Dog Birthing Basics

By PetMD Editorial on Aug. 2, 2013
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Preparing for a Good Birth-Day

By Jessica Remitz


Preparing yourself and your pregnant pup for the birth of puppies can be a daunting and potentially exhausting process, especially if it is your first time whelping. Here are some essential items to have on hand and tips from Lisa Peterson, a spokesperson for the American Kennel Club, to help your dog have a successful and safe delivery

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Monitoring Your Dog's Health Before Birth

Prior to the birth of her puppies, your dog will need regular veterinary care as well as a pre-breeding physical exam by a veterinarian, Peterson said. Her vaccinations should be current and she should be tested and treated for parasites. If you know the father of the puppies, you should conduct health screenings on both dogs or ask for proof of the father’s health screenings. Your dog should also have regular, moderate exercise and a balanced, nutritious diet. Monitoring the mother’s health leading up to the birth will help keep the puppies healthy and prevent any issues, Peterson said.

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Building a Whelping Box

It’s important to introduce your dog to the whelping box, or designated place where she will give birth in your home, in advance of her labor to ensure she’s comfortable in the area and feels safe during delivery. The whelping box should be warm, quiet, and draft-free, Peterson said. The whelping box should also be kept away from all other dogs in the home — allowing the mother to feel comfortable throughout the process, and so that you can keep your attention focused only on her and the birth of the puppies.


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Additional Items Needed for Birth

Before your dog goes into labor, you’ll want to make sure you have the following items prepared: newspaper, clean towels, a thermometer, and the phone number for your veterinarian or the emergency personnel on staff. Use the newspaper as bedding for your dog and her puppies and line the whelping box with it before, during, and after whelping. Towels can be used to clean off the puppies during whelping, Peterson said.


Your dog’s temperature will drop slightly before labor, so keep the thermometer handy to check her temperature prior to whelping. Get in touch with your vet should any problems or complications arise before, during, and after the process.

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Items Needed Immediately After Birth

You’ll want to have certain items handy once the first puppy is born and throughout the process of birthing the litter. Keep scissors close by to cut the puppies umbilical cords or placenta if the mother fails to do so herself. You can also use un-waxed dental floss to tie the umbilical cords, Peterson said.


After the cords are severed, by you or the mother, clean the puppies off and use iodine to clean their abdomens. After the birthing process is over, clean the whelping area thoroughly with paper towels. Remove some of the newspaper and replace it with bath mats to use as soft bedding. Keep a heating pad in a box next to the whelping box and place the puppies in it as you clean the whelping box. Keep your camera handy for plenty of pictures of the newborns and their mother.

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The First Few Hours

At the time of birth, and for the first few hours, the mother will be busy cleaning her puppies, warming them up and allowing them to suckle, Peterson said. This process is essential because it allows the puppies to ingest colostrum, which helps newborns to fight infection during their first days while their immune systems are vulnerable. While this is happening, keep track of how many placentas are delivered and make sure that number matches the number of puppies born, Peterson said.

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The First Few Days

To track the nourishment of the puppies, you should identify and weigh them every day during the first two weeks of their lives, Peterson said. Handle the puppies often and get them used to a person’s touch as well as the touch of their mother and littermates. It’s also important to keep the puppies in a warm area to prevent them from getting hypothermia.


Depending on the breed, the temperature of the whelping area will need to be as high as 80 degrees Fahrenheit, Peterson said. You’ll also want to have bedding, puppy food and a warm, dry area where the puppies can live once they’re weaned from their mother.

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Additional Resources

You’ll want to always have the number of a veterinary professional that you can call to ask questions of during the process, especially if it is your first time whelping puppies. Peterson also recommends seeking out a good mentor who is an established breeder and who can answer questions about your particular breed of dog. The American Kennel Club also has a complete guide for responsible dog breeding here.