How Does a Dog Give Birth?

By Scott Morgan

Dogs rarely need human assistance when having puppies. In fact, 98 percent of whelping dogs have no real problems. But it still pays to know what to expect when she's expecting.

Pregnancy in Dogs

Prenatal Care

To ensure that your dog has a healthy pregnancy and a healthy litter, make certain that her vaccinations for distemper, parvovirus and hepatitis are all up to date.

Just as in women, a dog's appetite during pregnancy will skyrocket. You'll likely need to feed her a few times a day. Make sure she gets a high-protein diet. Include vitamin supplements if your vet directs you to do so. Feed her several smaller meals throughout the day, rather than one or two large meals.

Also, know that dogs pass worms onto their pups via milk and the placenta. Regular deworming is a must. The Utah Veterinary Medical Association recommends:

As a guide, worm your bitch two weeks before whelping and again two weeks after. Continue to give heartworm prevention as normal.

A dog's pregnancy typically lasts around 65 days. She will usually begin to grow teats around the 35-day mark, but this and belly growth will increase rapidly in the final two weeks of her pregnancy.

Stage One: Labor

In the final two weeks of pregnancy, your dog's temperature should be between 101 and 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit. Daily monitoring with a rectal thermometer can help you keep an eye out for sudden changes, but according to veterinarian Dr. T.J. Dunn, trying to guess via thermometer when labor will begin can just lead to anxiety and stress, and that's not good for you or your dog.

A more reliable signal that whelping, or delivery, is coming, will be your dog's disinterest in food during her last 24 hours. Also, she will experience cramps and lick at her vulva.

During this first stage, her cervix will dilate and contractions will begin. Your dog will likely be upset by this painful surprise, so don't be alarmed if she whines or even vomits. This is a long stage for your dog. Contractions generally last six to 18 hours.

Keep your dog as calm as possible during this time. Keep her in a darkened area, preferably the bathroom, and away from others in the house.

Stage Two: Delivery

Problems with Birthing

While most puppy births go smoothly, you may need to lend a hand. If your dog is not licking her pups, for example, you will need to rub them gently but vigorously to get them breathing and to help clear fluid from their airways.

If you see a legs-first delivery, pull the puppy gently and in a downward, rearward arcing motion to help her pass the pup. It is normal for pups to be born butt-first.

When she's ready to begin birthing, contractions will ramp up in frequency -- to about every 30 minutes -- and intensity. You may see her shiny gray water sac protrude from her vulva. Your dog will usually tear this sac open to drain the yellowy fluid.

Your dog will pass a placenta for each puppy, and pups will show about every half-hour. However, if she takes a break, it's not necessarily time to panic. She may stop delivering for two or even four hours.

If she has delivered more than one pup and then stops for a few hours, it's normal. But if she has stopped for a couple hours after only one pup, call your vet or get her to a veterinary hospital quickly.

As pups appear, mom will lick them roughly and bite the umbilical cord. The rough licking encourages the pups to breathe and improves their circulation.

Stage Three: Expelling Placenta

When your dog is finished delivering, her uterine wall will contract, thereby expelling any remaining placenta, fluids and blood.

Puppies should begin suckling immediately and mom should continue to lick them. Unless there seems to be a specific problem, it's best to let nature play out. Call your vet if she is not nursing or if a puppy isn't feeding, but generally, the new family should be able to figure it out just fine on their own.