Pet Health

The Whelping Period (Labor)

The Whelping Period (Labor)

Most bitches will whelp alone and without assistance, needing only your supervision to see that all is going well. If you bother the bitch too much or interfere, you will make her nervous. Be ready to help her or seek help when labor begins if any abnormalities should develop. When in labor, you will see her begin to undergo contractions; she may lie on her side and strain or stand in a “urination stance” (squatting as if to urinate) as she strains.


These situations may develop during any phase of the birthing period. Before you panic and call, wash your dominant hand well with good soap and water, and try to determine if and what is present vaginally. Having someone muzzle the dam and hold her will reduce the risk of fear or pain bites. Gently ascend a finger or two vaginally and determine if there is something already committed vaginally. If so, delays in the delivery may damage the fetus, so try to help the dam pull it out if you can grasp a puppy’s body part. Try this before calling, and you may just save a pup from brain damage or even death. Packing up and traveling to an emergency visit takes precious time.


  1. Abdominal straining in the urination stance if lying on her side.
  2. Appearance of the “water bag” at the vulva. (The bag is part of the placenta).
  3. With continued straining, the “water bag” should be forced out within 15 minutes. The puppy will be contained within this membranous sac. The mother should chew the membranes from around the newborn puppy and free them from the sac. She should then bite the umbilical cord in half and lick the puppy dry. This will stimulate the puppy to breathe and cry. She may then eat the membranous sac. (placenta) These membranes will not harm her, but don’t allow her to eat more than one or two of the placenta since they may cause some indigestion. Some mothers fail to break the sac and free the puppy. If so, you should help her break the sac to free the puppy and encourage her to lick the puppy. If she fails to lick the newborn pup, you should gently but vigorously rub the puppy with a rough towel until it starts breathing and crying. Then, sever the umbilical cord about 1/2 inch from the puppy’s abdomen with clean scissors. It is better to “crush” the cord in half rather than a clean cut. You should tie a clean thread around the end of the cut cord to prevent bleeding. The cord will shrink as it dries and fall off in a few days. (Make sure you have left the cord at least 1/2 inch long.) Keep a bottle of alcohol handy for rinsing the scissors before use. A shallow dish of iodine or bactine solution can be used to dip the end of the umbilical cord after you have tied it.
  4. Afterbirth (placenta) should follow each pup within 5 to 15 minutes. Keep a count of the number of afterbirths. Not every puppy is followed by its placenta, and you may have placentas retained that will be a part of the post-delivery discharge. This and breech birthing is normal in the bitch. This can last up to 4 weeks and be normal. Don’t allow the mother to eat more than one or two afterbirths since she may get indigestion and diarrhea if allowed.
  5. Another puppy should follow in 1 to 2 hours. If the mother continues to strain and have contractions for more than 2 hours without giving birth to another puppy, GIVE US A CALL RIGHT AWAY AT (425) 255-8676.
    After the puppy has been dried, the umbilical cord severed (and tied if you severed the cord) encourages the mother to lick her puppy. Still, she may be disinterested in her puppies until she is through giving birth to all her puppies. Then, place the puppy in the small box or basket containing the heating pad or hot water bottle you prepared beforehand. Ensure the heating pad is not too warm, and cover it with some towels. It is not necessary that the puppies nurse until the mother dog has completed whelping all her puppies. (unless complications develop during whelping)
  6. After the mother completes whelping, she will lie down and rest without further straining or contractions. Then, remove her from the whelping box and allow her to urinate outside. Return her to the whelping box and give her the puppies to nurse.
  7. The mother should be examined within 24 to 48 hours after whelping and given a Posterior Pituitary Extract (P.O.P.) injection.
  8. In breeds that require tail docking and dewclaw removal, 4 or 5 days of age is the recommended time for this procedure.