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Canine Whelping


You should begin to prepare for delivery of puppies at about the 58th day of pregnancy.  A whelping box should be provided for the bitch to sleep in to ensure birth of the puppies in the area you have chosen.  This box should be relatively small with sides 6 to 8 inches high to keep the pups from crawling out of the nest.  A shelf should be built to prevent the pups from getting squashed by the bitch.  Place the box in a secluded, yet familiar area of the home, away from the family traffic to allow the bitch her solitude and much needed rest.

Newspapers make excellent bedding because they can be changed easily, they are absorbent and they can be shredded by the bitch as she makes her ‘nest’.  If materials such as old quilts, blankets, rags, towels etc are used, they must be washed frequently.

The rectal temperature of the mother may sometimes be recorded twice daily from the 58th day of pregnancy until labour begins.  Normal rectal temperature varies between 38.5 C and 39.5 C .  Within 24 hours before the onset of labour, a temperature drop of 1-2 degrees will occur.


Labour in the female dog can be divided into three stages.  The second and third stages are repeated with the birth of each puppy.


During the first stage, the bitch seems extremely restless.  She may be very nervous and often seek seclusion.  She may refuse food even if offered her favourite treats.  This stage may last from 6 to 24 hours.  This is a good time to exercise the mother and to try to ensure that urination and bowel movement occur.  It is also the time to prepare the delivery room and box – quiet, darkened, restful and away from constant distractions.

In the second stage, contractions and expulsive efforts begin.  Usually, a small greenish sac of fluid first protrudes from the vulva.  The puppy and its attached placenta follow. 

The normal presentation of the puppy is nose first, lying on its stomach.  About one-third of all puppies, however, are born hindquarters first and this presentation might be considered normal.  This is often mistakenly called a ‘breach’ delivery.

After delivery, the bitch opens the sac, cleans off the pup and bites the umbilical cord.  It is sometimes advisable to perform these functions for her.  This will be discussed under Obstetrical care.  Make sure the sac is removed from the puppies nose and mouth immediately if it is unbroken during delivery.

The third stage of labour is the resting stage, which follows each delivery.  Mild contractions and delivery of the afterbirth occur in this phase.  This stage usually lasts from 10 to 30 minutes, but it may range from seconds to several hours.

© Forrest Hill Vets (2000) Ltd