What to Expect When Your Dog is Expecting

Vasse Vets recommends careful consideration before breeding your pet! There is a lot to think about such as ensuring both parents are healthy and screened for genetic issues, confirming pregnancy, preparing mum for pregnancy, the birthing process and puppy care. This can make breeding a risky and costly venture. Please consider carefully and take all precautions to ensure that mum stays safe and puppies are healthy.

Preparing Mum for Pregnancy

Dogs come into heat once every 6- 9 months. This is the time when they are fertile and may become pregnant. Their first heat can occur from as young as 6 months of age which is why desexing at this age is recommended to prevent unplanned pregnancies. If you’re planning on breeding your pet it is important be aware of the birthing process and the risks associated with pregnancy so you can be as prepared as possible.

Pregnant mum

It is important to monitor your dog closely during pregnancy and schedule regular check-ups with your vet. This allows us to monitor her weight, ensure her nutrition is correct and monitor the health of her unborn puppies

Breeding health check list

  • Before mating, ensure your pet is up to date with vaccinations and is wormed at the time of mating. Your pet will need to be wormed again 10 days prior to whelping, 2 weeks after whelping, 4 weeks after whelping then every 3 months ongoing.
  • Health check and ultrasound 5 weeks after mating to confirm pregnancy.
    • Once pregnancy is confirmed, start the mother on a high quality puppy food. This is important to ensure they receive adequate calories and calcium to support the growth of their puppies and encourage milk production. Increase the amount fed by 10-20% per week of pregnancy. It is best to split the meals into 2-3 feeds/day as the volume of food increases. It is NOT recommended to supplement calcium during pregnancy. Contrary to what you may read, calcium supplementation can be dangerous!
  • Health check and x-ray 7-8 weeks after mating to count the number of puppies.
    • The x-ray allows us to count how many puppies are due. Knowing how many puppies to expect is essential and can be life-saving for the mum if some of the puppies are not born. Retained puppies cause infections and septic shock which can be fatal to the mother.
  • Be aware of the emergency signs during birth and be prepared with Vasse Vets contact details and a map to the clinic in case of emergency.
  • Mum and bubs require a health check within 48 hours of birth.

Pregnant Xray

Pregnancy Ultrasound

The Birthing Process (Whelping)

The length of pregnancy can vary between 54-72 days (average 63) when counting from the first mating. That’s almost 2 weeks variation! This can make it difficult to prepare so it is important to monitor your pet for behaviours which may indicate she is close to birth. Dogs go through 3 stages of labour when whelping. The first stage of labour lasts 1-36hrs and is characterized by behaviour changes. . The 2nd and 3rd stage of labour often occur together and involves delivery of the puppies and delivery of the membranes (the afterbirth)

Signs of Whelping (First stage)

  • A drop in rectal temperature to less than 37.4 – 37.7 degrees indicates labour will occur in 10-12 hours. Measuring rectal temperature is an easy and helpful way to predict the onset of labour- talk to your vet about how to perform this task.
  • Behaviour changes such as nesting behaviour, panting, restlessness, unwillingness to eat, anxiety, shivering, vomiting and hiding.
  • If your bitch is having a natural labour they should be left alone during this first stage and monitored from a distance to prevent delaying the labour.  However, if you have elected for a timed caesarean this is often a good indication of when to bring your dog in for surgery!

Signs of Whelping (Second and third stage)

  • The bitch will begin to have contractions which appear as visible straining of the abdominal muscles. This continues until a fluid filled sac appears at her vulva and the puppy is then delivered. It is normal for puppies to appear either head first or back end first (breech position). Most of the time the sac is burst open and the puppy is licked dry by the mother. The mother will often also bite the umbilical cord.
  • The placenta (afterbirth) will follow the puppy and can be accompanied by a greenish black discharge (lochia). There should be a placenta for every puppy and often the bitch will eat these. However, if it is a large litter, try and discourage this behaviour as it can make her sick.

Whelping should be closely monitored but not assisted unless the following occurs;

  • The mother does not remove the membranes from the puppy
    • Remove the membranes yourself, making sure the mouth and nose are clear of secretions and fluid. The umbilical cord can be tied or clamped off 3-4cm away from the puppy’s belly and then cut on the side of the mother. Dental floss can be used to do this if no suture material or clamps are available. The puppy should be gently rubbed with a towel to stimulate breathing. When it starts to cry and squirm, it can be placed with the mother to keep it warm and encourage suckling.
  • The puppy becomes stuck in the canal
    • If a puppy appears to be lodged in the vulva, seek immediate veterinary advice. If the face if visible, clear the membranes away from the pups face. The puppy can be grasped with a towel and gently pulled in an outward and downward direction. If this is unsuccessful after 5 minutes then veterinary attention is necessary.
  • The puppy is cold/weak/not breathing
    • Clear all secretions and membranes from the puppy’s nose and mouth. Hold the puppy in one hand and briskly rub it’s back with a towel to stimulate breathing. Keep the puppy’s nose downwards to allow fluid to drain from it’s mouth and airways. Once it starts squirming then it can be placed with it’s mother to suckle. Attend to the umbilical cord as instructed above.

Birthing Difficulties (Dystocia)

When a bitch is unable to give birth, it is termed dystocia. It is relatively common for dogs to have difficulty birthing. In fact, approximately 16% of dogs experience dystocia. The following risk factors listed below increase the likelihood of birthing difficulties;

  • Wide heads and narrow pelvic canals- i.e. Bulldogs, Chihuahuas, Boston Terriers and Scottish Terriers.
  • Previous pelvic fractures or hernias
  • Low calcium, malnutrition, stress, exhaustion and existing medical issues increase the mothers risk
  • Large, poorly positioned, abnormal or dead puppies

When to call Vasse Vets

  • Lochia (green discharge) and foetal fluids with no birth within 30 minutes. (A green discharge after each puppy has birthed is normal)
  • Active straining and no delivery of a puppy for more than 30 minutes
  • Weak/infrequent/absent contractions and no delivery of a puppy for more than 2 hours than
  • Fluid filled sac present at vulva for more than 15 minutes with no progression of labour
  • Labour progressing past 12-18 hours
  • Significant bloody discharge at any point
  • Temperature drop (<37.7 degrees) and return to normal with no evidence of labour
  • Prolonged gestation (over 70 days) with no evidence of labour
  • The mother is unwell or in excessive pain at any point
  • Not enough puppies are born compared to the number counted on X-ray

The above situations represent at medical emergency- contact Vasse Vets immediately.

The majority of dystocias end up having a caesarean. Assessment of the mother’s health and the health of the puppies is completed first to ensure surgery is not required. Your veterinarian may determine medical management is appropriate to try first before progressing to surgery. Medical treatment involves administration of drugs to assist the uterus in contracting plus glucose or calcium if required. . The puppies are checked via ultrasound. Slow foetal heartbeats indicate distress and the need for an emergency caesarian.

If the health of the mum or pups is determined to be at risk, your veterinarian will recommend a caesarean. This involves a general anaesthetic and is a surgical procedure to remove the puppies from the uterus. It is important to have a plan in place for if your bitch has problems birthing- a birthing plan! This plan should be in place well before the birthing date. Ensure you talk to your veterinarian about the financial costs of a caesarean and emergency after-hours care in case it is required. Remember, pet insurance often doesn’t cover elective risks such as reproduction, birthing, caesarians and puppy care! Make sure adequate funds are set aside so you can make quick decisions in life-threatening situations such as dystocia.

Post-partum care

The puppies should all be bright, warm and suckling after the whelping has finished. Monitor mum initially to ensure she is letting the pups suckle. It is vitally important for all puppies to suckle as soon as possible to get colostrum. Any puppy that is not suckling needs veterinary attention immediately and may require around the clock care.


It is important to get the puppies and mum to a veterinarian within 48 hours for a health check.

Ensure the mother is eating as malnutrition can lead to serious health issues and jeopardize the health of her puppies. Did you know that nursing dogs have 4-8 times the energy requirement of healthy adult dogs? Some dogs also require calcium supplementation during nursing, however make sure you chat to your veterinarian first as this can be dangerous! Vasse Vets recommends continuing to feed mum with a high quality puppy food until the puppies are weaned. Often there is a small amount of greenish black discharge after whelping and this can continue for 5-7 days. Seek advice from your vet if there are large amounts of discharge or the discharge has a foul smell.

If you have any further questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to give our friendly team a call on (08) 9755 4455. If this is an after-hours call, please listen to the after-hours message and follow the instructions to reach our on-call veterinarian.