Puppy Whelping 101

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Published: June 08, 2011

So, how do you go about helping a female dog deliver puppies?

The vast majority of my patients are spayed. When clients ask me about whether or not they should breed their dog, I mention that they probably should set aside $700-$1000 in case they need an emergency C-section. Then they usually spay their dog.

But if you have a dog that is going to give birth, here's what you need to know about supplies and the stages of dog labor (whelping).

Supplies You'll Need When Your Dog Gives Birth

Whelping supplies:

  • Whelping box: someplace safe to have the babies, where mom can’t crush her pups
  • Sterile lubricating jelly ("personal lubricant")
  • Disposable plastic gloves
  • Hemostat for clamping umbilical cords
  • Scissors
  • Towels, newspapers, plastic garbage bags, etc., for cleanup
  • A separate box containing a covered heating pad to put the newborn pups in while mom is giving birth
  • A scale to weigh the pups (in the margin of my study guide I wrote: "must record weight ASAP after birth, expect the puppies to lose weight at 12 hours post-birth and at 24 hours should be at birth weight. They should continue to gain weight at this rate. It’s the #1 key to pediatric health … weigh the pups. Puppies are like parakeets." [I’m not totally sure what the parakeet comment was about])

Stages of Dog Labor

Dog labor is a 3-stage process — and if you think about it, it's sort of the same for humans. As far as I’m concerned, they are the same: pre-drugs, post-drugs, and push!

Stage 1 

In dogs, the first stage is 12-30 hours before labor. Momma dog’s rectal temperature will drop to a low of 98 to 99 degrees. The pre-whelping decrease may only last a few hours. (About 10-14 days pre-whelping you are supposed to take the dog's temperature three times a day and keep a temperature chart.)

During this stage, momma dog will start nesting, and will develop a white to gelatinous discharge for up to 48 hours before whelping (Note: If the discharge turns bloody tinged the first puppy is imminent). Sometimes they go off food or get sick to their stomachs. Momma dog might be anxious or clingy, she might even be crampy. (For this part, I wrote in my study guide's margin: "uterine contractions make them feel like they’ve got to go to the bathroom and she has a puppy instead of poop. *Go potty with her.")

First stage lasts around 6-12 hours. Don’t leave mom alone during this time (aside from the puppy pooping issue); sometimes first time moms don’t know to free the pup from the amniotic sac and it could suffocate.

Stage 2

Second stage is the real deal: labor. Generally they show abdominal contractions for around 10-30 minutes. Usually you see the amniotic sac, then about three pushes later, a pup comes out. If the sac bursts and fluid comes out before you see a puppy, and the vagina dries out, you might need to help momma (using the lubricant). Normally momma pops the amniotic sac by licking/chewing it. If she doesn’t, you — the doggie midwife — need to step in and help.

Stage 3

Third stage immediately follows the second stage; that’s where the placenta comes out, and then the uterus takes a little break. The uterus rests for anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour. On average, the mother dog gives birth to another puppy every 30 minutes or so. The total average whelping time is 6-12 hours.

Dr. Vivian Cardoso-Carroll

Pic of the day: Puppy and Mother by Katie@!

mother dog with puppy, whelping, newborn puppy, helping dog give birth, midwife to dogs