This section explains what afterbirths are and look like, whether they usually come with each pup and whether or not the bitch should be allowed to eat them.

An afterbirth or placenta is an organ unique to mammals that connects the developing baby to the uterus wall. The afterbirth supplies the developing puppy with maternal nutrients, and allows waste from the developing puppy to be disposed of via the maternal kidneys. This waste is encased in a sac around the developing pup which also acts as a cushion against injury during the mother's pregnancy and also during the birth process.

Note the afterbirth is often as big as the new born puppy! Some novice breeders have been known to mistake a puppy for an after birth, or even dissected the afterbirth looking for another puppy

Should the bitch eat the afterbirths?

No. I recommend the removal of all the afterbirths without allowing the bitch to eat them. However, if your bitch is very protective of her newborn pups, then better to leave her alone and let her eat the afterbirths than unduly upset her.

Bitch eating afterbirth.Bitch eating afterbirth.

Here are opposing thoughts about bitches eating afterbirths:

With a large number of say 8 - 12 pups, I do not believe a normal bitch's digestive system can cope. In my experience eating a number of the afterbirths can cause the bitch to have dreadful diarrhea which in turn, impinges on milk production by dehydrating the bitch. I therefore believe a warm light meal like freshly cooked chicken broth is better for the bitch than eating a number of afterbirths.

Bitch with the afterbirth removed.Bitch with the afterbirth removed.

On the other hand, some people believe afterbirths have some nutritional and/or hormonal advantages. I have yet to see any scientifically proven evidence of this. I believe a bitch only eats afterbirths to keep her whelping area clean so the rotting afterbirths do not attract predators. This natural instinct dates back thousands of years to the days when dogs were wild animals which gave birth in dens.

Most bitches are happy for their respected owner to take the afterbirth away and present her immediately with a clean puppy. However if the bitch is obviously getting upset that you are interfering in an effort to grab the afterbirth, better to allow her to eat one rather than boss her around. It is important that the bitch is as relaxed as possible throughout the birth, and feels she is in charge. Most bitches are able to cope with eating a small amount of foetal matter.

Are all pups born with the afterbirths attached?

No, it is quite common for the pup to be born first and the afterbirth to follow later, already separated from the pup. This is usually expelled at a later date. This is why attendance by a veterinarian after the whelping is concluded is most important, especially in the case of one or more retained afterbirths. The usual procedure is for veterinary surgeons to administer an oxytocin injection. This causes the bitch's uterus to contract, so expelling the detached after birth.

Use of Clamps

Afterbirth ClampedAfterbirth Clamped

Opinions vary as whether or not to use clamps (forceps) to close off the umbilical cord during the birth process. Some people believe using a clamp stops any excess blood escaping from the pup and/or stops the afterbirth from retracting into the bitch.

Forceps on cord.Forceps on cord.

I do not believe these arguments are creditable.

This is because

Bitch sealing off cord.Bitch sealing off cord.

* 1. Within the cord there is a 'spring' which naturally closes off the blood supply during the birth process.

* 2. If placed on too soon, the presence of forceps can disrupt the natural instinct of the mother to chew the cord.

* 3. Large forceps dragging on small pups arguably can cause umbilical hernias.

In reality a bitch will instinctively pass the cord through her front teeth, breaking the blood supply by a completely natural process.

References and Further Reading

The raising of a litter of puppies from 3 days before the bitch is due to whelp up until the point of sale is clearly explained in our DVD 'HOW TO RAISE A LITTER OF PUPPIES'. It is hoped that these discussions will assist in consideration of some of the more contentious issues surrounding the correct handling of the most important and vital process surrounding the marvellous experience of a bitch giving birth naturally.