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Whelping or Birthing Puppies

Raising a litter is about getting the puppies on the ground alive and in a timely manner. That goal is easily attainable! Once the birthing process is over, the end result is a healthy mom and babies.


There are multiple ways to diagnose but here is a general timeline:

  • Embryo can be felt through the abdomen at 30 days gestation but too big to feel after 35 days (2" vesicle on a 10 lb mom).
  • Fetal movement can be felt after day 50.
  • Witness Relaxin Test can be used during days 28-30. Relaxin is the only pregnancy-specific hormone in the dog and is often used to help detect a false pregnancy (in which case the test will be negative).
  • Ultrasound 18-20 days or X-ray after days 45-50 when bones are present. Baby will be exposed to radiation but the risk is minimal. Ultrasound is often used to count the number of fetuses.


It is best to avoid drugs during pregnancy as most of them will get to the embryo somehow.

General Guidelines

  • If antibiotic is needed, the Penicillin family and Cephalexin are considered safe.
    • Never use Sulfa or Metronidazole, especially in 25-35 day gestation. This leads to Cleft Palate.
  • Dewormer – Use for 3-5 days after 50-day gestation. Prevents transfer of parasites to babies.
  • Pain meds and NSAID drugs are not safe. Don’t use arthritis preventatives during gestation.


Move mom to whelping area seven days before giving birth so she is comfortable and secure with area. If mom is uncomfortable with babies’ safety, she will try to move them or mouth them excessively. Look for the following signs:

  • Mom's temp will decrease 1°F 24 hours before the start of labor. This is the most reliable sign. (This drop is in response to Progesterone drop.
  • Nesting – 48 hours to 1 week
  • Milking – 1 to 5 days


  • Cervix dilation – 6 to 12 hours
    • Mom is restless, nervous, off food, may seek owner's companionship.
  • After first puppy is delivered, an average of one every 30 minutes is optimal.
    • Once delivery starts, mom should not push hard longer than 30 minutes without an exam.
    • Placenta will pass 5-15 minutes after puppy. Can pass two puppies then both placentas. (There is no nutritional value in placentas, and mom will want to eat if you do not dispose of them.)
  • Directly following birth:
    • Clamp umbilical and use towel to remove membranes and fluid from nose and mouth. Bulb syringe is best for removing fluid in mouth.
    • Rub each puppy vigorously with towel. Place head slightly down to stimulate breathing.
  • Once breathing:
    • Umbilical cord – Cut ½ inch long – keeping a plastic clamp on puppy 48 hours is okay.
    • Give baby to mom to “mother” until she wants to tuck.
    • Rub nose sideways on nipple if needed to get puppy to attach and nurse.
  • All puppies are born – Iodine or Chlorhexidine on the umbilical cord within 24 hours.
Some breeders like to remove puppies from the whelping area and transfer them to a box with a warm water bottle or heating pad until all puppies are born. This is good to do as it ensures no pups get squashed during labor.


When your mom is all done with birth, Long Acting Penicillin or Oxytocin can be given to start uterine involution and foster milk production.

Discharge is seen after nursing in response to Oxytocin milk let down. Uterine discharge or involution will happen for four weeks. Discharge should be less every week, and it should never have an odor. To learn more about discharge and other female problems, read Managing Pregnancy Problems in Dogs.

If you need help, call us at 1-800-786-4751.

-Dr. B
Don Bramlage, DVM, Director of Veterinary Services at Revival Animal Health

The materials, information and answers provided through this website are not intended to replace the medical advice or services of your personal veterinarian or other pet health care professional. Consult your own veterinarian for answers to specific medical questions, including diagnosis, treatment, therapy or medical attention.

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