Whelping Puppies

Understanding a Dog’s Stages of Labor

So whelping day is around the corner and you are preparing yourself for the big event. You have your veterinarian’s phone number handy in case of an emergency, you have the den ready, mother dog’s coat has been clipped to keep everything clean and tidy and you have been recording her temperature so to detect the famous “drop.” What happens next? Being prepared is fundamental so that you can recognize early signs of trouble. This guide on the dog’s stages of labor depicts a normal, uneventful labor so that you know what is going to happen.

dog-whelping-stagesFirst Stage of Dog Labor (Cervical dilation)

The first stage of dog labor takes place when the dog’s first contractions take place. During this stage, the dog’s cervix opens and her reproductive tract starts relaxing. The contractions may not always be visible, but mother dog may start acting restless, she may be pacing, whining, digging and panting and may even lose her appetite and vomit. At times, mother dog may look at her sides as if wondering “what’s going on there?” Well, what is going on is that pups are starting to move away from the uterine horns and are approaching the birth canal. From floating on their backs, now pups must rotate themselves as they approach the cervix.

How long does the first stage of dog labor last? The first stage of labor in dogs lasts generally between 6 and 8 hours, but sometimes may also reach 12 hours. According to Margaret V. Root Kustritz, a veterinarian specializing in canine reproduction, intervention should be sought should mother dog not enter stage 2 labor within 12 hours. A labor lasting more than 18 hours may be indicative of complications such as stillbirths and puppy death.

Second Stage of Dog Labor (Fetus expulsion)

During the second stage of labor, the puppies start arriving! You’ll likely notice the strong abdominal contractions during this stage.   Right before a puppy comes out, you will see some grayish-blue slimy water sac protruding from mom’s birth canal before the pup is welcomed to the world. Generally, a pup is born within half hour of noticing such tissues protruding from mother dog. Expect the pups to be enveloped in membranes that mother dogs ruptures to get them out and then next, she’ll be cutting the umbilical cord. She’ll be also licking the pups vigorously to stimulate their circulation and breathing. Generally, most dogs will have an interval of 30 to 60 minutes in between puppies, but sometimes they may take a little bit longer. Two hours between pups is not unusual. After each pup is delivered, expect mother dog to expel a placenta. Keep track that mother dog expels all placentas. There should be a placenta following each puppy, but if two pups are delivered in a row, you may see two placentas delivered then at once.

The Third Stage of Labor (Placenta expulsion)

Once the puppies are all out, it’s time for the third and final stage of labor. This is the time for “clean-up.” After giving birth to all her pups, mother dog will expel the last placenta. Puppies by now should be suckling and allows to do so undisturbed. They need all the nutrients they can get since mother dog produces colostrum only the first couple of days. Colostrum provides the pups with immune system boosters that will help keep infectious diseases at bay until the pups are ready to be vaccinated at around 6 to 8 weeks.

This is a description of the normal stages of labor where everything goes well and smoothly, but we know that it’s important to also see the many things that may go wrong, so to recognize signs of trouble.  For this, stay tuned for our article on complications of puppy whelping that all breeders should know.


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