Puppy Care and Whelping


Information and advice on whelping and care of new born puppies.

Here is some terminology you will find useful whilst reading this leaflet.

  • Parturition- the act of giving birth
  • Whelping- parturition in the bitch
  • Dystocia- difficulty during parturition
  • Uterine inertia- a condition caused by poor contractions or poor straining, which prevents normal parturition
  • Caesarean section- the surgical removal of puppies under a general anaesthetic, this procedure is only carried out when problems arise
  • Eclampsia- low calcium levels in the blood of the bitch, which needs urgent veterinary attention
  • Mastitis- inflammation of the mammary glands during lactation
  • Lactation- the period in which the bitch produces milk

The average length of pregnancy in the bitch is 63 days, around 9 weeks. Some bitches show all the signs of pregnancy but are not actually carrying any puppies; this is called a false pregnancy. False pregnancy is caused by an imbalance of a hormone called prolactin. The hormone makes the bitch think she is pregnant by producing milk, causing mammary gland enlargement. False pregnancies usually occur 6-14 weeks after the bitch’s season. The signs you usually see are nesting and behavioural changes. False pregnancies have evolved from dogs and wolves in packs where only the dominant female gives birth to young; the other bitches have false pregnancies and produce milk so that they can feed the young of the dominant bitch. There are drugs available to treat a false pregnancy once the vet has examined the dog to rule out a true pregnancy.

Preparation for whelping and the puppies

A whelping box should be made for the bitch to nest in; it should be in a warm, quiet, clean and draught proof place. The sides of the box should be high enough to stop the puppies escaping but low enough to allow the bitch to get out. It should be large enough for the bitch to stretch out but not too big so the puppies cannot get too far away from the bitch. The area where the bitch is to whelp and rear her puppies should ideally be kept at 25-30°c; this can be reduced to around 22°c after the first week. A cold puppy will not respond normally and will have problems feeding. It is important the box is in a quiet area because bitches like peace and quiet whilst whelping.

Other useful equipment

  • Plenty of newspaper
  • Plenty of clean bedding
  • A clock, to note when whelping begins, the times different stages of parturition start and the times each puppy is born
  • A notepad, to record the above, this is useful to the vet if the bitch goes on to have difficulty
  • A supply of milk substitute e.g. whelpi, this can be given to the puppies if the bitch doesn’t have enough milk or there are too many puppies for the bitch to feed herself. This can also be given to the bitch as a supplement

Stages of parturition

There are three main stages of normal parturition:


The bitch may start nesting, be a little more uncomfortable than usual and have a clear discharge from her vulva. She may also seek company or want to be in a quiet place. Not all bitches show these signs, this is normal.

First stage parturition

Uterine contractions begin; this can cause increasingly restless behaviour. This can last for 1-12 hours. Milk will be present in the mammary glands. It is not uncommon for the bitch to pant or start to shivering, some bitches may vomit and they often refuse food. During this stage the cervix is dilating to allow the puppies to pass through, some fluid may also be seen at the vulva.

Second stage parturition

During this stage contractions increase and abdominal contractions begin; this is to push through the cervix. Abdominal contractions are when the bitch squeezes from her ribs all the way down her abdomen. The time that the abdominal contractions begin should be recorded. From the onset of the second stage to the time the first puppy is born are variable-10 minutes to 1 hour. If the bitch strains abdominally for more than 15 minutes and does not give birth you should contact a vet. Most bitches lie on their side to give birth but some prefer to stand. The membrane which surrounds the puppy in the womb may still be intact when the puppy is born, if the bitch does not burst it you should do so, it is easily ripped. The bitch will lick vigorously at the puppy, first time mums may need a little encouragement. The bitch will usually chew the umbilical cord; if she doesn’t you can cut it with a sharp, clean pair of scissors. A green discharge may be passed with, in-between or after each puppy is born. This is normal and is caused by the blood in the placenta changing colour. The bitch should have as little interference as possible during parturition as few people as possible should be involved.

Third stage parturition

This stage is the passing of the placenta, this can occur during the second stage as each pup is born. Sometimes a puppy is born without its placenta and it will be passed at the end. After whelping has finished the bitch will often pass a green discharge, this is normal and may continue for up to 1 week.

Nutritional requirements of a pregnant or lactating animal

Providing the pregnant animal is already on a suitable diet it is not necessary to alter the food intake until the last third of gestation. At this time an increase in protein and energy is required for foetal growth. This may involve an increase in the volume fed, but is important to remember that a pregnant animal has a smaller stomach capacity due to the enlarged uterus and should be fed little and often. Seek veterinary advice re introducing change in diet and quantity to be fed.

At the Ardmore Veterinary Group we aim to provide the highest standard of professional veterinary care. If you find any of the information displayed incorrect please do not hesitate to call us. We are here to listen and assist in any way we can.

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