Recommendations for Whelping Bitches

Kimberly S. Cole, DVM

  • Gestation time: 64 days. Most dogs whelp at 56-66 days after the first breeding.
  • Nutrition: We recommend that bitches in whelp be fed a commercial brand dog food for the first half of the pregnancy. About three weeks prior to whelping, we suggest switching to a puppy food formula. No vitamins of calcium supplements are needed unless your bitch is a toy breed or has had problems whelping in the past.

Supplies Needed for Whelping

  1. whelping box: This can be as simple as a child’s plastic pool. Avoid soft beds or beds that are unable to be washed and disinfected easily. Do not put excessive amounts of blankets in the whelping box to prevent puppies from suffocating. It is a good idea to allow the bitch to get used to sleeping in the whelping box at least two weeks before she is due.
  2. heating lamp: Puppies need to be kept at a room temperature at 75F. The number one reason for puppies dying is getting cold. Do not use heating pads. They can become too hot and the puppies may be unable to get off them and they get burned.
  3. lots of small towels: you will use these to dry and rub the pups.
  4. pediatric nasal aspirator: this will be necessary to suck out any mucous discharge that may be present after birth.
  5. dental floss: will be used to tie any umbilical cords that may bleed.

Signs of Whelping

  1. Usually, dogs will stop eating about one or two days before whelping.
  2. It is a good idea to learn how to take your dog’s temperature rectally. Normal temperature for a dog is 101-102F. In 90% of all dogs, their body temperature will drop to 98-99F 24 hours before whelping. This is an excellent way to monitor exactly when the bitch will whelp. Sometimes a dog’s temperature will vary during the day; it will be lowest in the early morning and creep up during the day. Therefore, it is a good idea to take the temperature twice a day. When the temperature drops and stays low, the dog will normally whelp in 24 hours.
  3. Most dogs will start nesting about 24 hours before whelping. Nesting may include such behavior as tearing up beds, shredding towels or blankets, and sleeping in small areas such as closets.
  4. At the beginning of the actual “birth stage,” most dogs will pant and act uncomfortable or unsettled.

Whelping

  1. After one or two hours of productive contractions, pups should begin to arrive.
  2. Pups are inside a membranous sack. This sack should be removed as soon as possible to prevent suffocation. Pups should be dried off and have their mouth and nose suctioned out to help clear the airways. Most of the time the umbilical cord will still be attached to the placenta. Cut the cord about one inch from the pup and tie off with the dental floss if it is still bleeding. The bitch will probably want to eat the placenta. It is OK if she eats one or two but if she eats all of them, it may cause her to vomit.
  3. Pups are usually born every 30-60 minutes. If more than two hours elapse between pups then there may be a problem. It is a good idea to get the bitch up every 2-3 hours and walk her around. This will stimulate the contractions to become more effective. Make sure when you take the dog out, to keep her on a leash or go with her to ensure that no pups are accidentally born outside and left.
  4. If a pup becomes “stuck” in the birch canal, you may have to gently pull on the pup and help it along. It is normal for some pups to be born hind feet first, and do not worry if this happens.
  5. If contractions start and the bitch seems to be straining for longer than an hour, there may be a problem.
  6. Allowing the pups to nurse on the mom soon after birth and during the whelping stage will stimulate the contractions and help the whelping process.
  7. it is not unusual for one or two pups to be stillborn.

Post Whelping

  1. The pups should be monitored closely for the first 24-72 hours to ensure that the mother is being careful and not lying on them in the whelping box.
  2. The mother will have a brownish to red discharge for 6-8 weeks after whelping. If the discharge seems heavy or has a foul odor then there may be a problem.
  3. While the mother is nursing pups she should be fed a puppy formula food and be fed at least two times a day. The amount should be at least 1 cup per 20 pounds of body weight.

Other Helpful Facts

  1. Pups usually open their eyes at 7-10 days.
  2. Most pups should be started on solid food at 3-4 weeks of age.
  3. Pups should remain with their litter mates until 8 weeks of age.
  4. Pups need to be de-wormed at 4, 6, and 8 weeks of age.
  5. Vaccinations need to be started at 6-8 weeks of age.