Pregnancy and Whelping (giving birth to puppies)!

If your dog is pregnant it is important to be prepared and familiarise yourself with the process that is involved. Although most births run smoothly and need no help, there are times when your vet will need to intervene so it is helpful for you to be aware of the signs to look out for.

Here at Palmerstown Veterinary Hospital we have put together some points on pregnancy and whelping (giving birth to pups).


The length of pregnancy in the bitch averages 63 days.

In the last week of pregnancy the vulva becomes enlarged and flabby and there may be a clear vaginal discharge.

One accurate way to time the onset of whelping is to measure and record the bitches rectal temperature twice daily in the run up to the anticipated time of whelping, as a fall in body temperature of approximately 1°C occurs within the final 24 hours of the pregnancy (usually falls below 37.2°C).



The first stage of labour can last from 4-24 hours. The cervix begins to dilate and uterine contractions commence. Signs include restlessness, pawing, nest building, shivering, turning the head to watch the belly, possibly mild straining and occasionally vomiting. These signs normally progress steadily until the cervix is fully dilated and the bitch enters second stage labour.


In the second stage of labour the uterine contractions continue, forceful abdominal contractions commence and the foetuses are expelled. The bitch usually lies on her side while forcing, but will sometimes walk about and force in a squatting position. The first pup is normally born within 2-4 hours of the onset of 2nd stage labour, and the average interval between puppies is 30-60 minutes. However, there can be up to 4 hours between the birth of puppies – this is no problem if the bitch is resting comfortably.

You should contact your vet if there is persistent straining for more than 30 minutes and no puppy is produced.

The second stage of labour can take up to 24 hours in some bitches, and it is important that they are supervised by the owner during this time.


WB_Bird_2000-150x150You should avoid excessive interference at this stage but you should watch to ensure that whelping progresses steadily, that the puppies are released from their membranes and that they are not accidentally damaged by the bitch.
A dark green discharge is released as the placenta separates from the uterus and this is passed during the delivery of the puppies. Normally when a pup is born the bitch will attend to it, licking at its head to open the clear membranes that cover the puppy and biting through the umbilical cord. If the bitch does not do this immediately you should ensure that no membranes are left covering the puppy’s nose or mouth so that it can breathe.

Vigorously rubbing a newborn puppy with a towel can help to stimulate its breathing as well as heating it up. Newborn puppies should be allowed to suckle from the mother as soon as they can as this encourages the release of the hormone oxytocin which promotes contractions of the womb. During delivery the bitch will have shallow rapid breathing. This can be aggravated by poor ventilation and excessive heat in the whelping area. Between the delivery of puppies the bitch may become very quiet and almost sleepy until the next puppy enters the pelvis and forceful contractions commence again.


In this stage the bitch expels the placentas or “afterbirth”. The placentas may be passed individually along with each puppy or may be passed together at the end of the delivery. The bitch may try to eat the placenta but this can cause vomiting so we recommend that they are disposed of by the owner.



  • Over 4 hours elapsed after onset of second stage labour
  • Over 30 minutes of persistent strong abdominal contractions without the expulsion of offspring
  • Over 2 hours between deliveries
  • Failure to deliver pups 24  hours after a 1°C drop in rectal temperature
  • Persistent crying or signs of pain and licking at the vulva during delivery
  • Prolonged gestation, ie. pregnancy over 70 days from day of mating

If you notice any of the above problems please contact your vet in one of our Dublin Anicare practices immediately.

We are based in Palmerstown, Glasnevin, Blanchardstown, Clontarf and Santry.


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