Dog Whelping: How to Help A Dog Have Puppies
My First LitterWhether it's your first time helping a mom whelp puppies or you're experienced, managing a dog's labor will get puppies on the ground alive and fighting to live!
Except for being uncomfortable, moms have few issues when giving birth. We manage for no issues and live puppies!
There are several whelping stages she will go through for about 48 hours. Birthing is a process we want you to understand and our goal is know what you're looking for and when it is going to happen. We don't like surprises.
Signs Labor is Getting CloseThere are several clues you can watch for to help determine if mom is getting ready to whelp.
- A bellied down mom will become uncomfortable. It's important to watch her closely for any problems and ensure she keeps eating the last week. We need to keep her on food for mom's health and for the puppy's strength.
- Watch for behavior changes. Some hide and search for a quiet place to rest. She may become more restless, attempt to stretch out and be needy. You will notice more panting and she will urinate more frequently due to the pressure.
Signs Your Dog's Labor is StartingDuring early labor the birth canal is softening and the tissues become flexible so birth can happen without issues. At the same time, the cervix is dilated and effaced (thinned) so the puppy can pass easily into the lower birth canal. This is done early without obvious pushing on mom's part so the puppy can maintain its blood supply and stay healthy.
Signs of early labor in dogs:
- Mom's temperature will drop by one degree 12 to 24 hours before active labor. Take her temperature every day one week prior to birth at the same time each day (AM or PM), as it can vary from morning to night.
- Nesting starts. Mom will appear restless and uncomfortable with involuntary contractions that can last anywhere from six to 12 hours.
- She will frequently lick her vulva and begin panting and shivering from discomfort. At this point she should be in her whelping box area.
- Some moms will stream a bit of mucus from their vulva or lick that area a lot. The mucus is less obvious than other species because mom is so clean at birth.
- Again, watch for discomfort due to uterine cramping.
What To Do For Your Dog During Early LaborNow that you know what early labor looks like, what can you do to help your dog through this stage of whelping? The single most important thing you can do at this stage is give her calcium. Calcium is the lube that allows the uterine muscle to slide and cause effective contractions. We are working with mom to get strong and normal contractions. Our goal is to make early labor effective and get the first puppy on the ground efficiently.
- Once early labor starts and her temperature drops, give calcium gel such as Breeders' Edge® Oral Cal Plus to mom by mouth.
- Check mom for progress every three hours. At that time give another dose of calcium for up to four doses. If she goes earlier than expected, great! You want puppies on the ground quickly.
What to Do for Your Dog During Active LaborThe second stage of labor is when active strong contractions begin and the puppies are born – this is called the active labor stage. After the first puppy is delivered, you should average delivering a puppy every 30 minutes.
Once a pup is born, your priority is getting them breathing and then getting them nursing on mom. This saves lives. Mom will take care of this but you can help get the job done quickly and take stress off mom. Rather than wait for her, you can:
- Get the membranes off the puppy's nose, wipe fluid out of his mouth, rub him and get him breathing.
- I suggest using a hand towel to help dry the baby and remove mucus and the amniotic sack from around the nose and mouth.
- A bulb syringe (snot-sucker) is helpful at getting junk out of the puppy's mouth especially in smaller breeds. Have one on hand before whelping begins. Once the puppy is breathing and nursing, you can relax a bit.
- If needed you can trim the umbilical cord to ¾ inch and dip the umbilical in strong iodine or Vetericyn Super 7 Ultra Naval.
When is Whelping Finished?The best way to know when she is done whelping is to look at her behavior. When whelping is over, mom's behavior will be very relaxed and just resting while taking care of her puppies. If there have been no more pups after two hours, she is likely done. Mom will relax briefly and nurse between puppies but when labor is over she will be content and simply be tending to her puppies. You can always check her abdomen area and see if you feel a puppy still in her tummy.
Whelping Problems to Watch ForMom can usually handle whelping like a champ, but if you notice any of these signs during whelping then it is a good idea to call or visit your veterinarian:
- Dark color or green discharge. Puppy placenta is green but not in excess and not before a puppy is born. A bit green discharge after a puppy birth is okay.
- Fever on mom over 103° F and mom is sick.
- She is actively pushing or straining but there are no pups for 30 to 60 minutes.
- You are able to feel a puppy vaginally or see them moving around but mom is not progressing in her labor.
- If your female has rested for over three hours but you still suspect or know there are more puppies yet to come.
- Failure to start labor 65 days after the last breeding.
Don Bramlage, DVM, Former Director of Veterinary Services at Revival Animal Health
This is the fourth article in our My First Litter Series. Other articles in the series talk about newborn puppy care, breeding and heat cycles and what to know before raising a litter of puppies. Be sure to check out all the articles in the My First Litter Series.
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.