Factors influencing ease of whelping and its relationship with maternal behaviour and puppy perinatal mortality in commercially bred dogs

Uri Baqueiro-Espinosa*, Victoria McEvoy, Gareth Arnott

*Corresponding author for this work

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Abstract: For dog breeders, parturition is a critical stage in the reproductive cycle of the dam. Evidence in other mammals suggests that a difficult labour can influence maternal behaviour and offspring viability during the first hours postpartum. However, the effect of whelping difficulty on the onset of maternal behaviour has not yet been investigated in domestic dogs. Here we developed an ease of whelping (EoW) index in dams maintained within a Commercial dog Breeding Establishment (CBE) environment and investigated the relationship between intrinsic and extrinsic factors (breed group according to size/weight, litter size, parity, whelping season and origin of the dam), EoW, early maternal behaviour and puppy perinatal mortality. The behaviour of 30 dams was observed throughout the whelping process, starting 24 h before delivery of the first puppy until birth of the last puppy. Parturition duration, birth interval, and behaviours indicative of distress, restlessness, and general activity were scored and included in a Principal Component Analysis to construct the EoW index. Subsequently, mother–pup interactions and puppy perinatal mortality were recorded during the first 24 and 72 h postpartum respectively. Results showed that EoW was significantly affected by whelping season, litter size and origin of the dam (whether she was born and raised within the CBE or brought in). Furthermore, mothers that experienced more difficult parturitions (higher EoW score) spent more time lying in contact with their puppies during the first 24 h postpartum. Time in contact with puppies was also significantly affected by breed group. Nursing duration was significantly affected by breed group and origin of the dam. Additionally, medium-size breed (10–20 kg) puppies were significantly less likely to experience perinatal mortality than large breeds (> 20 kg). These findings are particularly relevant for the welfare of breeding dams maintained in large-scale CBEs where the staff-to-dog ratio might be insufficient to adequately manage multiple simultaneous parturitions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)6680
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
Early online date23 Apr 2022
Publication statusEarly online date - 23 Apr 2022


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  • /631/601/18
  • /631/601/1737
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