Dog giving birth

Dogs give birth at around 8 weeks of pregnancy. This article provides a guide on what to expect in a whelping dog, so you can easily recognise what is normal to reduce any anxiety that this moment may bring. As well as what is not normal so you can call for help without delay. 

Giving birth in dogs is also known as labour or whelping. One of the signs that you should seek emergency vet care is if your dog is having strong, continuous contractions that have continued for more than 20 minutes without a puppy being born.

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Preparing for your dog’s labour

Dog pregnancies last around 63 days (8 weeks). Two weeks before birth (from week 6 of pregnancy) you should:

  • Take her for a vet check to help rule out any problems. Your vet may give you a rough estimate of how many puppies to expect.
  • Prepare the nesting area.
  • Familiarise yourself with the emergency signs of labour so you know when to call for help.
  • Get the emergency vet number and location in case of need.

Visit our other articles for information about dog pregnancy and c-sections.

Building a nest for your dog

Things to take into consideration:

  • Private place, to minimise loud noises, disruption, people passing by, and other pets
  • Warm and comfortable
  • Nest box
    • large cardboard box lined with puppy pads
    • filled with clean blankets, sheets or towels


Things to lookout for

Signs your dog is whelping and the stages that follow

Be prepared for the process to last around 24 hours. Nobody’s going to get much sleep!

Understanding the 3 stages of labour in dogs:

Stage 1

  • Restlessness, shivering, panting, pacing, hiding, nesting behaviour
  • Mum’s rectal temperature drops to around 37 degrees Celsius
  • Lasts an average of 6-12 hours

Stage 2

  • Stronger contractions lead to the first puppy delivery
  • First puppy is usually delivered within an hour of the contractions starting
  • Mum licks the puppy intensively, breaking the membrane covering them and biting  through the umbilical cord
  • Birth of the first puppy usually takes the longest
  • The interval between pups can be between 5 minutes and 2 hours, depending on the size of the litter (smaller dogs tend to have smaller litters)
  • Mum may rest for 2-4 hours during labour
  • The total duration of this stage is usually between 3-12h

Stage 3

  • Placenta may be delivered at the end or between pup deliveries


When to worry

When to call the vet during whelping in dogs

Take your dog to the nearest vet practice if:

  • Labour hasn’t started within 24 hours of the drop in rectal temperature, below 37 degrees Celsius.
  • Stage 2 of contractions started more than 4 hours ago, and the first puppy is yet to be delivered.
  • Strong, continuous contractions persist for more than 20 minutes without puppy delivery.
  • You notice a green or black discharge from your dog’s vagina.
  • Your dog has heavy bleeding, pain, weakness, or other signs of distress.
  • Pregnancy lasts more than 70 days.


What to do

What you can do to help your dog when she’s whelping

When your dog first goes into labour, the best thing to do is keep your distance while quietly observing her.

You might be surprised to learn that dogs don’t typically need much help giving birth, and it may even disturb them.

Nevertheless, get some items in case of need:

  • Clean towels
  • Sterilised scissors (boiled for 5 minutes)
  • String or floss

If the mother does not remove the membrane covering the puppy within roughly 2 minutes, you will need to assist.

  • Carefully break and remove the membrane using your fingers.
  • Tilt the puppy’s head down and then rub them with a towel to help remove all the debris from their nose and mouth and to help them start breathing.
  • Tie the umbilical cord with string or floss (unflavoured and unwaxed ideally) about a half inch from the puppy’s belly.
  • Cut the cord with sterilised surgical scissors about half an inch away from your knot.

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What not to do

What not to do with your whelping dog

As the owner, you know your pet best, but keep your distance at first, most dogs prefer not to be disturbed.

Wait for labour to be completed and all appear settled to start cleaning the mom and birth box.

  • Do not upset or move the mother or the puppies too much
  • Use warm water and a clean cloth
  • Do not use any soaps or disinfectants
  • Remove any dirty absorbable pads or bedding from her whelping box only after labour has been completed
  • Avoid disturbing them during and after birth


When is it normal

How many puppies does a dog give birth to?

This depends on your dog’s breed and there can be a lot of variation.

Usually, smaller breeds have smaller litters, around 3. Larger dogs usually have more puppies, around 10.

It is very important to have vet checks during pregnancy in dogs. Not just to confirm the number of puppies expected at birth but also to prevent any complications during labour.

What to expect after your dog gives birth

After a dog gives birth, it’s essential to monitor them closely for any unusual symptoms.

Here’s what you can generally expect:

  • Discharge from vagina:
    • Small amounts of reddish-brown discharge are normal for a few weeks after giving birth.
  • Energy levels:
    • Initial fatigue. Mum may spend a lot of time resting with her puppies.
    • Energy levels should gradually improve over the following days and weeks.
  • Appetite:
    • Appetite may increase, especially as the demands of nursing puppies require additional calories.
  • Vomiting and diarrhoea:
    • Dogs may experience vomiting or soft stools after eating the placenta. If she experiences more than one episode, consult a vet immediately.

The first few days with newborn puppies

  • Allow mum to bond with her puppies and provide a quiet, warm, and safe environment.
  • Monitor the puppies’ weight gain weekly, ensuring they are nursing well.
  • Keep the whelping area clean and comfortable, and avoid unnecessary disturbances.
  • Schedule a postnatal vet check-up for both the mum and puppies on day 3 or 4.
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