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The whelping bitch

This advice letter is intended to give you some advice and background information about the whelping of your dog.

Before the gestation period

It is wise to vaccinate the dog before pregnancy so that the puppies are well protected via the antibodies in the mother’s milk. Vaccination is not possible during pregnancy.

De-worming before pregnancy is important because the puppies are infected with roundworm larvae via the placenta and mother’s milk. This can also be done safely during pregnancy with a Milbemax® tablet or a Stronghold® pipette (also against fleas).

During the gestation period

Gestation time

The gestation period of a dog is on average 64-65 days (with a range from day 57 to day 69) after mating. Often a dog gives birth to a large litter earlier. Checking whether your dog is actually pregnant can be done in several ways:

  • By scanning the abdomen between 24 and 32 days of gestation. At this age, ampoules (where the puppy settles in the womb) can sometimes be felt by the vet. However, this method does not provide 100% certainty. This can be very difficult, especially with a larger dog. If your dog is pregnant for more than 33 days, we can no longer feel the puppies as well because the entire uterus is enlarged. From 45 days of gestation we can sometimes feel the puppies again.
  • More certainty gives an ultrasound of the abdomen from about 25-30 days of gestation.
  • For the exact number of puppies, an X-ray can be made from 45 days of gestation, but we recommend this between 55-60 days of gestation. This allows us to estimate the size of the puppies in relation to the mother’s birth canal. (With very large breeds, it can prove difficult to count the puppies on an X-ray, partly because the belly often does not fit in the picture in one go).


To keep the pregnant bitch in optimal condition, it is often recommended to increase the daily portion of food by 10% weekly during the first 8 weeks. However, we see that many bitches become too fat and that can cause birth problems. So pay attention to that!

Our advice is to start giving 10% more food from week 6 and not earlier.

From week 8 you gradually switch over a week to an energy-rich food that can also be given during milk production and from which the puppies can eat (usually around 4 weeks of age). We recommend Hills puppy food.

In the last week, the bitch is often less hungry. The puppies are now taking up a lot of space. It is advisable to give small amounts of food often.

Maternity bed

It is important that the bitch can give birth in a quiet environment. The presence of the owner usually has a positive influence on the behavior of the bitch. A disturbance of the calm environment can lead to stagnation of the delivery. When the bitch is back in a calm environment, the delivery will resume. Have a good whelping box in a quiet warm draft-free place in the house for some time in advance so that the bitch can get used to it.

Keep the following in mind when setting up a whelping box:

  • Sturdy, spacious and high enough to prevent the puppies from climbing out
  • Equipped with an anti-crush rail to prevent the mother from crushing the puppies against the side
  • No sharp edges or splinters

If a short-term bleeding (one or a few times a very small amount of blood loss) occurs 1-2 weeks before the birth, this is not alarming. In such a case it is wise to have an ultrasound made to see if the puppies are still alive.

When will my dog ​​give birth and how will the delivery take place

Noticing and recognizing the onset of labor in time is of great importance! The bitch and puppies need extra care and the vet can then be warned in time if necessary. The most reliable sign is a drop in body temperature. To notice this, it is necessary to measure the body temperature three times a day to determine the natural diurnal fluctuations. Between 12 and 24 hours before the expulsion of the 1st puppy, a drop in temperature is observed (0.5-1.5 degrees celcius). Restless behaviour, nest building, digging and scratching, etc. can indicate an imminent delivery but can also take place days in advance. Many bitches have less appetite on the day of delivery and urinate and defecate more often. The stool may also be a bit thin.

Birth consists of 2 phases, the dilation phase and the expulsion phase.

  1. In the dilation phase, the vagina and cervix will dilate. However, this cannot be observed in the dog. 6-12 hours after the start of this dilation, the expulsion phase will begin.
  2. The expulsion phase can last between 4-42 hours. This is where the puppies are born. Both a head or a breech presentation of the puppy is normal in the dog and you do not have to worry about a breech presentation. A puppy is born in a membrane and the mother frees the puppy from it and chews through the umbilical cord. Dry licking with their rough tongue gives the puppies a breathing reflex.
  • After the birth of each puppy, the bitch often gets some rest and takes care of the puppies born earlier, in this rest phase there is no pushing. The average time between 2 births is 1-2 hours, but unfortunately quite a bit of variation is possible. This often makes it difficult to predict whether a young is still in the womb or not. That is why an X-ray before or sometimes afterwards is recommended.
  • It is important that the bitch is not disturbed or moved during her delivery. If the next puppy is not yet born after 1-2 hours, but the bitch behaves calmly, you can wait for the next pushing contractions.
  • Drinking of the puppies promotes uterine contractions and accelerates the birth of the next puppy.
  • If you see the birth bladder (not broken) coming out of the vulva, the puppy should be born within 20 minutes.
  • If you see the hind legs or the head, often wrapped in the membranes, but the puppy does not come any further and the delivery gets stuck here, you must act quickly. If no expert help is available, you can intervene yourself: with washed hands you can grab the puppy carefully. Then with the contraction carefully! pull in the direction of the curve of the puppy’s back. If this is not sufficient, you can try to run your finger along the puppy and feel around the puppy and then pull slowly. Often the puppy with the birth membrane is so slippery that a clean dishcloth is handy to grab the puppy with. When the puppy is out, the membranes must be removed as soon as possible (just tear with your fingers) and the mouth and nose must be cleared of mucus. You can do this by putting your finger in the mouth of the puppy, over the tongue and then removing the mucus. To stimulate breathing it is important to rub the puppy with a towel. If the puppy reacts badly, you can gently blow into his nose and then suck the mucus from his nose. There is also a mucous sucker that you can use to suck mucus from the nose and mouth.

When the bitch keeps the tail away from the body at regular intervals and starts to push, the expulsion stage has started. The bitch can push in different positions: standing, lying on the side, half sitting or lying down. The 1st puppy is often squeezed longer (15-45 min). The following puppies are often brought into the world with only a few squeezes.

The time between the births of two consecutive puppies is on average 45 minutes. You don’t have to worry if more than an hour passes between the puppies. With a strongly extended time between puppies, it is essential whether the bitch is pushing and restless or completely relaxed. Some bitches even fall asleep for a while during labour.

When should I call the vet

If the birth has not yet taken place on the 65th day, this is no cause for immediate concern. In principle, a normal birth can still take place in the dog on the 69th day, but the risk of problems increases from the 67th day.

  • Light contractions or infrequent contractions for longer than 1-2 hours, but it does not continue and you do not see a puppy.
  • There is a strong squeeze for 30 minutes, but no puppy comes.
  • If there has been no pressing for 2-3 hours and you are still expecting puppies.
  • Acutely occurring symptoms of disease in the bitch (1 time vomiting or some diarrhea is allowed, not more frequent).
  • A lot of blood loss through the vulva.
  • Foul-smelling or weird colored discharge.
  • For example, green discharge before the birth of the first puppy. When a placenta detaches from the uterine wall, a dark green discharge is released. If no puppies have been born yet, this is a sign that the birth must take place now, otherwise the puppy will die. For the first puppy, the dark green discharge is a sign that intervention is necessary, after the birth of the first puppy the green discharge is normal.

What to watch out for / what to do with the puppies after delivery

  • If the bitch does not bite through the umbilical cord, you will have to thread / detach the umbilical cord yourself. You can do this by firmly grasping the umbilical cord about 2 cm from the abdominal wall of the puppy with your fingers and with your other hand the other part of the umbilical cord, to which the afterbirth is possibly still attached. Then you gently tear the umbilical cord by pulling in the longitudinal direction. Be careful not to pull on the abdominal wall! and leave the umbilical cord neither too long nor too short.
  • Clear the nose and mouth of membranes or mucus. You do this by wiping the membrane from the nose and mouth, possibly tearing the membrane if it is still around the puppy. Then put your finger a bit in the mouth over the tongue and in this way make the mouth mucus free.
  • Rub the puppies dry with a towel until they squeak loudly themselves.
  • Keep puppies dry and warm. Place a hot water bottle with the bitch in the whelping box or use a heat lamp. In the first four weeks, puppies cannot properly regulate their own body temperature. In the first week of life, ensure an ambient temperature of 30-32 degrees. With a larger litter, the temperature can be kept lower, because the puppies keep each other warm. Pay close attention to the behavior of the puppies, for example if it is too hot, the puppies will move to a cooler place and lie less together.
  • The puppies should drink within an hour at most. If necessary, place the puppy with the mother.
  • Make the puppies recognizable with, for example, nail polish on the back or toes, so that they can easily be kept apart (if the puppies look alike).
  • The weight of a puppy should not drop after birth. The advice is to weigh them daily (first days 2x a day). They should gain an average of 10% in body weight every day.
  • If the puppies do not drink enough from the bitch, do not gain weight, are lethargic or very weak, you can dissolve some grape sugar in water and drip into the mouth. Do not spray in the mouth, but drip so that the puppy swallows itself. Then you can switch to milk replacer.
  • It is also normal that the mother dog initially reacts strongly to other dogs and sometimes to strange people. Only after a day or 3 does she usually allow more. So do not let too many strange people touch the puppies in the first period.
  • Check the puppies for a cleft palate. This is a congenital defect. It is our advice to put these puppies to sleep because they will get serious noseinfections and pneumonia.

What to watch out for and what to do with the bitch after delivery

  • If the bitch does not bite through the umbilical cord, you will have to thread the umbilical cord yourself. You can do this by firmly grasping the umbilical cord about 2 cm from the abdominal wall of the puppy with your fingers and the other part with your other hand.
  • If a bitch eats the afterbirths, it is not a problem, but it is not necessary that the bitch has to eat them. They can get diarrhea, which should go away on its own in about two days. You can also remove the placenta.
  • It is advisable to temperature the bitch twice a day in the first days. Temperature should be between 38 and 39 C.
  • There may still be some discharge during the first 10 days. This can go from a red color to green to clear. After two weeks, the bitch should no longer have a discharge.
  • During the lactation period, the mother will produce a total of 1.5-2 times her own weight in milk. Of course this is partly determined by the number of puppies that are nursed. The bitch needs considerably more energy during the lactation period than during pregnancy. The energy requirement can be double or even triple the recommended maintenance amount, depending on the number of puppies. Every bitch will lose weight during the lactation period. This is normal.
  • Puppy food is suitable to give to the bitch during the lactation period. As soon as the puppies start taking solid food on their own, the milk production will slowly decrease. As the milk production decreases, the nutritional requirement of the bitch also decreases.