Whelping: Canine Labor and Delivery

How to Help Your Dog Have Her Puppies

australian shepherd mother dog and nursing puppies
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Is your dog pregnant and about to give birth? If this will be your first time helping a dog whelp, read on for some answers to common questions about whelping (giving birth). Note that this is an overview and not a complete guide to whelping. 

First of all, you should talk to your veterinarian about the process. It is important to understand the potential risks and be able to identify signs of complications. It's best to find a vet in advance that has experience and interest in canine reproduction. Ideally, your vet has been checking on your dog throughout the pregnancy. The vet will talk to you about preparation and may also be able to help you find the right supplies. It is also a good idea to talk to an experienced dog breeder and consider having that person present for the birth.

How Will I Know When My Dog Is Ready to Give Birth?

Within about 48 hours of delivery, a pregnant dog typically shows signs of nesting. These signs may include scratching at her bed and looking for a safe place to have the puppies. You should begin to take your dog's rectal temperature once or twice a day as her due date approaches. When the rectal temperature drops below 100°F (normal body temperature is 100-102°F) this is a good sign that labor will begin within about 24 hours.

During the first stage of labor, your dog will begin to experience uterine contractions. She may also start pacing or digging. Many dogs will pant or shake. Some dogs even vomit. All of this is considered normal behavior and typically lasts for six to 12 hours until the cervix dilates and she is ready to deliver her pups.

What Can I Do To Help My Dog Have Her Puppies?

At first, the best thing you can do is keep your distance while quietly observing your dog whelp. It may surprise you to learn that dogs don't usually need much help giving birth. In fact, it is fascinating to watch a dog's instincts take over as they whelp and nurse their young. 

When the pregnant dog is ready to deliver a puppy, she will typically strain, or push, for about 10-30 minutes before the puppy emerges. Each newborn puppy is covered with a membrane that must be removed in order for the puppy to breathe. Most mothers instinctively do this by biting at the membrane and licking the puppy clean. If the mother does not do this within about two minutes, you will need to assist. Remove the membrane and rub the puppy clean with a towel. Clamp the umbilical cord with a hemostat and tie it with the umbilical tape or string (or, you can tie the actual cord in a knot). Cut the cord with surgical scissors on the side away from the puppy. Note: Never pull on the umbilical cord as it could cause injury.

The puppies are generally born about 45-60 minutes apart. In between pups, the mother may or may not pass the placenta from the previous pup. You might want to prevent your dog from eating the placenta because it often causes vomiting later. 

About halfway through delivering the pups, the mother may need to take a break. Up to four hours may pass before she begins straining again. There is no cause for concern unless she goes longer than four hours before beginning to deliver the next pup. Hopefully, you have an idea of the number of pups and their sizes. Your vet may take x-rays around day 45 to determine the number of puppies.

Some puppies may be born tail first. This is not abnormal and is not usually a problem unless the pup seems stuck.

How Will I Know If There Are Complications With the Birth?

Call your veterinarian right away if any of the following occurs:

  • She does not go into labor within 24 hours of her temperature dropping below 100°F
  • Your dog is straining/having contractions for more than 30-60 minutes and no puppy is born
  • A puppy appears to be stuck in the birth canal or the puppy is halfway out and the mother cannot push the puppy anymore. 
  • It has been more than four hours since the last pup and you know there are more inside
  • She appears to be in extreme pain
  • The gestation period has reached 70 days
  • You have other concerns about the mother or her puppies

When in doubt, contact a veterinarian with questions. Ideally, you will already have a relationship with a vet experienced in canine reproduction.