The normal whelping process

If your dog is pregnant or you plan to breed, it is best to prepare by becoming familiar with the normal canine birthing (whelping) process. A pregnant dog will experience several physiological changes. These changes include an increased heart rate, respiratory rate, and increases in several hormones to aid in maintaining the pregnancy and preparing the body for giving birth and nursing. Ideally, consulting with your veterinarian early and regularly if your dog is pregnant can help ensure a smooth pregnancy and labor. By understanding the normal process, you can detect when there might be a problem during labor and when to seek help from a veterinarian. If you know your dog is having difficulty giving birth (dystocia) or are unsure if things are progressing normally, seek veterinary care immediately.

How long is pregnancy in dogs?

A dog's pregnancy lasts about two months, or an average of 63 days from ovulation.

Predicting the exact expected day of birth can be difficult because the day of breeding might not be the date the dog becomes pregnant. For this reason, breeding dates are often inaccurate (63 +/-7 days from the date of the first breeding). This disparity can occur because of several reasons. The male dog's sperm can survive many days in the female reproductive tract. Additionally, when the female dog ovulates, the egg must mature for 2-3 days before it can be fertilized. Female dogs may accept mating for several days before and/or several days after ovulation, making for a wide possible window of fertilization.

If your dog’s date of ovulation is known, her due date can be predicted with much more precision. A dog’s heat cycle is usually monitored by measuring a blood hormone called progesterone, which increases before ovulation. Once the progesterone reaches a certain level, ovulation has occurred. The due date is expected to be 63 +/- 1-2 days from this date.

Can my veterinarian help predict when my dog will give birth?

Besides ovulation timing (mentioned above), which is considered the most reliable and preferred method for predicting parturition date, your veterinarian can measure the hormone progesterone with a blood sample at the end of pregnancy. In most dogs, this number will drop suddenly within 24 hours of giving birth. Your veterinarian may also be able to perform ultrasound measurements of the puppies when they are about midway through gestation to estimate your dog’s due date.

What are the expected stages of labor?

The initiation of birth occurs through a complex cascade of events involving the secretion of specific hormones, ultimately leading to a sharp decrease in progesterone levels, which induces labor.

There are three stages of labor:

  1. Uterine contractions and dilation of the cervix
  2. Expulsion of the fetus (puppy)
  3. Expulsion of the placenta

The second and third stages happen simultaneously in dogs.

How will I know when my dog is going into labor?

You may notice behavior changes in your dog, such as extreme nesting behavior (fervently shredding bedding material, frantic nesting, etc.), discomfort and increased panting. These signs usually occur 6-12 hours before parturition and signify the start of stage I labor, but may last up to 24-36 hours.

While it is not always detected, rectal temperature transiently decreases within 24 hours of parturition (< 99ºF). The normal temperature for a dog is between 100-102.5ºF. This decrease in temperature typically lasts around eight hours.

Dogs may also have vaginal discharge before birth that is clear to white. If a clear or white sac is noted protruding from the vulva (external genitalia), whelping should be imminent. If green discharge is noted, it should be followed immediately by a fetus, as this indicates placental separation.

How long should it take between birthing puppies?

It typically takes 0-30 minutes for each puppy to be born. Up to two hours between puppies is considered normal. Contact your veterinarian if more than two hours have passed between the delivery of puppies.

It is common for two fetuses to be delivered, followed by two placentas, because of the tendency for each successive fetus to be delivered from alternate uterine horns. Head-first and tail-first presentations of birthing puppies are normal as long as all legs are extended straight.

What should I do if my dog has not passed the placenta after giving birth?

If you are concerned about a “retained placenta,” your dog has almost certainly consumed it without you noticing. Dogs will rapidly consume the placenta if permitted (possibly before you see its delivery).

It is neither beneficial nor detrimental for a bitch to consume the placenta, but consumption often results in diarrhea.

Is it normal that my dog has vaginal discharge after giving birth?

After giving birth, it is normal for dogs to have some vaginal discharge called lochia, which ranges in color from green to red or brown. Lochia usually persists for about three weeks but may last up to eight weeks. It should progressively darken in color and decrease over time.

Lochia should not have a foul odor. If a foul odor is noted or the amount of lochia increases at any time, seek veterinary care as this could be a sign of infection.