Whelping: What to Expect When Your Dog Is Expecting

Whelping, or the process of a dog giving birth, is a significant event for both the mother (bitch) and her owners. It can be a thrilling yet anxious time, especially if it's your first experience. At McLaren Vale Veterinary Surgery we're here to guide you through every step of the whelping process to ensure the health and well-being of your dog and her puppies. Being aware of the normal whelping process will help you understand the stages of labour, and know when to contact us if the whelping is not going to plan.

Normal whelping is divided into 3 stages:

Stage 1 – This stage is usually 6–12 hours long, but may last up to 36 hours in some animals. During this period, the vagina and cervix will become relaxed and soften. The bitch may show restless behaviour including panting, tearing up and rearranging bedding, shivering or occasionally vomiting. The bitch may also appear uncomfortable.

Stage 2 – This stage involves the delivery of the puppies and usually lasts 3–12 hours, depending on the litter size. Rarely, this stage can last as long as 24 hours. Mild vomiting is common during this stage due to increased abdominal pressure. Intense uterine contractions will develop, and abdominal straining will be visible. Initially, clear fluid will be produced from the vulva. A puppy will usually then be delivered within 4 hours of the onset of stage 2. It is normal for puppies to be born both head-first or feet-first. The puppy will often be delivered within its amniotic sac. The bitch will usually break this amniotic sac, break the umbilical cord and lick the puppy. If the bitch struggles to open the membranes covering the puppy, she may need some assistance to allow the puppy to breathe. The airways will then need to be cleared of foetal fluid. Once the sac is removed, hold the puppy so it is supported on its chest with its head and neck straight. Support the head and neck, and rub the puppy with a towel vigorously until the puppy begins to vocalise and move. If assistance is needed, the umbilical cord can also be clamped and cut, ensuring to leave about 1cm of umbilical cord.

The interval between the delivery of puppies is usually between 5 minutes to 2 hours. When delivering a large litter the bitch may deliver two puppies consecutively, followed by a rest period which may last more than 2 hours. Following this rest, straining and delivery of puppies will recommence. This process may continue until all puppies are born.

When to call the Vet - 8323 8522

  1. Puppies have not been delivered 65 days after ovulation or 72 days after the first mating.
  2. Greater than 4 hours between the development of the first clear discharge from the vulva, and delivery of the first puppy.
  3. Greater than 30 minutes of strong abdominal straining without the delivery of a puppy.
  4.  Greater than 2 hours between the delivery of puppies.
  5. The production of green-black discharge from the vulva without the delivery of a puppy within an hour.
  6. Partial delivery of a puppy or membranes.
  7. The bitch is unwell or collapsed during labour.
  8. The delivery of stillborn puppies

Stage 3 – This stage involves the expulsion of the placentas. The placentas are usually delivered within 15 mins of each puppy. It should be noted, however, that 2-3 puppies may be born before the passing of their placentas occurs. The bitch may eat the membranes and placentas. The bitch should be discouraged from eating these as this is a common cause of vomiting and diarrhoea in the bitch.

Lochia is a greenish discharge composed of foetal fluids and placental remains. This is a normal discharge following whelping and can be seen for up to 3 weeks.

Signs that the bitch should be presented to the vet following whelping include:

  • All placentas not passing within 4-6 hours. This may be difficult to assess if the bitch eats them.
  • There is severe bleeding following whelping.
  • A rectal temperature greater than 39.5 degrees.
  • The discharge becomes foul-smelling.
  • Any puppies become unwell.

At McLaren Vale Veterinary Surgery, we are here to help ensure the safe delivery of your puppies. Should you have any concerns, please get in contact with us on 8323 8522