If your female dog is pregnant, knowing the stages of labor and the signs of possible complications is essential to ensure that she has a smooth delivery and healthy puppies. The normal duration of canine pregnancy is between 58 and 71 days. As day 55 of the pregnancy approaches, regular monitoring of your dog’s rectal temperature is a good indicator of when whelping will begin. Have your veterinarian show you how to accomplish this safely.
The normal body temperature for a dog is between 101 and 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit. Before whelping begins, a female dog’s temperature drops below 100 degrees. At this point, whelping should begin within 24 hours. This is the beginning of stage 1 in the whelping process. During this stage, the uterus is preparing itself for delivery. Uterine contractions begin and the cervix opens. You may notice your dog is restless or nervous. As contractions occur, you may see excessive panting. She may refuse to eat or vomit. Stage 1 typically lasts between six and 12 hours but can progress into stage two sooner.
The second stage is when the puppies enter the world. During this stage, your dog should be in a quiet place so she can focus on delivery. Contractions are visible at this point. Each puppy emerges covered by a membrane. Your dog should tear this membrane with her teeth, as well as sever the umbilical cord. She will then lick and clean the pup, stimulating breathing. When noticeable contractions begin, the first puppy should be born within a few hours. Once you notice the first signs of a puppy emerging, complete delivery should occur within 30 minutes. After the delivery of one pup, the mother dog enters into stage 3.
Stage 3 is the expulsion of the placenta. Typically, a placenta is expelled after each pup, though this does not always happen. Your dog may have two puppies and then expel two placentas. The mother dog typically eats the placenta, which helps to stimulate milk production. It is essential to monitor placenta expulsion, ensuring that one placenta comes out for each pup. Retained placentas can cause medical complications. Signs of retained placentas include a green discharge and fever. After placenta expulsion, your dog returns to stage 2 to deliver another puppy. She may rest for up to two hours between pups.
Most deliveries go smoothly and require little human interaction, but should be vigilant; there are some signs to look out for. If you know your dog’s due date and she has gone past that date by more than three days, consult your veterinarian, as there may be complications. Other reasons to contact a veterinarian include contractions for more than an hour without the delivery of a puppy, large amounts of red blood or visible pain, stillborn pups, or a stuck puppy. If the mother dog does not open each puppy sac after delivery, you will need to do this. You may also need to tie the umbilical cord. Before your dog’s due date, talk with your veterinarian about possible complications and how to deal with them.
By Deborah Lundin
American Kennel Club: The Healthy Dog
VCA Animal Hospitals: Breeding for Pet Owners -- Whelping in Dogs
University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine: Whelping
Perry Veterinary Clinic: Having Puppies
PetMD: Retained Afterbirth in Dogs
About the Author
Deborah Lundin is a professional writer with more than 20 years of experience in the medical field and as a small business owner. She studied medical science and sociology at Northern Illinois University. Her passions and interests include fitness, health, healthy eating, children and pets.