Whelping Puppies

Kelly Roper
Contributor: Mychelle Blake
Dalmatian With Newborn Puppy

Whelping puppies is one of the most natural and amazing acts you'll ever witness. In most cases, a dog is quite able to take care of the situation completely on her own. However, it may be helpful for you to understand the process and recognize signs of impending whelping in case your pet needs help.

About Whelping Puppies

Whelping is a word most first time breeders may not have heard before. The definition of whelping is not difficult to master. It simply means delivering puppies. Pups themselves are often referred to as "whelps" during their newborn period.

The Natural Process of Whelping

During whelping, the bitch actively begins pushing out pups. Watch for key signs that your dog is going into labor. Dog whelping stages include:

  • You'll first notice your dog beginning to nest in her whelping box and she will seem restless and uncomfortable. Around this time you'll see her water break and expect her to begin having puppies about six to 12 hours after this occurs.
  • The bitch begins shivering and contracting. This can go on for some time before you see the first sign that a pup is truly on the way. However, you should give your vet a call if your bitch pushes for two hours without delivering the first pup because it could be a sign that she is not fully dilated for delivery.
  • If the delivery goes as normal, you'll see what appears to be a black bubble begin to emerge from the bitch's vulva. This is the amniotic sac, and it is filled with dark fluid. In another moment, the puppy's head emerges and becomes visible in the sac. With another push or two, the puppy is expelled from the vulva.
  • In most cases, the puppy is delivered in the sac, but the cord remains attached to the placenta that is still inside of the bitch. The bitch will likely try to break the sac with her teeth and begin cleaning the puppy right away. During this time, she will still experience contractions and will eventually deliver the placenta. She'll also chew the cord to separate the pup from the placenta. Allow her to eat the placenta if she wants it because its contents will stimulate her uterus to keep contracting. It will also help milk production.
  • Once the puppy has been freed from its sac, the female will continue to clean it and push it around the whelping box to help get its lung working. She may even allow the puppy to attempt nursing while she waits for the next puppy to be born.

That is the natural order of events when a bitch is whelping puppies. A litter generally has around six puppies, but depending on the breed it can be as little as one pup or as many as 15.

When Your Help Is Needed

There may be times when you need to help your pet during the whelping. Here are a few major examples.

  • Your bitch may require a C-section if she pushes for more than two hours without delivering a puppy, a condition known as dystocia. It's alright if it takes more than two hours between deliveries as long as your bitch is not actively pushing the entire time and exhausting herself. Sometimes it takes longer for a pup to make its way down the uterine horn to the birth canal, and this is natural. The bitch will rest during this period before she actively begins pushing again.
  • Sometimes a puppy is partially delivered and then becomes stuck in the pelvic opening. In a case like this, you may need to assist your pet by gently grasping the pup with a hand towel and gently pulling it when your bitch has her next contraction. This is usually enough to free the pup.
  • Normal presentation is head first, but some puppies present rear first during the delivery. This can be a dangerous situation because the head is usually the largest portion of the pup's body. If the head becomes stuck even though the rest of the puppy has cleared the vulva, the pup could suffocate and die. If gentle pulling does not free the head, you need to take your bitch directly to your vet for an emergency delivery. A stuck puppy could mean the death of the entire litter and likely your bitch as well.

After the Delivery

Once the delivery is complete, your bitch will settle down to the business of nursing and caring for her pups. At that point, it becomes your job to support her by keeping fresh water available and feeding her plenty of good food. A post-delivery veterinary checkup will help assure her continued good health. It's alright to handle the pups a bit, but limit your contact in the first few days so your bitch realizes she is fully responsible for their care. Now you're ready for the week-by-week schedule of care for the new puppies.

Handling the Whelping Process

These are the essentials of whelping puppies, but always make sure you're ready for anything when the big day arrives. With preparation including a good whelping box and supplies and an understanding of the process, you and your dog should successfully get through this day together.

Whelping Puppies