Updated June 6, 2021
‘Emergency Care (Click here for more details)’ What To Do
When A Dog Is Giving Birth
You need to see a vet urgently if no puppy is born after:
- Active straining for more than 30 minutes
- Resting for more than four hours between pups
- A red or green discharge for two hours, or if…
- A puppy is stuck in the birth canal
- Gestation goes over 65 days
Now dive deeper…
I’m about to tell you all the ways things can go wrong, and all the things you need to watch out for. Always keep this in your mind throughout:
- Dogs breed a lot better than people
- Most births go perfectly smoothly
- Most dogs make excellent mothers.
It’s the same how we know Australia is full of hazards but we aren’t actually going to get bitten, stung or eaten. It’s about not being too dramatic about the risks but still being prepared.
When Is A Dog About To Give Birth?
- Bitches start nesting seriously a few days before giving birth
- There is often a drop in appetite
- Some bitches are restless, and pant or look uncomfortable (this is stage 1)
- There are also ways to predict the birth date, but these need to have been done already.
Almost certainly, she’ll choose a really inconvenient place to have her pups, and an experienced breeder may change that. My strong advice to you is don’t; she has chosen this place for reasons that may be obvious to her alone, and you need to respect that. A stressed mother is more likely to need a caesarian and may even mutilate her pups.
She may accept a nest box with her favourite bedding placed in the position she chose, but again, if she doesn’t like it then give up. You need her to be as relaxed and happy as possible. A suitable box has a low front that the pups will be able to get in and out once they start moving, and be big enough that she can lie on her side to nurse. It also needs a gentle source of heat for the puppies (like a heat mat or infra-red lamp) that doesn’t make mum too hot.
How Do You Induce Labour For A Dog?
Simply, you don’t. Even vets rarely do it as once oxytocin and calcium are given, there’s a very short window before the pups need a caesarian delivery to avoid foetal death. There’s no other way to speed things up that’s both safe and effective. To induce labour it’s also essential that there’s nothing causing an obstruction. Only a vet can check this.
Most people who think their dogs have gone over term just have the wrong dates. This is when you need to go back to the vet and get another checkup. Some dogs do go over term and need a caesarian but only a vet or an experienced breeder can identify this.
What Happens At Birth
Bitches about to give birth become restless, may pant a lot, and should show more nesting behaviour. You will probably notice she doesn’t want the male dog around at this stage and may even show aggression if he approaches. This is normal. He should be separated and it may even be best if he goes on a short holiday to avoid stressing her. Later when the pups are more independent she’ll usually appreciate his company again.
For the same reason, everyone and especially the kids need to respect her personal space right now. She may seek out your company and that’s great, but if she seems unhappy to be handled or checked, let her be. Her body is telling her lots of confusing things, she’s probably quite anxious and owners need to respect that.
Problems With Giving Birth
Being prepared also means knowing the warning signs of something going wrong. That way you can get the puppies out in time and even sometimes even save the mother’s life. You can research your nearest after hours emergency vet in Adelaide using this map.
Disclaimer: these guidelines are only a rough guide and cannot possibly recognise or prevent all problems. Losing one or more puppies is common even under excellent care. Breeding dogs is inherently risky and is best left to, or done under close supervision of professionals.
How Long Can A Dog Be In Labour Before Giving Birth?
Clear fluid can be passed (waters breaking) before starting the birth process but if the bitch is relaxed, it’s OK to wait up to 3 hours. What you should not see is a green or red discharge before any puppies appear. This is a sign of placental separation and means a puppy needs to be born straight away to survive.
Once a bitch starts actively straining, a puppy should be born in 15 minutes. If nothing has happened after 30 minutes, you need a vet urgently.
How To Deliver Puppies That Are Stuck
Sometimes the reason for unproductive straining is a puppy lodged in the birth canal. If this happens, start travelling to the vet to avoid wasting time. In the meantime, you can try this:
- Wash your hands thoroughly; soap and water are fine
- Use a new tube of KY jelly to lubricate your fingers
- Slide your fingers between the puppy and the vaginal wall on each side
- Gently rock the puppy side to side by tiny amounts, aiming to creep the puppy forward a little on each side at a time
- If you pull hard, you will damage the puppy
There’s no such thing as ‘breech presentation’ in dogs. Either way is normal and fine.
Sometimes two puppies have been presented at the same time. If that happens, your vet will usually need instruments to gently push one back so the other can be extracted or passed. Sometimes a puppy is presented sideways, or is simply too large to fit, or is malformed. All of these require urgent vet assistance.
How Long Between Puppies
While mum keeps straining, a new puppy should appear every 15 minutes. Again, 30 minutes straining without passing a puppy is a sign of problems.
It’s quite OK for mum to take a break during birth. Sometimes she will even get up and go outside to the toilet, or have a drink before settling back again. This is when it’s great to know how many pups she’s having. If she hasn’t recommenced after 4 hours rest, it’s time to see the vet. Most vets can provide an ultrasound examination to check for foetal distress.
What To Do With Puppies
You probably don’t need to do anything. Remember that despite all the warnings, the best thing to do is stay back and watch from a distance unless mum wants you close. She should lick each newborn all over, quickly remove the membranes covering the head and chew off the umbilical cord. She will also usually eat the placenta when it passes.
If she doesn’t do it straight away, tear the clear membranes off the pup’s head and rub the puppy vigorously in a clean, warm towel until there is good movement. This simulates the mother’s rough licking. Once the pup is nosing about, place him or her on a nipple. Have you heard advice to ‘swing’ puppies to clear their mouths? The slippery mucus on their coat makes it just too dangerous. We’ve all seen puppies dropped.
You’re supposed to count placentas but good luck! They don’t necessarily come with each pup, sometimes they come in a rush at the end, and mum often eats them first. Retained placentas are rare and can usually be detected at the post whelping check at the vet. (yes, ‘whelping’ is the correct name for giving birth in dogs).
A quiet house is a good sign. You should see mum resting and suckling her puppies. Happy puppies are either asleep or feeding.
Have you heard of the ‘rare green puppy’? The mother will pass quite a lot of green discharge for several days after giving birth and there’s nothing unusual about that. As she feeds the pups, natural oxytocin hormone causes uterine contraction, expelling the rest of the placentas and fluids.
She will need a lot of fluids to keep up with losses and may need to be offered food where she is nursing. It’s up to you to be attentive to her needs.
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By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. These help topics are from a series regularly posted on email and Twitter. Subscribe via email here to never miss a story! The information provided here is not intended to be used as a substitute for going to the vet. If your pet is unwell, please seek veterinary attention.