Dog Whelping: The Complete Guide
My First LitterLast updated: April 15, 2021 by Marty Greer, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine and the Revival Education Team
Whether it's your first time dealing with dog whelping or you're experienced, learning more about the process and how to effectively manage it will help things go more smoothly and prevent any surprises along the way. But for those of you that are new here, what is whelping? Put simply, whelping is the process of a female dog giving birth to puppies. This guide will cover some of the basics and best practices around whelping puppies to help you become more prepared and informed. Click on a topic below to jump to that section or keep scrolling to learn more.
- How to Prepare Her for Whelping
- Signs of Impending Whelping
- Early Signs of Dog Labor
- How to Help a Dog in Labor
- How Long are Dogs in Labor?
- Potential Whelping Problems
- Helpful Products
While whelping can be uncomfortable for the mother, there are typically very few issues during birth. That said, it's helpful to know what to look for so you can be prepared to help if needed.
Throughout pregnancy and leading up to labor, it's important to make sure mom's body is ready for whelping so she can deliver a healthy litter.
- Give Breeder's Edge® Oxy Mate™ Prenatal Vitamins throughout her pregnancy to support her nutritional needs and the needs of her developing embryos.
- During the last week of pregnancy, switch to Breeder's Edge®Oxy Momma™ to stimulate milk production and help her recover from whelping. Start giving Oxy Momma seven days before a scheduled C-section, or three to four days before a natural birth. You want puppies born strong and mom milking from the first day. Continue giving her Oxy Momma every day through weaning.
Over the course of about 48 hours, expecting mothers will go through several whelping stages. As the first stage is approaching, there are a few things you should watch for:
- Food Intake: As their due date approaches, it's common for mothers to feel uncomfortable. Watch for any inconsistencies with her eating habits and ensure she's getting enough nutrition to maintain her strength.
- Behavior Changes: Watch any new or changing behavior. Some mothers hide or 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 added pressure.
Physiologically, early labor involves the birth canal softening and tissues becoming more flexible. Simultaneously, the cervix dilates and effaces (thins) to make it easier for each puppy to pass into the lower birth canal. This process doesn't involve any active pushing by the mother, so it's important to know the signs of dog labor so you're ready when she is:
- Temperature: Your dog's temperature may drop around 12 to 24 hours before active labor. Use a dog thermometer to take their temperature three times per day and maintain a chart for one or two weeks before the due date so you can identify when this drop occurs. For reference, a normal temperature range is between 101 and 102.5° F, while a dog whelping can have their temperature drop to between 98 and 99° F.
- Nesting and Contractions: Nesting is when your dog seeks out or tries to create a warm and comfortable place to lie down. She will appear restless and uncomfortable with involuntary contractions that can last anywhere from 6 to 12 hours.
- Behavior Changes: She will frequently lick her vulva and begin panting and shivering from discomfort. At this point she should be in her whelping box area.
- Discharge: During pregnancy, a mucus plug seals the cervix, helping to maintain a perfect uterine environment for embryo growth and development. During early labor, this mucus plug releases from the cervix, so it is common to see pregnant dogs discharge during labor. This mucus is often white or clear, but may turn red with blood just before the first puppy comes.
Now 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 helps enable the uterine muscle to slide and create strong and effective contractions, which helps make the whelping process as efficient as possible. Slow-whelping puppies can be short on oxygen at birth, resulting in weakness and difficulty nursing. As a result, taking steps to encourage a faster whelping process reduces stress for your dog and helps ensure puppies are strong at birth. Follow these steps as early labor begins:
- Administer: Once early labor starts and her temperature drops, give calcium gel such as Breeder's Edge Oral Cal Plus to your dog by mouth.
- Monitor: Check her for progress every three hours. At that time, give another dose of calcium for up to four doses before the first puppy comes. If this happens sooner than expected, great! You want puppies on the ground quickly.
Oral calcium is ideal for dog whelping since it can be easily absorbed through membranes in the mouth rather than be swallowed. As a general rule, the goal with whelping puppies, especially large litters, is to finish in under 12 hours, and calcium plays an important role.
How to Help a Dog During Active Labor
The second stage of labor is when strong contractions begin and the puppies are born - this is called the active labor stage. A common question during this state is how long between puppies you should expect to wait. In general, you should average delivering a puppy every 30 minutes following the first one.
Once a pup is born, your priority is helping them begin to breathe and nurse on their mother. Your dog is capable of doing this on her own, but you can save her time and stress by following these steps as each puppy is delivered:
- Help them Breathe: Use a hand towel to remove the amniotic sac from the puppy's nose, wipe fluid and mucus out of their mouth, and rub them to help them start breathing on their own.
- Alternative: Rather than use a towel, a bulb syringe (snot-sucker) and Delee mucus trap are helpful for clearing out of the puppy's mouth, especially in smaller breeds. Remember to have these on hand before whelping begins.
- Cut the Cord: If needed, you can trim the umbilical cord to ¾ inch and dip the umbilical in strong iodine such as Triodine 7 to dry out the cord and reduce the risk of infection. You can keep an umbilical clamp on for up to 48 hours if necessary.
- Help them Nurse: Rub the puppy's nose sideways on the nipple if needed to encourage them to attach and begin nursing.
- Toss the Placenta: The placenta may pass after each puppy, usually within 15 minutes, but it's not an issue if it doesn't. There isn't any value in mom eating the placenta, so you can discard it if you see it passed to help keep the area clean.
On average, a dog will be in labor roughly 6 to 12 hours. The best way to know when she is done whelping is to have a puppy count x-ray taken a few days before her due date. When whelping is over, she will relax and begin resting while taking care of her puppies. This will happen briefly between puppies, but she is likely done if there have been no more pups after two hours. You can always check her abdomen area and see if you feel another puppy as well.
As we mentioned above, most dogs can handle whelping without issue beyond some discomfort. However, there are exceptions, and it's important to look out for the following signs as your dog is giving birth and consider calling or visiting your veterinarian if any are occurring:
- Discolored Discharge: Watch for dark or green discharge. Puppy placenta is green but not in excess and not before a puppy is born. A bit of green discharge after a puppy birth is okay.
- Fever: A temperature over 103° F is uncommon.
- Difficulty Whelping: Your dog is actively pushing or straining but there are no pups for 30 to 60 minutes.
- Stagnation: You are able to feel a puppy vaginally or see them moving around but your dog isn't progressing in her labor.
- Exhaustion: If your dog has rested for over three hours but you still suspect or know there are more puppies yet to come.
- Late Whelping: Failure to start labor 65 days after the last breeding.
To ensure you're best prepared for dog whelping, we've compiled a list of the supplements, tools, and other products mentioned above that may be helpful. You can find all of these items and more on our whelping supplies page:
- Dog Thermometer: Take quick and accurate readings.
- Whelping Box: Keep the mother and pups safely contained.
- Breeder's Edge Oral Cal Plus: Encourage strong and effective contractions.
- Washable Whelping Pads: Keep the puppies and mother dry, clean, comfortable and healthy.
- Bulb Syringe: Clear mucus to help puppies begin to breathe.
- Triodine 7: Sanitize the umbilical cord.
- Umbilical Clamp: Secure each puppy's umbilical cord to stop blood leaking.
To see a full list of our recommended products for dog whelping and how they can be beneficial, head over to our Whelping Supplies List article.
Now that you're up to date on the stages of dog whelping and what's involved, you'll be ready to help when the time comes. To learn more, read our posts on Weaning Puppies and how to care for Newborn Puppies or check out the rest of our Learning Center.
As always, don't hesitate to give us a call at 800.786.4751 if you have any questions or need help finding the right products for your needs. We would be happy to help.-Dr. B
Donald Bramlage, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, Former Director of Veterinary Services at Revival Animal Health
Donald Bramlage, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, practiced veterinary medicine for 30+ years and is known for his work in managing parvovirus. He received his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from Kansas State University in 1985. He served as Revival's Director of Veterinary Services from 2011 until his retirement in 2019.
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.