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Whelping, Dystocia & spotting the signs of problems

A lot of bitches will whelp on their own without any difficulties.  You should keep a close eye on your bitch throughout her late pregnancy and labour. Having a good idea of what is normal will allow you to spot signs of trouble (dystocia) early.


What will I see?

In the last week of pregnancy, your bitch may start to look around for a suitable place to have her puppies and show signs of nesting.  It is a good idea to get the bitch used to the place where you want her to have her puppies well in advance of whelping. However if she does start whelping in an area other than the one you planned, it may be less stressful for all concerned to allow her to continue in her chosen place.  Make sure you spread lots of old newspaper and if possible cover the carpet with a polythene sheet.  Some bitches like their owner to be with them the whole time they are in labour. Others prefer to get on with it in seclusion. You will have to judge this at the time.

Some bitches stop eating during the last 24 hours before labour and she may appear restless and start nest making.  In most bitches, the rectal temperature will drop below 37.8°C (100°F) but this may only occur an hour or two before she starts in labour.

These signs may last for up to 24 hours and are part of first stage labour.

During second stage labour your bitch will start to strain and hopefully puppies will start to arrive.



What can I prepare in advance?

•You will need lots of clean newspaper and towels.

•Prepare a whelping box – the size will depend on the size of your dog, but should be large enough for her to move around freely and have low enough sides so that she can move in and out easily.

•Bedding, e.g. Vetbed, which is easily washed

•Hot water bottles


How long will whelping take?


This can vary. Dogs with fairly slim heads such as Collies and Dobermans may deliver all of their puppies within 2-3 hours. Brachycephalic breeds, i.e. those with large, round heads such as Bulldogs and Pekingese, tend to have more difficult deliveries and sometimes will produce one or two relatively quickly and then rest for a while before labour starts again.

Puppies are usually born head first with the forelegs extended.  They can also be born with tail and hind legs coming first which is normal.  An abnormal or breech presentation is one in which the hind legs are forward and the tail and bottom are presented.


When should I be concerned?


•Your dog goes into labour and you notice that more than two hours has passed without any puppies being born.

•She has a green discharge from the vagina without puppies having been born.

•It is more than two hours between puppies

•If she is continually straining for a few minutes with a puppy or fluid filled bubble stuck in the birth canal.

•Your dog has intense contractions/straining for more than 20 minutes without a puppy being delivered

•If your dog is depressed, lethargic or her body temperature is more than 39.4°C (103°F).

•If she is bleeding from the vagina for more than ten minutes.

•If a puppy’s tail is seen hanging from the vulva or alternatively there is a lump just behind the vulval lips and your bitch is straining, it is probably a breech delivery.  Some breech presentation can be delivered without assistance, but often complications occur.

If you can see a puppy at the vulva and it is not being delivered, take a piece of clean tissue or towel and gently take hold of the puppy.  Gently pull the puppy at approximately 45° angle to the ground. Keep a constant pull even when your bitch is not straining, as gentle traction will stimulate her to keep straining.  If the puppy does not move or if it appears to be painful to your bitch, contact your vet urgently.  

If you have any concerns, contact your vet for further advice.  If you need to take your bitch to the vets, take any puppies she has already delivered with you in a separate secure box with a hot water bottle or heat pad to keep them warm.  Ensure the hot water bottle is well wrapped in a towel or similar to prevent overheating or burning the puppies.


What causes dystocia?

There are many possible causes of dystocia.  Your vet will examine your bitch and may need to perform blood tests, x-rays or an ultrasound scan to advise you on the best course of treatment.

Predisposing Factors to Dystocia


•Brachycephalic and toy breeds, especially Pugs, Bulldogs, Chihuahuas, Boston Terriers, Pekingese


•Abrupt changes in environment before your bitch goes into labour

•Previous history of dystocia



Your dog is likely to be admitted to the hospital for treatment and monitoring if suffering from dystocia.

If there are no contractions of the uterus and no sign of an obstruction, your bitch may be treated medically.  She may receive intravenous fluids (a drip), glucose, calcium, oxytocin or a combination of these.

If there is a puppy stuck in the pelvic canal, it may be possible for your vet to assist your bitch to deliver this puppy.

In other cases, a caesarian section may be recommended as the safest course of treatment for both bitch and puppies.



Each puppy is enclosed in a sac that is part of the placenta or afterbirth. This sac is usually broken at birth and passed after each puppy is born. You may not see all the placentas as it is normal for the bitch to eat them.  The bitch normally chews at the umbilical cord and breaks it about an inch from the puppy.  Keep a close eye on your bitch as sometimes that can be over enthusiastic and injure the puppy.

If a puppy is born within the sac and the bitch does not break the sac within a few seconds, carefully break the sac yourself and then clean the puppy’s face and nostrils to allow it to breath. Ideally give the puppy straight back to the bitch, however in some cases you may find that the bitch is more interested in delivering the next puppy in which case gently rub the puppy dry with a clean towel and place it in a box with a warm water bottle covered by a towel. Cover the puppies to keep them warm.

Ensure your bitch has lots of TLC and lots of food and water.  Producing milk for her puppies takes up a lot of energy and is thirsty work.


Eclampsia (milk fever, puerperal tetany or hypocalcaemia) is a condition that most commonly affects nursing mothers but can also occur during late pregnancy. Signs are seen when the calcium levels in the blood drop too low. Signs can be vague to start with but they include restlessness, panting, increased salivation and stiffness when moving. This can progress quickly to muscle twitching, fever and death, so contact your vet immediately if you notice any of these signs.

Some discharge after whelping is normal, if your bitch has a blood stained or smelly discharge, 24-48 hours after delivery, contact your vet.

Even if your bitch appears to have no problems delivering her puppies, it is worth getting mum and puppies checked over by a vet, to ensure they are all healthy and everything is healing normally.


Please note:

This advice is not a substitute for a proper consultation with a vet and is only intended as a guide


Our out of hours service is provided by

Holly House Veterinary Hospital on 01132 369030