Puppy Care: Whelping

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Puppy Care: Whelping


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Witnessing the birth of a litter is exciting, amazing, meaningful, nerve wracking – and maybe a little gross. Dog mamas have been whelping, or giving birth, without our help for thousands of years, and most deliveries require no assistance or special preparations. The following suggestions are to help minimize problems that may arise, to help ensure a healthy mother and pups, and to allow you to help your pet efficiently and safely.

It’s important to know when your dog is due to give birth so you can prepare and monitor her around her due date. Dogs are usually pregnant for about 63 days, but it can range from 57-71 days. We recommend scheduling an appointment with a veterinarian between 42-59 days for a general check-up and x-ray to count puppies.

A week or so before her due date, prepare a place where the bitch (mother dog) can comfortably give birth. Encourage her to sleep there so she will be accustomed to the surroundings when the time comes for her to whelp. These places should be away from activity, noise, and other pets. Keep in mind the ease of cleaning (no carpets), and access to the outside for larger breeds.


A whelping box is a space designed for dogs to give birth and raise their puppies until their eyes and ears open, around 2 to 3 weeks. There’s a wide range of whelping box options, from cheap and disposable to stylish and reusable, though ideally it should be constructed with plywood or sturdy cardboard packing cartons.

It should be:

  • Warm and comfortable, in a quiet, secluded room that’s kept at around 75°F.
  • Large enough for mom to fully stretch out, move around and get in and out of easily.
  • Have solid sides to prevent drafts and provide privacy (if using a wire pen, cover the walls with sheets or blankets). Sides should be high enough to stop newborn puppies escaping (but low enough for your dog to step over).
  • Fitted with a bumper rail (or pig rail) that goes around the inside of pen. This prevents mom from accidentally smushing a puppy against the side.
  • Easy to clean and sanitize with a waterproof floor. Whelping is messy and the fluids will permanently stain blankets, carpet, floors, etc. Just before labor begins, remove all bedding (puppies can become lost and smushed in loose materials) and lay down layers of newspaper, large potty pads or hospital pads. Remove and replace them as they become soiled or lay fresh ones on top.
  • Lined with a clean, washable, absorbent bedding (towels are perfect).
  • A 12-inch-high partition inside the box to give mom an area in which she can go when she wants to rest, away from the puppies. By the time the puppies are big enough to climb over the partition, they’ll be large enough to move out of the whelping box into regular quarters.
  • An old mattress pad or quilt in the corner of the box makes an excellent bed for the puppies to lie on with their mom.
  • Put the whelping box in the location you previously prepared for your dog.

Most bitches shed some hair around the nipples about two weeks before whelping. Gently and thoroughly wash and rinse the underside of the mother before the whelping. Any abnormal discharges. such as bloody milk, or greenish yellow pus in the milk coming from the nipples and mammary glands should be brought to the attention of your veterinarian.


Six to 24 hours before the onset of labor, the mother will become nervous and restless (whining, crying, panting, shivering, wants in and out, refuses food, etc.). This is normal. Take the mother outside for mild exercise and to go to the bathroom.

You can predict the time of the first contractions by taking the mother’s rectal temperature. Starting about one week before the expected delivery (day 59), take her temperature at the same time twice a day with a rectal thermometer and record it. The normal temperature is 100-102.S degrees. Within 12-24 hours of the onset of labor, her temperature will drop 2 to 3 degrees (when below 99 degrees, whelping should begin within 12 hours).


Your dog will develop a white to gelatinous discharge for up to 48 hours before whelping. If the discharge is tinged with blood, the first puppy is imminent. Don’t leave mom alone during this time; sometimes first-time moms don’t know to free the pup from the amniotic sac, and it could suffocate. If whelping does not begin after her temperature falls, there could be an obstruction; you should consult your veterinarian.


  • Sterile lubricating jelly (personal lubricant, water soluble)
  • Disposable plastic gloves
  • Several clean, dry terry cloth hand towels and washcloths
  • Alcohol bottle
  • Triodine 7
  • Clock
  • Baby scale
  • Bulb syringe
  • Scissors (clean, sanitized)
  • Unwaxed dental floss
  • Towels, newspapers, plastic garbage bags, etc., for cleanup
  • A separate box containing a covered heating pad on a LOW temperature setting to put the newborn pups in while mom is giving birth. If the puppies get too hot, they will cry, and if too cold, they will whimper. Do not take the basket out of mother’s sight, since this would upset her and interfere with the remainder of whelping.


Productive labor begins. Mom lies on her side and begins to strain. Most bitches have their puppies unaided, needing only supervision to ensure all is going well. Too much interference may make her nervous, but you should be ready to act quickly if her instincts do not take over, especially if this is her first litter.

Uterine contractions will intensify, and abdominal muscular contractions will become apparent. Note the time of the mother’s first contractions. Contractions are easily detected. The mother usually lays down and strains as if trying to have a bowel movement; the back is arched, the abdominal muscles are tight, and she may whine and cry. Generally, they show abdominal contractions for around 10-30 minutes.

As the puppy is born, you will probably see the amniotic sac; clear, straw-colored or light pink fluid leaks from the birth canal. Puppies often appear as a bubble because they are encased in the amniotic sac that mom will lick and tear. If she doesn’t, you need to help by gently breaking the sac. Sometimes the sac breaks before the puppy is born. If the sac bursts and fluid comes out before you see a puppy, the vagina could dry out. If this happens, you may need to help mom by using the lubricant.

Once a pup is born, your priority is helping them begin to breathe and nurse on their mother. Your dog can this on her own, but you can save her time and stress by following these steps as each puppy is delivered:

  • Help her break the sac and encourage her to lick the puppy to dry and stimulate it. Rubbing the puppy gently with a rough towel simulates the action of her tongue if she is too tired or will not take care of it. Hold the puppy’s head downwards to help drain the fluid from the lungs.
  • Help them breathe. Use a hand towel to remove the amniotic sac from the puppy’s nose, wipe fluid and mucus out of their mouth, and rub them to help them start breathing on their own. Alternative: Rather than use a towel, a bulb syringe is helpful for clearing out of the puppy’s mouth, especially in smaller breeds.
  • Examine each puppy. Healthy puppies will be active, noisy and should be trying to nurse almost immediately. Puppies are born with their eyes and ears closed. Never try to open them.
  • Check the cord. If mom does not bite the cord herself, you can cut it with scissor rinsed in alcohol. You can trim the umbilical cord to ¾ inch and dip the umbilical in strong iodine such as Triodine 7 to dry out the cord and reduce the risk of infection. Wash your hands with warm soapy water after doing this.
  • Help them nurse. Rub the puppy’s nose sideways on the nipple if needed to encourage them to attach and begin nursing.

After the first puppy is born, you should average delivering another puppy every 30 minutes. After each delivery, the mother goes through a resting stage during which mild contractions and delivery of the afterbirth occurs. When all the pups and afterbirth have been delivered, contractions will stop, and she will devote her attention to cleaning and nursing the puppies. This will happen briefly between puppies, but if there have been no more pups after two hours, she is probably finished. You can check her abdomen area to see if you feel another puppy as well.

If a puppy is not delivered within 2 hours of the first contraction, or if the contractions are very hard and nothing is produced in 20-30 minutes, this could indicate a problem. If it is longer than 2 hours between puppies and she is still actively contracting, call your veterinarian.


Placentas are expelled after each puppy, usually within 15 minutes. Count these to ensure none remain inside your dog, as this can cause problems. It is normal for bitches to eat their placentas; this can, however, predispose them to diarrhea, so discard the placenta.


While most dogs can handle whelping on their own, there are exceptions, and it’s important to watch for the following signs. Call your veterinarian if any of these occur.

  • Discolored discharge: Watch for dark or green discharge. Puppy placenta is green but not in excess and not before a puppy is born. A bit of green discharge after a puppy birth is okay.
  • Fever: A temperature over 103° F is uncommon.
  • Difficulty whelping: Your dog is actively pushing or straining, but there are no pups for 30 to 60 minutes.
  • Stagnation/breech birth: You can feel a puppy vaginally or see them moving but your dog isn’t progressing in her labor. Do not attempt to manipulate the puppy, especially by pulling it forward against the mother’s contractions. Inexpert handling may injure the puppy, bitch or both or introduce infection. Contact your veterinarian if unproductive labor lasts for more than 3 hours, or if you can feel a puppy that is in a breached position vaginally.
  • Exhaustion: If your dog has rested for over 3 hours but you still suspect or know there are more puppies yet to come.
  • Late whelping: Failure to start labor 65 days after the last breeding.


  • No puppies produced within 24 hours of temperature dropping or more than 1 hour of Stage II Labor without the delivery of first puppy
  • More than 4 hours between puppies and more are expected
  • If labor stops abruptly (ask bystanders to leave)
  • If black, thick, odorous fluid is seen before birth of first puppy or at any time during birthing or if thick, yellow, foul discharge is seen during birth (dark green fluids are normal)
  • If mom seems depressed, disoriented, vomits, wretches, acts weak or staggers when walking
  • Puppy is half in and half out of birth canal headfirst for more than 3 minutes