There is nothing quite as exciting as finding out that your dog is expecting!
Dog pregnancies only last for around 2 months, and within no time the little bundles of joy will be romping around your home very soon. If you are wondering how you can help your dog in labour, stop worrying - dog deliveries are usually much less complicated than human deliveries, and your dog should be able to bring her puppies into the world without any problems. Do keep her company during the whole process to help her stay calm and be prepared to step in at any point necessary.
Speak to your vet if you have any concerns about pregnancy in dogs and also to understand common dog labour complications. Their advice should have you well prepared. Follow these helpful tips from our PetCare Team to be as ready as possible for when your pet becomes a mum.
Preparing for the birth
You will need to build your dog a ‘nest’ for at least the last two weeks of your dog’s pregnancy. You should start planning a place for the nest when you can feel puppies move in a pregnant dog. This will give her a private space where she can peacefully give birth to her puppies.
The nest can be something very simple like a large cardboard box lined with puppy pads, and filled with clean blankets, sheets or towels. Make sure the box is big enough for both the mum and her litter to stand inside. This will ensure that the box is tall enough to stop any adventurous puppies escaping. Also, make sure the box is wide enough for the mum to have her own space if she wants it.
Place the nest in a quiet spot in your home where it is not too hot or cold, to keep the mum calm and cosy. Add her own bedding or toys to the nest (after sterilising them) to encourage her to use it.
In most cases, your dog’s labour will go smoothly but it’s advisable to have help on hand to keep her calm if she runs into any complications. Make sure you get your vet's personal phone number prior to your dog giving birth, as dog deliveries often happen during the night. Inform your vet when your dog’s due date is close, so they are on standby. If your dog does have problems delivering her puppies, you may need to take her to the vet, so ensure that you have access to transportation.
In case the mum does need a helping hand, have nail scissors and several clean, dry towels handy during the birth. You may also need a large basket to give plenty of room for the newborn puppies.
If you do move the puppies away from the mum, you will have to keep them warm. Using a microwavable bean bag instead of a hot water bottle could be the recommended option, as their sharp teeth and claws can cause punctures.
Often, your dog may move the nest to another area of the house just a few days before the delivery. It is not advisable to move it from her preferred location.
One of the first signs of impending labour is a drop in mum’s body temperature from 38.5°C to 37°C – labour usually begins around 12-24 hours after that.
To know when this happens, take your dog’s temperature twice a day with a rectal thermometer throughout her final week of pregnancy. If you’re not sure of how to do it, ask your vet for instructions. If you find that taking her temperature is causing your dog stress, then stop. You need to help her to stay as calm as possible at this time.
During the final week of dog pregnancy, mums-to-be may be a little restless and seclude themselves in a quiet area. A loss of appetite and scrabbling in her bedding is common in the 12-24 hours before she goes into labour.
Most dog deliveries are simple affairs, but it’s always good to stay prepared.
The stages of labour and delivery
Usually, dog births are simple affairs that don’t involve any complications. Although you should interfere as little as possible, it is important to be with your dog while she is giving birth so that you can support her and step in if there are any problems.
Deliveries normally last 3-12 hours and happen in three stages.
- The cervix and uterus prepare for delivery with smaller contractions that may not be visible to you.
- Your dog’s vulva will begin to swell in preparation for delivery.
- It is common that this stage of labour is very strenuous for the dog. The mum may be very restless and unsettled and even start to pant and shiver – this is all perfectly normal, so don’t worry.
The second stage is the passing of puppies. It usually takes 3 to 12 hours, but in some cases, it can take up to 24 hours.
- The mum's rectal temperature will return to normal as she gets ready to deliver her puppies.
- A greenish/brown discharge may suggest that the placenta has separated. If you see this, a puppy should be born within the next 2-4 hours. If it doesn't then contact your vet, as there may be a complication with your dog giving birth.
- You can notice strong contractions, followed by a clear fluid from your dog’s vulva – a puppy should follow within the next 20-30 minutes.
- Puppies are usually born within 20 minutes of each other, but it’s quite normal for the mum to rest during delivery, and may not strain at all for up to two hours between pups. Watch your dog giving birth closely and contact your vet if she rests for more than two hours.
- It’s normal for some of the litter to be born tail-first. You may have to gently encourage the mum to deliver puppies that are tail-first, but be very careful not to tug.
- The mum should bite through the puppy’s sacs and umbilical cords before cleaning them herself. If you notice her trying to chew the cords too close to the puppy, stop her and do it yourself. See our Helping during delivery section for more information.
- In case the labour lasts a long time, the mum may need to go to the toilet in between deliveries. Keep a close eye on her in case she starts giving birth to the next pup at the same time.
How do you know when your dog is done giving birth?
Ans: It is when all the placentas have been passed from her body.
- The placentas should pass after each puppy has been born.
- It is common for dogs to get very restless and unsettled during this stage. It is perfectly normal for the mum to even pant and shiver, so don’t worry.
- Count the number of placentas that have been passed and contact your vet if you think there may be placentas left inside the mum. They may need to intervene to get them out. Also, don't let the mum eat more than 2 of the passed placentas.
Hopefully, you will not have to intervene during your dog’s labour, but occasionally the mum may need a bit of support. There are a few scenarios where you might need to step in.
- One pup might get stuck in its sac while the mum is delivering another. In this case, quickly clear the sac that the puppy is in, and dry them with a clean cloth rubbing against the grain of their fur. This rubbing motion will encourage the pup to take their first breath.
- If the mum hasn’t cleaned a puppy, they may have fluid in their airways. Pop your clean little finger inside their mouth to scoop anything out and wipe their nose. Rub them with a towel to encourage them to cry, as this will clear any fluid that they may have swallowed.
- If the mum is preoccupied with delivering another puppy right after delivering one before, you may have to cut the umbilical cord of an earlier born puppy. Tie a knot using a heavy thread approximately one inch from where the cord attaches to the pup’s body and tie another knot a little further from the first, and use sterilised scissors to cut the cord between the two knots. Cutting too close to the pup’s body can risk damaging its health, and leaving it too long could lead to it being chewed or swallowed by mum.
- See our page on things to look out for during labour for more information on the stages of labour and possible complications.
After the birth
When you are sure that labour has finished, and all the pups are out, give mum something to eat and drink. Feed her the normal food she has had throughout pregnancy, as she’ll need something that she’s used to and that’s gentle on her stomach. Also, give her lots of water to make sure she has the energy to breastfeed her pups.
Try to encourage her to go outside for fresh air and go to the toilet – this might be tough to do right after the delivery, so wait for a few hours. Remove and replace anything that has been soiled during delivery, and then give the new family some quiet, quality time together.
If you’d like more information on labour and pregnancy in dogs or have any other queries, contact our PETCARE EXPERT TEAM