The Whelping Bitch

  • Gestation period of bitch 63 days +/-24hrs from day of ovulation – OR 61 days from fertilisation.
  • You should be prepared from day 58.
  • Environment for Normal Parturition:
  1. Draught free
  2. Room temp approx 26°C
  3. Whelping box (or inflatable round paddling pool is a good alternative – soft edges, easily cleaned)
  4. Bedding – easily removable and disposable/washable, preferably ‘vetbed’
  5. Quiet and stress free


  • First stage labour:   0 – 36 hours
    • Bitch can be restless 2 – 3 days prior to parturition
    • Noticeable discomfort and nesting before birth (0 – 24hrs or up to 36hrs with 1st litter)
    • Usually milk present in mammary glands
    • Uterine contractions start but not very frequent
    • Usually no discharge at this stage
    • Let bitch chose own birthing place/position → bitch doesn’t always chose an appropriate place!
    • Gradually contractions become more frequent and cervix dilates
    • Allantochorion of the first puppy ruptures → ‘waters break’
    • Abdominal straining is stimulated


  • Second stage labour:
    • Amnion (sac) of the first puppy is usually seen soon after straining (within 30 minutes) – may appear and disappear with contractions.
    • The amnion sac either ruptures during birth or it remains intact and the puppy is born within it.
    • Puppies are not breach unless the legs are not coming and only the tail can be felt/seen.
    • Backwards presentation is not so good if its the first puppy, as it will not open the cervix as well as the puppy’s head would
    • Malpositioning can occur (breach) and is very difficult to correct as birth canal is so small and puppy very fragile →  seek veterinary advice
    • Do not pull a puppy out! Very easy to break jaw or pull a limb off
    • Sometimes lifting bitches forelegs up may help gravity to assist
    • KY jelly may be used (or other water based lubricant)
    • Problems more likely to occur in single pup pregnancies (but may not know this at the time) and brachyocephalic breeds.


  • Third stage labour:
    • Not clearly defined as placentas may be expelled at various times after the puppy or sometimes with the puppy.
    • Eating of the placenta is not necessary and may cause diarrhoea
    • Bitch should lick and rupture the amnion(if not ruptured already) and umbilical cord. Licking will also stimulate the puppy.
    • If bitch does not break the amnion sac, she might need assistance as puppy will die → max 5 minutes!


    • It is NOT advisable to leave a bitch alone during labour → if problems occur then human intervention (breeder or veterinary) could prevent dead puppies.
    • Care when letting the bitch go out to urinate – always follow with a torch and check outside for puppies (bitches most commonly whelp at night).
    • Check car for puppies if travelling to vet → journey may stimulate bitch to give birth in car.
    • Unproductive straining should NOT go on any longer than 30 minutes → bear in mind how long it would take to get to the vets, usually at least 10 mins, bitch may well give birth in the car on the way.
    • Interval between each puppy can be up to 2 – 3 hours → If approaching 3 hours phone Vets as veterinary assistance most likely needed.
    • Remain calm as a nervous owner will make the bitch nervous → bitches adrenalin may block effects of oxytocin. Bitch needs to be kept calm.
    • Avoid having too many people around.
    • First time bitches may be stressed by pain and stop pushing when in pain.
    • Hypothermia is the most common cause of death in neonates → keep them warm!
    • If Bitch needs to be brought in for Veterinary assistance any pups already born should be brought along too.
    • All puppies should be checked for cleft palates and any other abnormalities.

Urgent Veterinary Attention Required if:

  • Unproductive straining for 30 mins or more

  • Interval between puppies greater than 3 hours

  • Greenish/black discharge from vulva

  • Absence of pushing – inertia

  • Puppy stuck in birth canal – dystocia

If in ANY doubt → Seek advice from a Vet



Pool House Vets