When your dog is pregnant, it’s an exciting time of preparation and anticipation! While there is a lot to think about, one of the most important is to be familiar with what you can expect with normal labor and delivery. Most dogs are capable of whelping on their own, but by learning to spot trouble early, you can ensure the safety of the mother and the puppies. Find out what to watch for and when to call the emergency service here at The COVE for help.

Preparation For Labor and Whelping

For dogs, “whelping” means giving birth. Full-term pregnancy for dogs averages about 63 days, but some variation is normal. We strongly recommend having your dog checked regularly by your primary care veterinarian throughout their pregnancy, including getting an abdominal radiology appointment at 55-58 days, to get a rough estimate on the number of puppies.

Ideally, you should set up a whelping area and introduce your dog to it well in advance of labor. Set up a whelping box in a quiet, warm, clean area, with sides low enough for the mother to get in and out, but high enough to keep puppies in.

One important note: Many bulldog and brachycephalic breeds, particularly English Bulldogs, Pugs, and French Bulldogs, are unable to deliver puppies naturally because the puppy’s head and shoulders are too large to fit through the birth canal. These breeds need veterinary intervention to safely give birth, generally in the form of a scheduled Caesarian section.

Stages of Labor in Dogs

Stage one: Before labor begins, the mother dog may become restless or anxious, and nesting behavior starts. She will likely not be interested in food starting about 24 hours before labor. A mother dog’s temperature will typically drop below 100 degrees Fahrenheit within 24 hours of whelping. By monitoring her temperature in the days before her due date, you may be able to tell when labor will begin.

Stage two: The second stage of labor is the hard labor stage, during which a puppy is born. Your dog will strain, and you may notice clear, red, or yellowish vaginal discharge. The first puppy should be delivered within 1-2 hours of the onset of contractions and straining. If labor is not progressing, call us – your dog may need assistance. Similarly, the mother dog should not act overly painful in this stage. Due to all the “happy hormones” her body is naturally producing, she should not  be “screamingly” painful during labor. If she is, call us immediately.

Stage three: Typically, after a puppy is delivered, the mother dog enters stage three labor, characterized by the delivery of a placenta. A placenta is most often delivered 5 to 15 minutes after a puppy. However, it is not uncommon for several puppies to be born, followed by several placentas. Keep track of the number of placentas, which should match the number of puppies. If a placenta remains in the uterus, it causes severe illness in the mother, which requires veterinary attention. It is sometimes difficult to tell if all the placentas have been delivered, since many dogs eat them as soon as they pass. If the mother develops bloody or odorous vaginal discharge 24 to 48 hours after birth, it may indicate a retained placenta. This condition can be an emergency, so contact our veterinary team immediately for guidance.

The mother dog will fluctuate between stage two and stage three labor until all the puppies are delivered. Some dogs rest in between puppies, even for up to several hours. If your dog has delivered a puppy but is not straining again within 4 hours, contact us for assistance.

Whelping Help For Pet Owners

Puppies may be born head and forelegs first, or tail and hindlegs first. A breech presentation is when puppies are born tail or bottom first with the hind legs pushed forward. A puppy stuck in the birth canal is an emergency. Call us right away if you see only a tail emerging. Additionally, if a mother produces a stillborn puppy, she should be evaluated. This can be indicative that her labor is not progressing appropriately.

A puppy will be born with a few contractions during a normal delivery, usually within 10 to 15 minutes. Puppies are born in a fluid-filled amniotic sac, and most often, the sac is broken as the puppy comes through the birth canal, freeing its nose and mouth for breathing. If the puppy is born in the sac, the mother dog should lick and chew the sac away so the puppy can breathe. She should also chew the umbilical cord away, separating the puppy from the placenta.

If the puppy is born in the sac or the membrane covers its nostrils and mouth, give the mother a minute to remove it. If she doesn’t, you should step in. Have a clean cloth or small towel ready and gently wipe the membrane away from the puppy’s mouth and nostrils. Next, rub the puppy’s body gently to stimulate breathing. The puppy’s tongue should be pink, and it should begin breathing normally. If the umbilical cord is still attached, tie a knot in it about one inch from the puppy and cut on the far side of the knot. Once the puppy is breathing normally, place the puppy back with its mother.

Occasionally, a puppy may try to breathe while still inside the fluid-filled sac, and fluid enters the puppy’s lungs. As a result, you may hear gurgling sounds as the puppy breathes. You will need to act right away to remove the fluid so the puppy can breathe normally. Hold the puppy’s head and body fully supported in two hands, and gently swing the puppy downwards. The inertia should clear the fluid from the lungs, and the tongue should turn from greyish blue to pink. This intervention may take up to 10 minutes to work, so don’t give up. Once the puppy is breathing, place it back in the warm whelping box.

Emergency Intervention During Whelping

Call us right away if you notice the following in the mother dog:

  • 30-60 minutes of strong contractions without a birth
  • More than 4 hours have passed between puppies, and there are more to be delivered
  • She hasn’t produced any puppies within 24 hours of her temperature dropping
  • She is having forceful but intermittent contractions
  • She seems exhausted or is in extreme pain

The COVE Can Help

The emergency service at The COVE is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. If your primary veterinarian is not available and you notice any problems with your dog’s labor or delivery, please don’t hesitate to call us.

About Us

The COVE’s veterinarians and staff wholeheartedly embrace the core values of community, collaboration, commitment, compassion, and integrity. This focus ensures that pets, the people who love them, and their primary care veterinarians have as positive and affirming a healthcare experience as possible, regardless of the circumstances that bring us all together.