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Whelping is the process of a dog giving birth to puppies. This process starts at labor and runs through to delivery. Most dogs are capable of whelping on their own without difficulties. But you should keep a close eye on your dog throughout her late pregnancy and labour.

The best way to know when the dog is going to whelp is to have ovulation timing and specific hormone and breeding dates. Often we do not have that information, and since the average gestation is 63 days but can be between 57 to 72 days from a single breeding, it can be difficult to tell when the dog is going to whelp.

If you have a pregnant dog, it’s important to be well informed and prepared for her whelping to reduce the chance of problems.

Signs of Whelping in Dogs

The preparation stage of whelping often lasts between 6-12 hours, but can be as long as 36 hours (especially for a first time mum, or a nervous dog). During this stage, you may notice your dog’s behaviour changing. Signs often include:

  • Restlessness
  • Hiding away
  • Panting
  • Eating less
  • Vomiting (contact your vet if you are concerned)
  • ‘Nesting’ – digging, pacing and circling around her whelping box

Visit Your Vet

It is largely advisable to have your dog examined by a veterinarian toward the end of pregnancy. A thorough physical exam, along with ultrasound or X-rays can help determine how many puppies you can expect. This way, you will know when she is done delivering and not just in another resting phase between pups.

Whelping Box

It is pertinent you prepare yourself and your dog for whelping, or puppy birthing. The best way to do this is to set up a whelping box. Whelping boxes offer a safe, warm, draft-free, easily cleaned location for your dog to have her puppies. There are whelping boxes made that can be purchased or you can even use a small children’s plastic swimming pool. The whelping box should be easy for the mother, but not the puppies, to get in and out of. Your dog may prefer to have it in a quiet area of the house but in an area that you can have easy access.

Stages of Whelping in Dogs

Stage 1

The first stage is when the uterus begins to contract and cause the cervix to dilate. Stage one can last 6 to 12 hours in the dog. Signs that you may see in the female are restlessness, panting, pacing, or “nesting” type behavior.

Stage 2

This is the actual delivery of the puppy! There are visible and strong contractions, and she may pant or yelp. It shouldn’t last more than 2 hours, and in most cases less than one. The vaginal discharge in Stage 2 varies from clear, to red, to green – all are potentially normal! Often, Stage 2 contractions are weak and intermittent to begin with, but should then get progressively stronger and stronger.

Stage 3

This is the time when the placenta, after birth, is delivered and usually occurs 5 to 15 minutes after delivery of the puppy. If multiple puppies are born rapidly, several placentas may be expelled together. After the passage of the placenta, the bitch will return to stage 2 labor. She may continue the resting phase or begin contracting.

How Long Will Whelping Take

Delivery times vary. Dogs with fairly slim heads such as Shelties, Collies and Dobermans may complete delivery of all the puppies within two to three hours. Brachycephalic breeds, or breeds with large, round heads such as Bulldogs, Boston Terriers, and Pekingese tend to have more difficult deliveries and sometimes will produce one or two puppies relatively quickly and then rest for a while before labour starts again.

If your dog has produced at least one puppy and does not strain again within two hours, your veterinarian should be contacted. If the pregnant female has been straining continuously for a couple of hours and has not had a puppy, it is also important that she receives immediate veterinary attention.

Whelping Complications

The majority of pregnancies go smoothly and you should have nothing to worry about. However if for any reason you are concerned, you should speak to your vet straight away. Most Complications come in the form of discolored discharge, Fever, Exhaustion, Difficulty Whelping and Stagnation.

First Timers

Females having puppies for the first time, should be kept under surveillance until you think they have finished, just in case they get into trouble. Make sure your dog is properly caring for her newborn puppies, particularly if she is still in labor.

Some females are more concerned with straining to produce the next puppy than caring for the puppies already delivered. If that is the case, place the puppies in a small cardboard box containing a towel-wrapped bottle filled with warm (not hot) water, and covered with another towel to keep them warm and protected until the mother finishes delivery.

After Birth Care

The mother and her litter should be examined by a veterinarian 1-3 days after the delivery is completed. This visit is to check the mother for complete delivery, and to check the new-born puppies. The mother may receive an injection to contract the uterus and stimulate milk production. Sometimes antibiotics may be prescribed if it is thought there is any infection present.

The mother may have a bloody vaginal discharge for 3-7 days following delivery. If it continues for longer than one week or she develops a pus like or smelly discharge consult your veterinarian.


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