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Stages & guidance throughout birth

Labour starts with a long stage in which the uterine contractions begin, the reproductive tract relaxes, and the cervix opens. The abdominal contractions may not be visible, but the dog will appear nervous and restless. She will be panting and may vomit. This stage lasts 6-12 hours. The second stage will be the actual birth of the puppies. You will usually see foetal tissues protruding before you actually see a pup born. The puppies will be born covered by a membrane that the dog will rupture with her teeth. She will also bite through the umbilical cord of each pup. Abdominal contractions will be evident at this stage, but it is usually best to leave the bitch alone. Dogs can voluntarily stop giving birth if they are disturbed, so you should make sure she's in a quiet place. You may need to help the pups if the mother does not. Do not try to pull the puppy if it appears to be stuck, since it is very easy to harm the pups. If the mother does not clean the pups, you should dry them with a towel, wipe clear all fluid from the nose and mouth, and rub the puppies vigorously. If the bitch does not sever the umbilical cord, you will have to do it. Wait for 5-10 minutes and then tie the umbilical cord in two places with thread or dental floss. The closest tie should be 1-2 inches from the body of the pup. Cut between the two ties, cleaning the end of the cord on the pup well with iodine.


Leave the pups with the bitch; even though she may not let them nurse, they need her warmth and physical contact. Many bitches will eat a special treat like vanilla ice cream while whelping. Vanilla ice cream is good for them during whelping as it provides energy and calcium.


When you first see the hard abdominal contractions signalling the second stage of labour, you should give your dog several hours to have the first pup. Once you see foetal tissues protruding, she should have a pup within 30 minutes. Once she starts delivering, give her 2 hours between pups. Most dogs will have a pup every 30-60 minutes; some may have several and then rest a while before finishing. If you are unsure about whether whelping is progressing normally, please call.


The third and final stage of labour is that of expelling the placenta or afterbirth. The dog usually expels the placenta for each pup after it is born, and sometimes expels two placentas after delivering two pups. You should clean these away; there is no good physiological reason for allowing the bitch to eat them. Try to count to make sure you have seen as many placentas as pups since these may be harmful to the bitch if left in her



After whelping is completed, make sure all the pups nurse within 12-18 hours. The first milk they receive is very important in providing them with immunity to many common diseases. It is also important to make sure the puppies are warm enough; they should be kept in an environment of about 85 degrees F for the first several weeks of life. Be careful in your use of heating pads or heat lamps. It is very easy to burn the pups.


The mother may have a green to red-brown vulva discharge for up to three weeks after whelping. This is normal, and is of no concern as long as it is not foul-smelling and the animal seems fine otherwise. You should continue to monitor the temperature of the mother for several weeks after whelping, at least once a day. It is normal for it to be slightly elevated (102.5 - 103.0 degrees F) for 2-3 days after whelping. Inspect the mother's mammary glands daily to check for the presence of milk, any abnormal swellings, and pain. Please call if you are concerned about what you see.


The puppies should be weighed at birth and daily thereafter. They may lose a small amount of weight the first day, but should gain steadily after that, doubling their birth weight by

10-14 days of age. Tail docks and dewclaw removals, if standard for the breed, should be performed within the first five days of life.


The puppies should be started on a mash of puppy food softened with warm water, or baby rice cereal, at about four weeks of age. They can be weaned off the mother over the next two to three weeks. First vaccinations should be given at six to eight weeks of age.


If at any time you have concerns or questions, call your veterinarian. Here is a checklist of reasons to call for help:


  • The dog has started labor and is not progressing within the time limits listed above.

  • The rectal temperature dropped over 24 hours ago and the dog has not started labor.

  • The dog appears ill; depressed, feverish, fatigued.

  • You have trouble getting the puppies to breathe early on, or to suckle later.

  • You're not sure if the dog is done whelping.

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