 weeks, the pups will begin readily accepting solid food.