When Your Dog Gives Birth

Puppies are among the most adorable babies in the animal kingdom. Even though a dog’s pregnancy only lasts two months, when the big day arrives it can be a stressful time for you and your dog. So what should you expect and how can you help the mummy-to-be?

You’ll need to give her lots of TLC
As soon as you suspect – or even before if it’s a planned pregnancy – you should take her to the vet to have a full check-up. The vet can then advise you how regularly you’ll need to bring her back in to make sure everything is progressing well and that mum or pups are happy and healthy.

She’ll want to hide away
In roughly the last two weeks of your dog’s pregnancy, she’ll probably feel the urge to nest. She may scrabble at her bedding, which is normal and shows she’s preparing to give birth. This means she’ll want a safe, quiet and relaxed place to hide away that’s not too hot or drafty. Ideally, she’ll be in her own room, or perhaps an airy cupboard, where she has a comfortable bed, bedding, food and water.

The best kind of bed for a dog when she’s giving birth is call a ‘whelping box’. Whelping is official term for canine labour, and a whelping box has sides. You can buy a whelping box, or make one yourself out of a sturdy cardboard box with a section cut-out that allows mum to come and go, but keeps the puppies (once they arrive) safely inside.

The whelping box needs to be well away from other animals and children so she can feel calm.

She may stop eating 24 hours before the big event
In the months leading up to the birth, it’s important that she’s eating and drinking enough. It’s often advised that dogs are given puppy food during the pregnancy, but your vet will be able to prescribe a bespoke diet based on her individual needs. However, right before she’s about to go into labour, she’ll probably stop eating, which is a good sign that the births are imminent.

She may start to get restless
Some mummy dogs start to pace shortly before labour begins as they feel the contractions starting. She may also be sick, start licking herself more than usual, and you may notice a mucus discharge. These are all normal signs of labour beginning, but if you have any concerns you should consult your vet as soon as possible. Make sure you have their out-of-hours number so you’re prepared for any complications day or night.

She’ll know what to do
Hopefully her instincts will kick in and the best thing for you to do is stay calm and try not to fuss or stress her. She may decide that the nest and whelping box you’ve carefully set up for her isn’t right and move to a different part of the house. If this happens, let her go where she feels most comfortable as long as her and her litter will be safe there.

You’ll see a grayish sac
This means puppy time is close! Each baby should be in their own sac. But not always. She should give birth to the first puppy within about an hour of the sac appearing. If she doesn’t you should consider calling the vet as she may need professional help. Throughout the whole process the golden rule is: if in doubt, call your vet. Even if everything is progressing well, it’s a good idea to check in with your vet and keep them up-to-date with her progress.

You may have to help clean the puppies
Once the first puppy is born, mum should start cleaning them straight away. Puppies are born with a membrane that looks like plastic. If this isn’t removed within five minutes of their birth they could suffocate. Keep an eye on them and make sure the membrane has been broken. If not, you’ll need to do it to make sure the puppy can breathe.

After the membrane comes off, mum should start to lick her pup to stimulate him or her to breathe and start crying. If the pup doesn’t respond you’ll need to rub him or her briskly with a towel until they start to breathe.

She may eat the placenta
The placenta, or afterbirth, is a black/green tissue that mum should give birth to shortly after each puppy is born. She may try to eat the placenta, which as icky as it sounds isn’t harmful. Although it is best to try to remove it as soon as possible and keep her whelping box as clean as possible. It’s important to keep track of the number of puppies and placentas as she may have some still inside her. In some cases this will need to be removed by the vet to prevent infection.

She’ll probably bite through the umbilical cord
But if she doesn’t you’ll need to cut them yourself. Use sterilised scissors and cut an inch from the puppy’s tummy. Vets recommend to crush the cord rather than cleanly cut it. This prevents bleeding. You’ll then need to tie the cord. Use some clean thread to do this.

Keep them safe while mum is still in labour
After each birth it’s advisable to pop them one by one into a warm and comfy laundry basket near the whelping box where mum can see them so she doesn’t get stressed. Once all the puppies are born and clean they can be reunited with their (probably very tired) mum to nurse.

If you notice mum is continuing to have contractions without giving birth, call your vet.

Keep a close eye on your little family
For the next few days it’s important to keep a close watch on how all the puppies are getting on. Mum’s job is to keep them clean and well fed. Your job is make sure they’re all warm and comfortable enough, that mum is eating and drinking enough and that the puppies aren’t being rejected or unable to feed for whatever reason.

Some mothers go off their food immediately after giving birth, but this shouldn’t last long. Make sure your vet checks on them regularly to make sure all is well.

And finally, enjoy your new little family!