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Canine Trauma

The use of Oxytocin during the Whelping of a litter

by Fred Lanting

First, let me say that at this time, I am an infrequent breeder of working GSDs, having had 8 litters in the past 10 years. Every time I get ready to whelp a litter, I have the same discussion with my vet: Where do you stand on giving me a prescription for Oxytocin. My conservative vet explains that if Oxytocin is administered without an x-ray, you could damage the dam's uterise or, if a pup is in the wrong position, damage or kill what would be a normal, healthy pup.

Invariably, during the final hours of whelping, the last pup is taking much too long coming out. One or 2 hours pass and I finally rush to the vet or the emergency clinic, get the x-ray and have the oxytocin administered. The pup comes out within minutes. If I've waited too long, it's dead. I sometimes loose 1-2 pups in a litter to suffication. If I had administered Oxytocin at the right time, they could probably have been saved.

My bitch, Cora, is due any day now and I'd appreciate your thoughts/advice. So, what's your experience and/or recommendation? Do you administer during the whelping process without x-rays? Have you had positive or negative experiences? Thanks!

I have been fortunate enough to find a couple of vets who, after getting to know me as having a clue, have given me the oxytocin. I had one here who would not, so I found a new one.

I do understand vets who are concerned about liability if something were to go wrong. I also understand those who want to make more $$ by having a dam in whelp rushed in to the office for procedures that many times aren't needed. I think we have to give them time to get to know and trust us. If they can't or won't, in my opinion time to find a new vet....plenty of good vets out there understand this is a common and most often safe practice.

I've always had oxy on hand but have only used it with 2 litters. My last litter was 12 pups and my bitch still took her sweet time having them. 3-4 hours between pups can make you quite nervous but as long as there is no prolonged contractions or pushing, no problem. There were a couple of pups that were breech and therefore a little troublesome, but I was able to guide them out and only used oxytocin at the end of labor, as a 'just-in-case, clean-out type shot'.

Still, I feel much more comfortable knowing it's here if I need it in a pinch.

I only used it once and I would not use it again , the female had the pups quickly yes but she was bleeding much much more with that litter then any other , however I did have a still born in that litter also, your vet is right if the oxytosin is administred at the wrong time you could do more damage then good . Uterus can rupture doing the wrong thing. Many breeders however use it , if I needed to use it again I rather have my vet make this decision then me . I rather loose a pup then hurt my Girls.It is not unussual for pups to be born hours apart from each other once my female Eva had a healthy male pup 24 hours after the first sibling was born !!! As long as the female is compftorable not straining or stressed I would not worry. Waiting only one or two hours is not enough , most bitches rest in between contractions and actual birth, a little walk around the yard may speed things up a bit .Everyone of my females are different one has them like a gum ball machine ,the other takes her time and one actually sleeps between contractions :)) Pups only suffercate or drown in their own fluids when already in the birth canal , as long as they are in the tubes they fine :))

I always keep oxytocin on hand. I usually pick up 3 or 4 individual shots from my vet a week or so before the litter is due, and keep them in the fridge. I don't always use them, but they are there just in case. In fact, I have not used oxytocin for the past 6 litters. I used it for the litter before that - there were 9 puppies, all very large over a pound each - the mom simply got tired! The oxytocin helped her for the last couple of pups. I have never had a problem with it, I don't use it unless I feel it is really necessary, especially if there is a pup "coming" and the female seems to not be trying very hard, if she is tired. I would not give more than three shots total, maybe 1/2 hour to an hour apart, if necessary. You would never start the labor with oxytocin, and remember that after the labor starts - they go
through "soft" contractions before ever getting to the "hard and real" contractions, this could take several hours before the first pup is born. Hold off on the drugs until she is tired from having a few, unless you are sure the first pup is in the birth canal and stuck. I have opted to reach up in there with a finger or two and try to pull the pup gently, before using  the drugs.

This has been my expeerience also if the dog is resting in between whelps we both take a nap;) My last 3 litters all different bitches however they are sisters (same litter) all had 1/2 their litter then slept between anywhere between 5 to 8 hrs then delivered the pups with no problem, no  stress. Sometimes with not much experience some may get over concerned from lack of experience and cause more problems than solve Oxy on hand just in case is my vote.

Good luck with your litter.

Sometimes, not always, an alternative approach works in "helping the whelping". I have seen and heard of many bad effects from oxytocin/Pitocin, and I know that many people greatly overdo it. Just like vets who over-prescribe or administer steroids and antibiotics. On the other end of the spectrum are the 100%-holistic extremists who will not use any "heroic" or "traditional 20th-Century" medicines at all, and thus deprive the bitch of much-needed help. There is a middle ground. Keeping the bitch in good physical condition (exercise) is not usually practiced, but it makes labor less laborious. If a bitch tires and does not continue strong contractions, try the physical stimulation approach before resorting to oxytocin: reach inside with index or middle finger (or both for more strength), hook them over toward the front, against the pubic bone, and PULL. This will usually stimulate strong enough contraction to get the bolus (puppy in the sac) moving, and further automatic contractions usually finish the job. Do this only after the first pup is born, or you have seen one "trying to get out". If your bitch is restless but is not delivering the next one, use this method.

By the way, I have also seen long rest periods between pups. One bitch I had delivered six puppies at night, and decided to go to sleep before midnight. Some seven or so hours later she woke me with grunts, and delivered the other six whelps. But generally, a couple-few hours between is not a propitious sign if accompanied by other indications of weariness or difficulty. It would be good to have one or two doses of oxytocin on hand just in case, but use restraint so you don't use it too early. Some other things to watch out for: a dead pup can interrupt whelping if it is in the middle or beginning of the sequence. This is because its movements near the end of the birth canal trigger contractions, similar to your fingers would. If it is the last, the shot of pitocin many use as a "clean-out" to get rid of any placentas left behind should get it out. If it is in the middle or elsewhere, it may mean that a Caesarean section will be necessary. If live pups behind the dead one are blocked from the exit and from the chance to stimulate the bitch, they can be lost due to cessation of oxygen-rich blood supply through their umbilical cords. A breech delivery or a pup being pushed out after the sac has broken might get hung up, with one foot sticking out, and the other (and maybe the head) caught behind the pubic bone. You might have to stick your fingers in her and move them in a circle to reposition the pup. once part of the body is coming out, you can use a cloth to grab all you can of it and gently pull while encouraging the dam. Don't pull the tail! It is very easy to dislocate that at this stage of ossification.

Fred Lanting

Ah yes, I've heard the term 'feathering' used by a vet after doing a transcervical A.I. on a bitch...supposed to stimulate uterus to contract and (hopefully) help the swimmers reach their destination. :)

In response to the discussion raised by Fred's mention of feathering: I grew up in a sporting dog kennel (well, not actually IN the kennel, at least not all of the time!) with field-trial Beagles and GS Pointers. Feathering was VERY commonly used back then (when Oxytocin was not), and was and is still very effective and safe, in the hands of someone skilled in doing it. I have used it on my own bitches and on almost all of those for whom I have been asked to act as midwife. Usually when I am asked to midwife a whelping it has been because there is already the appearance of some sort of difficulty, and usually feathering solves the problem. I do believe in the use of Oxytocin when necessary, but it is a last resort, as it usually produces a very, very powerful contraction, which is not alwasy the best thing for the dam or for the pup.

The author has had years of experience as a conformation judge for AKC, SV, UKC, and many other registries, and regularly trains his dogs in schutzhund, trying to live up to the title of his book "The Total German Shepherd Dog" (available from He consults as a behavioral analyst and training coach, and gives seminars on training, canine anatomy & gait, as well as orthopedic problems (he is the author of the book on HD). Lectures can be scheduled by contacting him at or phoning 256-498-3319.

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