Dr. Baum’s Guide to Your Dog’s Pregnancy, with Birthing Tips

Puppy playing with Momma dog featured in Dr. Baum's article about dog pregnancy

Pet Care Articles by Dr. Baum – Dog Pregnancy and Birthing Tips to Help Pet Parents Help Their Pets Parent

Breeding your dog should be a carefully premeditated decision. There are no health or emotional benefits to be gained by letting your female have puppies. Conditions can arise in the course of the pregnancy or during the delivery that can jeopardize the health of your pet. In light of the severe problems generated by pet overpopulation it is your moral and social duty to make sure that each and every offspring is placed in a warm and loving home.

General information about the Estrus (Heat) Cycle

Dogs come into heat every six to eight months. They are seasonally monestrus, which means that they have only one heat period at a time and do not cycle continuously. The female is fertile for only three days corresponding to the time of her ovulation. She will only let the male mate with her during this time. Ovulation generally occurs ten to twelve days following the first sign of vaginal bleeding.

The gestation period (length of pregnancy) is from sixty-one to sixty-four days.

The earliest time to detect a pregnancy is twenty-five to thirty days after mating. This can be done in a variety of ways: abdominal palpation by a skilled veterinarian, abdominal ultrasound or by a blood test which checks for hormones given off by the placentas. After forty-five days, the fetal skeletons can be found by X-raying the abdomen.

Selecting a Mate

Plan ahead. Whether you are breeding to that special friend that you met at the dog park or the champion of the Westminster Dog Show make your decision in advance. Because of the narrow window of opportunity for fertilization it is important to prearrange the logistics of getting the pair together. The more familiar with each other that the dogs are in advance of the mating, the more likely it is that the process will occur naturally.

The Mating Event

Mark your calendar with the exact breeding dates. This will allow you to accurately pinpoint the due dates.

Most breeds of dogs can mate naturally if given enough time together at the right time and in the right environment. The sign of a good natural mating is when the dogs “tie.” This means that the pair remain locked together genitally for five to ten minutes while copulating. This phenomenon is caused by the engorgement and enlargement of the penis as the female’s vaginal muscles exert a tourniquet-like effect and prevent a free flow of blood from exiting the penis.

Artificial insemination is an option if the dogs can’t literally get “it” together.

During the Pregnancy

Most pregnant bitches will show minimal external physical changes during the first thirty to thirty-five days. Slight enlargement of the nipples and a puffy vulva may be evident. In addition, there may be slight changes in temperament — they may become more affectionate and less active. There are very little additional feeding requirements. Maintain the same exercise habits. Do not give any vaccinations. Medications should only be given when prescribed by a veterinarian, preferably someone who has been alerted to the fact that his patient has a chance of being pregnant.

During the second month of the pregnancy nutritional requirements start to gradually rise from ten to thirty percent. It is a good idea to offer a multi-vitamin supplement as well as additional calcium. Physical changes to notice are the development of the breasts as they prepare to start manufacturing milk, and the gradual rounding of the abdomen. Continue to maintain an exercise regimen but listen to your dog for she will indicate to you what the right amount is for her.

Preparing for Delivery!

Whelping is the word which means giving birth for dogs. (Queening is for cats.)

The whelping area should be in a quiet area in the house, a place that is easy to clean as whelping is a messy affair; lots of bodily fluids.

A whelping box is a helpful item. It is a place to nurse the puppies with walls low enough to allow the mother to exit, but high enough to keep the small puppies contained as they gradually increase their mobility.

One week prior to the expected delivery I instruct my clients to start taking the female’s temperature twice daily. The normal rectal temperature in the dog is generally between 101F-102F. However, twelve to twenty-four hours prior to the onset of labor the temperature will drop to below 100F. This will be your cue to be ready!!

Here Come the Puppies!!

The delivery process begins with the onset of labor.

Labor is initially characterized by a restlessness and search for a comfortable, quiet area (the whelping box!). This is then followed by shallow panting which progresses to a more pronounced panting and the beginning of abdominal contractions. (For those of you parents familiar with Lamaze birthing, dogs do it naturally.) During this time fluid will start flowing from the vagina — clear fluid with flecks of blood indicating the cervical mucous plug dissolving as well as the leakage of placental fluid. However, the most significant fluid is a blackish-green discharge that indicates that the first of the babies in its placenta is separating from the uterine wall. It is urgent that the puppy be delivered within ten minutes as it is separating from its source of oxygen with its disconnect from the uterus.

If abdominal contractions continue for more than twenty minutes without the presentation of the puppy or if the appearance of the black-green fluid is not followed quickly by the pup’s delivery, you need to seek veterinary help.

Each puppy will be born in its own placenta. It is the mother’s job to tear the placenta and lick the membranes away from the face to clear the respiratory tract which now needs to be able to function. The licking stimulates the newborn to breathe in much the same way that smacking a newborn human baby’s bottom causes it to take its initial breaths. Once the pup starts breathing the mom will chew through the umbilical cord and thus complete the separation from the placenta. If she either will not or cannot perform these duties, it will be up to you to do it.

You should be prepared with a pair of scissors, plenty of towels and washcloths as well as some dental floss or thread. Use the scissors to puncture the placental membranes, then tear them open and strip them from around the puppy. The placenta will continue to be attached to the puppy by the umbilical cord, but it is most important now to clear the nose and mouth of the mucous and fluid and stimulate breathing. Cradle the puppy in the towel or washcloth while you vigorously massage the body. Open the mouth and wipe it clean and then wipe the mucous off the nose. To facilitate more fluid removal from the respiratory tract, firmly support the cradled puppy’s neck,  and with rapid flicking motions, rock the puppy. After several flicks and continual rubbing and wiping of the mouth or nose, the puppy should start drawing its first breaths and even some crying sounds may emerge. Once the puppy is breathing, tie off the umbilical cord by using the dental floss or thread. Place the tie about one half inch away from the body and then cut the rest of the cord about another half inch beyond the tie. This will release the rest of the placenta. Whew!!!

The puppies will tend to be delivered in pairs about twenty minutes apart. Usually there will be longer rest periods between the pairs that can vary from thirty minutes to an hour.

The same cautions still apply. If your female is pushing and nothing is being delivered—seek help.

Occasionally, you may need to help physically extract a partially presented puppy from the vagina. Use a wash cloth to get a better grip around the exposed puppy’s body. Exert a gentle yet steady pull, initially up towards the bitch’s tail then back straight and finally angle down. This arcing motion will allow the puppy to clear the pelvic floor which is tilted forward.

Post Partum Care

The pups and the mother should be checked by a veterinarian within twenty-four hours of the whelping to make sure that the uterus is now empty and that the breasts have enough milk to feed the puppies.

The puppies should be placed with the mother as soon as possible to begin nursing. Sometimes, first time mothers can be apprehensive and reject the puppies or attempt to harm them. Stay with the new family until you can ascertain the mother’s reaction. Your soothing presence will be a big help. Occasionally a mild sedative may be needed.

Nursing stimulates the release of a hormone called oxytocin which does two good things. It allows the milk to flow more freely and it facilitates the mother’s uterus to contract and expel any remaining pups or placentas or fluid. It is very important that the puppies nurse during the first twenty-four hours because it is during this time that the antibodies that protect against disease are transferred to the puppies. After twenty-four hours, the absorption of the antibodies is blocked and they are digested like any other proteins would be.

The mother will continue to have a vaginal discharge for about three weeks. Initially it will be blackish-green but will become cloudy for a few days then clear with occasional flecks of blood. The amount of the discharge should steadily decrease over the three week period.

During the nursing period, the nutritional requirements of the mother increase greatly. Allow her to eat free choice and double the vitamin and calcium supplementation. Her requirements will peak when the puppies are four to five weeks old. At this point you can gradually begin the weaning process by offering puppy food in the form of gruel to the litter mates. Initially you will need to wipe the food on their lips but in a short time they will figure out how to eat out of a shallow bowl or plate.

Everybody needs a break from their job and the mother is no exception. She will indicate to you when she needs a few minutes away from her litter. Take her on short walks, but listen to her should she indicate that she wants to return to her kids.

The puppies’ eyes and ears remain closed for about ten days so they remain quite inactive. As they see the light their activity will increase. As they grow and become more mobile there will be more and more clean-ups for you to do.

During the weaning process you will be decreasing the amount of milk that the pups are getting by introducing solid food. This transition can begin as early as four to five weeks and continue for three to four weeks until the pups are off the mother’s milk entirely. It is important to observe the mother’s breasts to make sure that they are not being engorged with milk. The breasts should always maintain some softness — hard, warm breasts can indicate an infection.

How can you tell if the pups aren’t getting enough food from their mom? Simple — they will cry like any other hungry baby. If this is occurring early you may need to supplement with Canine Milk Formula given through a baby nurser. If the pups are mature enough you can simply start the weaning process earlier.

Watch mother’s general condition at all times, for she is the key to raising strong healthy pups.

For a first person account of how actual matings proceed, read about Dr. B’s experience with mating his female dog Fessie.


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