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Dog whelping an overview

Your dog’s pregnancy is coming to an end, and the birth process, known as whelping, will soon be starting, so be prepared to help the birth go as smoothly and comfortably as possible. Find out more about how to make a whelping box, how long does whelping last, how long between puppies, what to feed a whelping dog, and how long does puppy birth take?

Hopefully, you are aware of the date your dog mated. This will give you a rough idea of when the puppies are due to be born, which averages around 63 days after mating.

Normally 2-4 days before birthing, you will find your dog will want to find a quiet and secluded place to nest down. She may seem like she is hiding or be very clingy to her owner. If you have already made her a whelping box and introduced her to it, she should choose that as her place to give birth.

How to make a whelping box

Your whelping box will need to be:

  • A warm, comfortable place lined with clean, absorbent bedding. You can line it with newspaper and use old towels for comfort
  • A box made of wood or cardboard is best, with sides high enough that the newborn puppies can’t fall out but low enough so your dog can step in and out. You can buy a whelping box or make one yourself
  • Big enough for your dog to turn around and stretch out
  • Ideally, it should be heated to around 22°C, quiet and peaceful
  • Have lots of old towels or kitchen roll nearby, ready to clean up afterwards.

Have your vet’s details handy, in case you help or advice.

How long does dog whelping last and what happens?

How long does puppy birth take? This varies depending on your dog. If she is nervous about what is happening to her or it is her first-time having puppies, the whole process can take a couple of days. However, you may find your fluffy, little puppies arrive a lot quicker!

As your dog prepares to whelp, you will notice changes in her behaviour. This can be a sign the birthing process is between 6-12 hours away, but sometimes it can be longer. You may want to offer her food and water.

What to feed a whelping dog?

She probably won’t want to eat during whelping, but you can offer her a good quality dog food or some cooked chicken.

Things to look out for when labour is imminent:

  • Restless behaviour, making a nest in her whelping box by dragging the bedding around, circling and trying to get comfortable
  • Panting
  • A lack of interest in food, and possibly vomiting
  • A big drop in her temperature to below 37.8°C
  • You may see some red-brown mucus coming from her vulva.

These signs show your dog is in the first stage of labour. When your dog moves into the second stage, she will begin to strain and the puppies will start to be born. If your dog has been having contractions and is straining for more than two hours without her water breaking or puppies arriving, you must call your vet.

The arrival of the puppies

The first puppy will arrive between 20-30 minutes after she starts to strain if the contractions are strong. If they are weaker, it may be 2-4 hours before you see the first puppy born. You should contact your vet immediately if she is having strong contractions and the first puppy is not being born within 30 minutes as she will need medical intervention.

How long between puppies arriving varies from 5 minutes to 90 minutes. If your dog is comfortable, there is nothing to worry about. They will arrive either head first or tail first, in a thin sac. Your dog will lick this sac off them to enable them to breathe.

Each puppy has its own placenta, which the mum will often eat. The hormones in the placenta help with milk production. The placenta may be delivered after each puppy is born or you may find all the puppies are born and the separate placentas arrive afterwards. It is important they are passed because if they are ‘left inside’ your dog, they can cause an infection later on. You may not be able to count them, but if your dog has a bloody or smelly vaginal discharge 24-48 hours after delivery, this can indicate a placenta is still in her womb. Contact your vet straight away.

Between contractions, your dog should settle down and lick her new puppy until contractions begin again and the next puppy arrives.

There will be fluid delivered, which could be clear or bloody. This is normal. If there is a lot of blood, your dog may be having problems, and you should ring your vet immediately.

Another thing you may notice is a slightly green discharge after each puppy is born. If the discharge is a strong green colour and there is no puppy this is another sign there could be issues. Again, ring your vet straight away.

Within 24-hours, the whole process should be complete. Any longer than this can indicate complications. Generally, the whelping of the whole litter should take between 3-12 hours from the time the straining and contractions start.

Once the puppies have all arrived, make sure they stay warm and ‘suck-on’ to their mum to begin feeding. Your dog will be tired and hungry so offer her some food and water. Once you are sure all is well, it is best to leave her in peace to bond with her puppies and recover from the whelping.

If you have any doubts about how the whelping is going, always seek advice from your local vet immediately.

If you have an Agria Pet Insurance policy, you can download the Agria Vet Guide app for free. Here you can get advice 24/7.

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