Breeding, Pregnancy, and Whelping

Breeding | Normal Pregnancy | Nutrition | Parturition | Dystocia | Pseudopregnancy | Abortion | Whelping  

Introduction: The following information will help owners of female dogs give proper aid to mother and puppies during delivery. This discussion also includes information on maintaining the proper health and nutrition of the mother and puppies before, during, and after birth. Many dog owners will never need the following information; however, for those interested in breeding a female dog and having puppies, this information may be invaluable.

Breeding a Dog:

It is recommended prior to breeding, that a female dog be scheduled for routine examinations by a veterinarian. Continued examinations are recommended once during each trimester, post-whelping, and 2-4 weeks into lactation. Important topics such as body condition score, Brucella canis status, nutrition, pregnancy detection, fetal health assessment and count, dystocia risk assessment, puppy health and well-being, lactation, and recovery can all be addressed during these visits. Many problems and disappointments can be avoided by using the services of a trained professional during the pregnancy and whelping period. See preventing dystocia below for additional suggestions.


Normal Pregnancy:

Gestation: The average gestation time for dogs is 62 to 64 days from ovulation. The range of days in gestation is 57 to 68 days. The due date should be calculated to be between 63 days from the first breeding and 65 days after the last breeding.

Pregnancy is divided into trimesters. The majority of maternal weight gain during pregnancy occurs during the second and third trimesters. Nutritional needs increase during the third trimester and continue throughout lactation.

Detection of Pregnancy: This can be accomplished through a variety of procedures. The most simple method of pregnancy detection is through abdominal palpation by a trained professional. The optimal time for pregnancy detection by palpation is approximately 25 to 36 days after breeding. Palpation cannot accurately assess fetal health or number, and its success is dependent on the size and temperament of the female. Abdominal ultrasound is the most accurate method of pregnancy detection before the third trimester. Ultrasound can detect the first evidence of pregnancy as early as 3 weeks after breeding and can be used as an assessment of fetal health or stress. Accurate fetal counts are difficult in the larger litters, however. Abdominal radiographs taken well into the third trimester are the most accurate method of estimating litter size, and can detect some problems such as fetal death or oversized puppies.

Nutrition: Nutritional requirements of the female increase during gestation and lactation, especially during the third trimester of pregnancy and the first 4 weeks of lactation. Nutritional requirements are greater for females with larger litters. Environmental temperature, activity of the dam, and other factors which affect metabolism also determine the nutritional requirements during pregnancy and lactation. Feeding a high-quality diet during this critical time is probably the most important decision about nutrition the owner can make.

It has been recommended that the commercial dog food selected for females in the last 4 weeks of gestation and first 4 weeks of lactation should contain at least 29% protein and 17% fat on a dry-matter basis. In addition, the food should provide at least half of the first six ingredients from animal origin, and should include claims on the label that are substantiated by feeding trials.

Supplementation with a quality multiple vitamin-mineral product during pregnancy and lactation, given according to label instructions, is generally considered safe. Supplementation is not as critical as providing a high quality diet which meets the above criteria.

In summary, general recommendations in providing for the nutritional needs of a pregnant and lactating female dog include gradually introducing a high-quality diet which meets the above criteria during mid-pregnancy and continuing through the end of lactation. With the help of a medical professional, daily intake should be initially calculated based on weight, then adjusted based on individual variation and caloric needs. The daily intake is generally divided into two daily feedings. After whelping, the food intake should be accelerated by increasing meal size and frequency. Water may be added and food may be warmed to enhance taste. A quality multiple vitamin-mineral supplement may be given during this period. It is highly recommended that the owner consult with a veterinarian regarding the nutritional needs of pregnant and lactating dogs. See A575 for additional information on nutrition.

Parturition (delivery) - stages of labor:

The rectal temperature may be used as an indicator of the timing of parturition (delivery) in the female. The rectal temperature drops below 100°F, 12-24 hours prior to delivery. This drop is temporary and the temperature returns to normal just before or during labor.

  1. Stage 1 - First-stage labor is defined as the period of time were the cervix dilates and early uterine contractions occur. Signs of first-stage labor include decreased appetite, nesting, seeking seclusion, restlessness, panting, and shivering. Typically this stage lasts for 6-12 hours in most dogs, although it may begin as early as 48 hours prior to actually giving birth.

  2. Stage 2 - Second-stage labor consists of the delivery of each puppy with strong contractions of the abdomen and uterus. Second-stage labor usually alternates with third-stage labor for each puppy. The first puppy is typically born within 4 hours of the onset of stage two labor, and subsequent puppies are born 15 minutes to 2 hours apart thereafter.

  3. Stage 3 - Third-stage labor involves passage of the placenta. Each puppy develops during pregnancy with its own separate placenta. The placenta for each puppy is generally passed within 15 minutes after the puppy is born. If the placenta is still attached to the puppy, it should immediately follow the puppy; if the placenta and puppy have become separated during the birthing process, the placenta may take longer to pass, or may even be passed following delivery of a second puppy. The female commonly eats the placentas after stage three labor.


Problems associated with pregnancy and whelping:

  1. Dystocia: Because the process of natural selection tends to eliminate traits which would cause problems with health and reproduction, there are rarely problems with whelping in wild canids. In domestic dogs, however, difficult delivery or dystocia is seen quite frequently, especially in the miniature and toy breeds. Natural selection has been replaced with human selection for certain traits and qualities. One of the results of this type of genetic trait selection is that many of our modern breeds of dogs experience more problems with dystocia than is seen in wild canids. The information provided here will help an owner determine if a whelping female is experiencing dystocia and when professional help is required. Accurate and timely correction of a whelping problem will often result in a more favorable outcome. If a severe dystocia is not corrected, death of both the puppies and the mother may result.

    Causes of dystocia are several and are divided into two groups: fetal factors (i.e. large fetal size, incorrect fetal positioning) and maternal factors (i.e. birth canal abnormalities, lack of uterine contractions). A combination of fetal and maternal factors is not uncommon.

Detection of Dystocia: The following situations can be used to identify when a female may be experiencing dystocia:

  1. Failure to begin second-stage labor within 24 hours of a rectal temperature drop below 100°F.
  2. Observation of active, visible straining for 30 minutes without producing a puppy.
  3. Presence of fetal membranes in the birth canal for longer than 45 minutes without delivery.
  4. Observation of a female in second-stage labor for more than 4 hours, experiencing weakness, poor contractions, and failure to deliver puppies.
  5. Passage of more than 3 hours between puppies without signs of labor.
  6. Failure to deliver all puppies within 24 hours of starting second-stage labor.
  7. Observation of depression and lethargy in the mother.
  8. Observation of the female biting at her vulva and/or hind end with possible attempts to urinate frequently.
  9. Observation of a foul smelling, green/white discharge from the vulva, without the production of puppies.
  10. Failure of labor to begin after 68 days of gestation.

Treatment: Once it has been determined that a female is experiencing dystocia, the following may be used by a veterinarian to correct the problem:

  1. Manual attempts to remove the fetus(es) - This can often be accomplished if a puppy has entered the birth canal and no obstructions exist that will prevent the puppy from exiting. Lubrication of the birth canal and traction on the puppy, while putting pressure on the abdomen, may be sufficient to correct the problem.
  2. Episiotomy - Occasionally, the vulvar opening will be too small to allow the passage of puppies. In these cases, an incision known as an episiotomy may be performed to widen the opening and allow the delivery of puppies.
  3. Drug and hormonal assistance - Some causes of dystocia include low blood calcium or sugar levels, and fatigue of the muscles of the uterus. Administration of calcium, dextrose (sugar), or oxytocin (a natural hormone which stimulates contractions of the uterus) may be used to treat these situations.
  4. Cesarean section - If all else fails, or if it is determined that waiting for more conservative therapy to work may endanger the life of the mother and/or her unborn puppies, a cesarean section is performed as a treatment for dystocia. A cesarean section is the surgical removal of all puppies from the uterus while the mother is under general anesthesia. Ovariohysterectomy (spaying) may be performed at the same time if necessary or desired.

Preventing Dystocia: The following are a few suggestions that may help prevent or predict potential dystocia:

  1. Pre-breeding examination: It is recommended that any potential breeding female be taken to a veterinarian for an extended evaluation. During this examination the veterinarian may be able to detect any abnormalities in the outer birth canal or other problems with the overall health of the mother. Diagnostic work such as a CBC, blood chemistry profile, radiographs, and Brucella canis testing may be performed.
  2. Proper selection of the breeding pair: Breeding a female to a much larger stud dog substantially increases the risk for dystocia. It is recommended that the breeding pair be of approximately the same size and stature.
  3. Proper nutrition: ood nutrition before breeding to ensure that the female is physically prepared to support the growth of a litter is important in helping avoid problems. Undernourishment can contribute to infertility or can produce puppies with low birthweights. Obesity of the mother can also be a problem because it causes an increased risk for dystocia.
  4. Routine pregnancy examinations: At least one checkup per trimester is recommended. This entails a visit to the veterinarian every 3 weeks during pregnancy. For some patients, a brief examination, weight check, and discussion of nutrition may be all that is necessary for the first two visits. Other patients who may be experiencing difficulty or are determined to be more at risk may require other procedures to be performed, such as blood work and/or ultrasound. For the last visit, an abdominal ultrasound or radiograph is recommended to observe the fetal development and, if possible, count the number of puppies present. Knowing beforehand the number of puppies to be born can aid in detection of dystocia.
  1. Pseudopregnancy: Pseudopregnancy or "false pregnancy" is the exaggeration of the normal hormonal changes associated with the end of a heat or estrus cycle in the female. Symptoms may range from imperceptible to severe and include weight gain, development of the mammary tissue, lactation, vaginal discharge, nesting, restlessness, and mothering of toys or other objects. Detection of pseudopregnancy usually occurs when owners of a dog are concerned about continuing signs of first-stage labor without progression into second-stage labor. This condition usually resolves on its own within 1-3 weeks. Treatment, when necessary, usually involves stopping milk production and preventing mastitis.

  2. Abortion: Abortion can occur in the female as a result of a variety of causes. Abortion of pregnancy means to end the pregnant state and hence, the death of the fetus(es). Early in pregnancy, abortion may occur as complete resorption of the fetal tissue by the mother’s body. Some early resorptions may never be detected. Fetal death during the latter half of pregnancy may result in partial absorption, mummification (shriveling and drying) of the fetus, abortion (premature delivery of a partially developed fetus), or in stillbirth (dead puppy born during normal delivery). One or more fetuses can be resorbed, mummified, aborted, or stillborn, without affecting the rest of the litter.


Whelping – Care for the mother and newborn puppies:

  1. The mother should be allowed access to a dry, warm place to give birth. Because disturbances can prolong the normal birthing process, the birthing area should be located where there is little traffic and noise.

  2. Prior to second stage labor, the vulva, anus, and hind end should be cleaned with warm, soapy water. It is sometimes helpful to have the hair in these areas trimmed prior to delivery.  

  3. After each puppy is born, the mother typically breaks the amniotic sac, tears the umbilical cord, and begins to clean the puppy.  All of this should take place in the first 30 seconds after the puppy is born. During this time it is best to not interfere with the mother and puppy during this initial bonding process. The puppy should begin moving and crying. Any puppy that does not immediately move or cry should be retrieved and rubbed vigorously with a warm, clean towel over the back, abdomen, and top of its head. If the membranes are still covering the mouth, they should be removed. Suction of fluids from the nostrils with a bulb syringe may help the puppy’s breathing. Doxopram, a powerful respiratory stimulant, is often given to new-born puppies to help them begin breathing. Give 1-2 drops sublingually (under the tongue). Refer to page H162 for additional information on this drug. A video of a normal birth and a video of rubbing a puppy that is not breathing can be found below. 


    Videos Available in Full Book

    As a last resort, some professionals use an acupuncture site to help stimulate breathing in newborn puppies. A small sterile needle is carefully inserted at the point where the nose meets the upper lip. Response to this technique varies.

  4. To avoid hypothermia (low body temperature), the puppy should be returned to the mother to begin nursing once the puppy is moving, crying, and has a healthy, pink color to its tongue, mouth, and footpads.  Puppies that have trouble finding a teat to nurse from can be encouraged by gently grasping a teat and squeezing a small amount of milk out. The puppy can then be guided to the drop of milk and allowed to latch on. A video of this procedure can be found below.


    Videos Available in Full Book

  5. The "first milk" or colostrum is of vital importance to puppies in their first weeks of life. A mother begins to produce colostrum a few days before whelping and continues to secrete it for approximately 24 to 48 hours afterwards. Ingestion of colostrum by the puppy is most critical in the first 24 hours. Colostrum contains vital immune protection against diseases such as parvovirus and distemper which can be devastating killers of puppies. Any puppy that does not nurse during the first 24 hours should be force-fed colostrum, if possible, and carefully monitored. Orphaned puppies raised by hand are usually considered colostrum-deprived, and special arrangements should be made for these puppies in their vaccination protocol. Please see A905 for vaccination recommendations.

  6. In some cases, part or all of the umbilical cord and placenta may not be removed from the puppy by the mother.  In these situations, a hemostat should be clamped on the cord about 1 inch from the puppy's belly.  Using gloved hands, the umbilical cord should be torn below the hemostat and not between the hemostat and the belly. Be sure to try and tear the cord between both hands and not to simply pull against the puppy's abdomen. If a hemostat is not available, some unwaxed dental floss or thread can be used to tie off the cord. Then the cord can be torn. Some cords may be difficult to tear with the hands. In these cases, the cord can be crushed with the hemostats to weaken the tissues. The owner's fingers nails can also be used to scrape against the cord to help weaken the tissues. To help prevent bleeding, it is best to not cut the cord. After the cord has been torn or removed by the mother, many owners dip the navel with iodine or chlorhexidine as a disinfectant. A video of separating a cord can be found below.  


    Videos Available in Full Book

  7. For the first few days after giving birth, the mother should be watched for signs of a retained placenta or a uterine infection. Normally, all the placentas will either be attached to the puppy as it is born or will follow soon after the puppy's birth. Occasionally, one or more of the placentas will be retained in the uterus. When this happens, a uterus infection will likely result. To help prevent this from occurring, it is best to try and count all the placentas and make sure there is one for each puppy. This is often difficult when the mother has eaten some or all of the placentas. If the mother is eating the placentas, count each placenta as it comes out of the mother. Another problem that can occur is when one of the puppies is retained and not born for many hours after the rest of the litter. If the puppy dies in the mother's uterus, a severe infection can result. To help prevent this, an experienced person should feel the mother's abdomen for additional puppies after the supposed last puppy has been born. In addition, many breeders have a radiograph taken of the mother late in her pregnancy. This allows a veterinarian to determine the exact number of puppies to expect. A mother with a uterus infection will often have a foul smelling discharge coming out of the vulva, a fever, not want to eat (anorexia), and occasionally have vomiting and diarrhea. If these signs are noticed or if a puppy or a placenta is thought to be retained, a veterinarian should be contacted immediately.  The veterinarian may select to give the dog oxytocin to help the uterus contract and expel a puppy or placenta, and any infectious discharge. The veterinarian may also prescribe antibiotics for the mother.   


Pre-Whelping Supplies:
Clippers (to trim excess hair from mother)
Bucket with warm, soapy water (to clean mother’s vulva/anus prior to whelping)

Whelping Box Equipment:
Old blanket
Room thermometer (to keep the whelping area at a comfortable room temperature)

Whelping Kit:
Thermometer (12-24 hours prior to giving birth, mother’s temperature may drop below 1000 F.)
Bulb syringe (to remove mucus and debris from the puppies’ nostrils)
Latex gloves (should be worn at all times when giving assistance to the mother)
Hand towels (to dry and warm each puppy)
KY jelly (should be applied generously to the vulvar area and hands or equipment before attempting to give assistance)
Diluted betadine in spray bottle (tea colored - for disinfecting)
Paper towels
Trash bags
Laundry basket
Shampoo (for cleaning mother after giving birth)
Heating lamp (should never be positioned too close to mother or puppies)
Dopram-V (a respiratory stimulant - see page H162)

Puppy Box for after Puppies are Born:
Heating pad (puppies and mother should never be placed directly on the pad - always place a towel on the heating pad and the pet on the towel)
Receiving blankets
Hand towel

General Suggestions:

  1. The best thing that most owners can do when a dog is giving birth is to let the process proceed naturally and uninterrupted. However, if it is determined that the mother is having difficulties (see above information), then assistance should be given by a veterinarian or owner immediately.
  2. If assistance is given, three things are essential:
  3. If things do not progress easily, professional help is a must.