We had 8 beautiful, healthy husky puppies born here last week! I love having puppies around, but this will be our last litter for a while. Puppies take up a lot of space inside a tiny home. Luckily, some of them even have homes waiting for them already!
I’ve helped with whelping with quite a few dogs, so it was easy for me to figure out when Laska was in labor. While every dog is different, they will follow the same general signs while in labor. The average time for a dogs pregnancy is 63 days, though they can be as short as 58 days or as long as 69. If a dog has been pregnant for longer than 69 days veterinary intervention should be sought.
Don’t worry too much though! Nearly 98% of dog births go off without a hitch! However, brachycephalic breeds – dogs with broad skulls and flat faces like pugs or bull dogs, have a higher chance of problems delivering. In fact, breeders often schedule these types of dogs for c-sections rather than have them attempt labor. If you have a brachycephalic breed make sure to closely monitor her pregnancy and make a birth plan with your veterinarian.
Labor In Dogs
Often the first sign of labor in dogs will be a drop in temperature below 99° F (37° Celsius). A dogs normal temperature should be 101 to 102.5° F (38.3 to 39.2° C). This drop will generally happen within 24 hours of giving birth. A dams temperature should be taken with a rectal thermometer beginning 14 days before pups are expected. Although not all dogs will have this sign of labor its still a good idea to monitor the mothers temperature. Another sign that not all dogs will have is the filling of their mammary glands. Some dogs will produce milk before labor, in others the labor hormones are what start the milk production. I’ve had it go both ways with the same dog for different litters. Just goes to show that every labor is different!
This is the beginning of obvious physical signs of labor. This stage may last as long as 24 hours before the first pup is produced. The dam may pace restlessly and sleep little as she can not get comfortable. Dogs in this stage will often have no appetite, and may even vomit. She may moan and pant as uterine contractions begin. Dams will have some vaginal discharge while in this stage from the softening of the cervix, and will be licking at their vulva.
Many dogs begin nesting at this stage as well by fluffing blankets in the whelping box, or they might want to be close to their person. With Laska, she wants to be as close to me as possible. For both litters she has tried to sit on my lap for the first few pups before moving to the whelping area to continue her labor. Having their person nearby may be calming for nervous dogs, so try to be available if possible.
The second stage of labor in dogs will show with stronger contractions. At this point, dogs may squat or lie down while pushing. This will usually last about half an hour between pups, though gaps as long as three hours have been noted. If a dam is having forceful contractions and pushing longer than 30 minutes without a pup arriving, contact a veterinarian for guidance, as they will most likely suggest bringing the dog in immediately. Be prepared to bring any pups that have already been born with you!
During this stage there may be a straw colored liquid produce directly before a puppy is born. This is fluid from the amniotic sac, as it usually ruptures during birth. Once the pup has arrived the mother will lick it to clean birthing fluids, and stimulate breathing and blood flow. The dam will chew off the umbilical cord during this time as well. It may look like she is being too rough, but puppies are very resilient. If however, she hasn’t started this process within a minute of the pup being born, you may need to step in and rub the pup with a dry towel. Make sure to clear fluid from the pups mouth and nose if you step in, and place the dry puppy against the mothers stomach.
This stage happens during labor in dogs, between pups, as well as at the end. It is the contractions that expel placenta, blood and other fluids from the mothers uterus. The mother will generally lick up and eat any remnants of the birth. It may look gross, but they will provide her with nutrients, and in the wild this would help keep predators from sniffing out the den. There is no reason to keep the dam from eating the after birth.
At this point the dog may want some water or food, or to go out for a bathroom break. She should be kept on a leash when going outside to prevent any pups being born outside accidentally. Sometimes it will seem that a dog has finished giving birth when they are only taking a break! With Laska’s litter, I thought she was done at six pups, but woke to find two more in the morning! This happens rather often when dogs (and other animals that have litters) take a lengthy break between births.
When it seems that things have settled and no more pups need to be born, make sure that all the puppies have a chance to nurse. The first milk produced by the dam is colostrum. This milk contains antibodies and nutrients to help the puppies immune systems.
What is normal after labor in dogs?
Labor will affect dogs in various ways. The dam may be moody or eat less for a few days. Refusing food for up to 24 hours is common. She may also have a normal vaginal discharge that will happen after the birth for roughly 4-8 weeks and should be a dark red or brownish green. Mild diarrhea and panting are both considered normal in dogs after giving birth.
Things To Watch For
In the following days and weeks there are several things to keep an eye out for, both in dam and puppies. A dog with any of these problems should promptly see a veterinarian for care.
An important thing to watch for in the hours after labor is a vaginal discharge that looks like pus and has a strong odor. This can be a sign of infection or retained placentas. If the discharge is bright red, that is another sign there may be an issue and the dam needs veterinary care. Or if she continues straining after all the expected puppies have arrived. If the mother is restless, nervous, stiff, shaking or has seizures she may be suffering from milk fever, or calcium deficiency. Pups should be removed from the mother and fed a milk replacer until a vet okays them nursing from the mother again.
If the vaginal discharge changes color to bright red, or looks like pus or has a strong odor the mother will need to be seen by a vet quickly. She will also need to be seen if her teats are red, black, seem painful or are leaking brown or bloody discharge. These can all be signs of an infection of the milk glands. Disinterest in the pups, depression or weight loss mean the dam should be checked out as well. Extreme cases of diarrhea could be indicative of infection that requires treatment.
While it is not uncommon to loose a puppy out of a litter, more than one in the weeks following birth is cause for concern. So to are puppies appearing distressed, reluctant to nurse, or not gaining weight. Check the dams teats for signs of infection if she is uninterested in feeding the pups, or seems to be in pain.
Is A Vet Visit Required After Whelping?
It’s entirely up to you if you take your dog to a vet after whelping. However, a wellness check for dam and pups can help determine that everyone is healthy, or if there are concerns that need addressed. The vet will check for things like retained placentas, unborn pups and unusually large amounts of blood or fluid. A shot of oxytocin may be recommended for the mother. This will cause uterine contractions to help expel any material left inside the dam. It will also help with milk production. The puppies will be sexed at this appointment, and information about care will be given. Also given will be a suggested de-wormer and vaccination schedule.
And just because everybody loves puppies:
Disclaimer: I am not a veterinarian. This information is an amalgamation of personal experience and veterinarian advice given to me. If you have any concerns about the behavior of your dog or her pups, please seek professional care for them!