Raising a litter is about getting the puppies on the ground alive and in a timely manner. That goal is easily attainable! But it’s not simple. Once the birthing process is over, the end result is a healthy mom and babies.
Dog Pregnancy Diagnosis
There are multiple ways to diagnose a dog pregnancy but here is a general timeline:
- Fetuses 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 to 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). This test detects placentas so may be positive if the pups are being resorbed. It does not give you an idea of how many pups are developing.
- Ultrasound 24 to 28 and later days or X-ray after days 45 to 50 when bones are present. Baby will be exposed to radiation but the risk is minimal. Ultrasound is often used to estimate the number of fetuses.
Drugs During Gestation
It is best to avoid drugs during pregnancy as most of them will get to the embryo somehow.
- If antibiotic is needed, the Penicillin family and Cephalexin are considered safe.
- Never use Sulfa or Metronidazole, especially in 25 to 35 day gestation. This leads to Cleft Palate.
- Dewormer – Use fenbendazole from day 42 of pregnancy to day 14 of lactation. Prevents transfer of parasites to babies.
- Pain meds and NSAID drugs are not safe. Don’t use arthritis preventatives during gestation.
Signs that Dog Labor is Imminent
Move mom to her whelping area seven days before giving birth so she is comfortable and secure with the whelping 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 one week
- Producing milk – one to five days
Stages of Dog Labor
- Cervix dilation – six to 12 hours – cannot be felt on vaginal examination.
- 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 five to 15 minutes after puppy. Can pass two or more puppies then placentas. (There is no nutritional value in placentas, and mom will want to eat if you do not dispose of them.)
- Directly following birth:
- Once breathing:
- Umbilical cord – Cut ½ inch long – keeping a plastic clamp on puppy 48 hours is okay. Dip the cords in Breeder’s Edge Clean Cut Iodine at birth, 2 hours, 8 hours and twice a day after birth until the cord falls off.
- 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.
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 so mom can focus on delivering the next pups and it ensures no pups get squashed during labor.
What To Do After The Puppies Are Born
When your mom is all done with birth, 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 discharge should never have an odor.
If you have more questions on how to deliver puppies, call us at 800.786.4751.
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Written by: Marty Greer, DVM
Director of Veterinary Services
Marty Greer, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, has 40+ years’ experience in veterinary medicine, with special interests in canine reproduction and pediatrics. She received her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from Iowa State University in 1981. She’s served as Revival’s Director of Veterinary Services since 2019. In 2023, Dr. Greer was named the Westminster Kennel Club Veterinarian of the Year.