Knowing how long it does take a dog to give birth is important as it helps you decide when whelping is becoming longer than necessary and at what point you need medical intervention.
Usually, most canine births are quite uneventful, lasting 24 hours at the max, and needing no human intervention. Female dogs know exactly what to do instinctively and are able to go through the entire process alone without your help in most cases. In the end, both mother and puppies end up quite well.
Nevertheless, though human intervention is, most times, unnecessary, being beside your dog during whelping is always advised. On rare occasions, there might be some complications and timely intervention might be thin line between a successful birth and a fatalistic one.
Usually, whelping (the process by which a dog gives birth) should be done and supervised by people who have had experience whelping puppies. However, sometimes, you’re the only one you have and being knowledgeable in this area can make you feel more confident in such a situation.
So, remember to have your vet on speed dial just in case you have any question or delivery is getting too long.
Also, do not forget that your dog knows what to do by instinct. So, please let your dog do the major part of the work.
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Signs That Your Dog Is Going Into Labor
As with humans, labor in dogs does not begin when the dog begins straining and pushing, it begins about 48 hours before then. Here are signs that your dog is going into labor.
- Two days before your dog delivers, you might begin to notice signs of nesting in your dog. So, she might begin to scratch at or dig into her bed. This is your dog’s way instinctual way of preparing a place where her puppies will stay safe and protected after birth.
While we’re here, it’s important to point out that, sometimes (but only occasionally), a dog might move the whelping box you prepared for them to another part of the house.
If your dog has done this, then, as much as possible, avoid moving it out of her preferred spot.
- As labor becomes more imminent, your dog’s body temperature drops just a bit. Usually, body temperature ranges between 100 and 102 degrees (or 37 to 38 degrees Celsius). However, within 12 – 24 hours of labor, this temperature drops about two degrees.
To be able to catch this, therefore, you’d have to check your dog’s rectal temperature twice daily.
If you don’t know how to do this, you can ask your vet to show you how.
Also, if you notice that your dog shows signs of stress while trying to take her temperature, then stop. It’s more important to help her stay calm and avoid stress now more than anything else.
- Your dog might begin to leak some milk from her teats. This is quite common in dogs, so don’t worry if you observe it.
- Another symptom is a loss of appetite. Because of the puppies’ constant movements, your dog might begin to feel nauseous and, as a result, lose her appetite.
- Your dog might also end vomiting a little. Again, this is as a result of the puppies moving around in her womb. It’s nothing to worry about. Simply put her to rest and continue to pet her so she knows you’re there with her.
- She might also begin to lick her vulva.
All of these signs should last about 12 to 24 hours in normal circumstances up until the cervix is dilated enough for the puppies to come out.
James Crittal explains these signs as well as the stages of whelping in dogs and what to expect in this video.
How Long Does It Take A Dog To Give Birth?
Normally, the entire whelping process should take about 3 to 12 hours max. As we said earlier, your dog instinctively knows what to do. So, most times, it ends up uneventful and you might not even need to do anything. Still, be with her for support.
Canine delivery occurs in three stages.
In the first stage, the cervix dilates and your dog begins to experience uterine contractions. This prepares the way for the puppies to come out of the uterus.
Next, your dog’s vulva will begin to swell as it prepares for delivery.
Now, while all these are happening, it’s possible that your dog becomes really restless. She might even shiver, pant, and vomit. Don’t get distressed, your dog is fine and it’s a normal part of the delivery process.
In the next stage, the dam’s temperature begins to return to normal as her body prepares to push the puppies out. This is followed by strong uterine contraction that pushes the water bag out of the uterus. In some cases, the water bag ruptures before the puppies start coming. If that happens with your dog, then rather than the water bag, you might see a clear or straw-colored fluid coming out from the dam’s vulva.
Within the next 20 minutes to half-hour, the first puppy should have been pushed out with other puppies following at the same 20 minutes to half-hour interval.
Now, while puppies usually come within 20 minutes of one another, sometimes, the mum might take some time to rest in the middle of delivery. So, it’s possible for the dog not to show any sign of strain at all for about two hours.
However, monitor your dog. If she rests for longer than two hours at a time, then you might want to call your vet.
Sometimes, puppies might come out tail-first. Unlike with humans where coming out feet-first is usually a sign of complications, for puppies, this is completely normal. Nevertheless, your dog might need more support for such puppies. Just be careful and don’t tug.
After each puppy has been succesfully birthed, the dam usually bites through its sac and umbilical cord. Then she’d clean them up herself too.
If it seems she’s biting the cord a little too close to the puppy, then you might need to intervene and cut the cord yourself.
In labors that last a long time, the dam might have the need to poop in between the deliveries of the litter. Observe her closely just in case this happens simultaneously with the birth of the next pup.
Finally, for this stage, the separation of a placenta is usually an indication that next puppy is on the way and should be expected within 2 to 4 hours after the separation. You know the placenta has separated when the dam passes a greenish/brown fluid.
Now, if the pup doesn’t come after 4 hours, it’s time to call your vet.
Following the birth of each puppy should be the passage of the placenta. You want to keep count of all the placentas that have been passed. Note that the dam might eat a placenta, again, that’s normal. We understand if that’s disgusting to you but it’s actually nutritious for them.
But back to keeping count. If the number of placentas doesn’t correspond to the number of puppies born, then there might be one left in the dam. Please contact your vet if that happens.
Finally, restlessness is common in this stage as are shivering and panting. Your dog is fine and there’s no need to worry.
Steps To Take As Your Dog’s Due Date Approaches
1. Schedule An Appointment At The Vet Clinic
You’d have to see your vet for an examination of your dog. In this examination, your vet will palpate (feel) your dog’s abdomen checking for the puppies. They will also do some blood tests to confirm that your dog is being adequately nourished. Finally, they will check for signs of life in the puppies using a stethoscope.
Following the results of these tests, your vet will then advise on the signs to look out for when your dog goes into labor.
He will also advise on ways to care for your dog while she whelps.
2. Ask For An Oxytocin Prescription
You’ll also want to ask your vet for an oxytocin prescription.
Oxytocin is a hormone that triggers labor in a normal pregnancy. When oxytocin is released, the uterus will begin to contract and push the puppies out one after the other.
Sometimes, it might come in handy if you have to induce labor yourself. Oxytocin is supposed to be injected intramuscularly. If you don’t know how to do that, don’t worry, your vet will show you how to administer it to your dog correctly.
3. Set Up A Whelping Box For Your Dog
Find a quiet place around your home and set up a whelping box. Usually, when it’s a few days to your dog’s due date, she will begin nesting. That is, she will begin to prepare a delivery spot for her puppies.
Ensure that you have lined the box with some cleaning bedding. Then you want to encourage your dog to feel at home and relax in her whelping box. Help her familiarize herself with and personalize the box. Feel free to include her favorite toys in the box too.
4. Observe Your Dog For Labor Signs
Monitor your dog as closely as possible once her due date begins to approach. We will list those signs in the next section.
Supplies To Have On Hand During Delivery
1. Whelping Box
We already explained the need for this. However, we didn’t mention that you can either buy a commercial, ready-made whelping box or you can make it yourself.
If you didn’t prepare in time and you’re stranded, then a cardboard box can work.
Just create an entry and exit by cutting down the front part of the box so your dog can go in and out easily.
Also, you want the sides high enough to keep drafts from getting to the pups in the box.
2. Laundry Box, Heating Pad, And Blanket
First, line the laundry box with a heating pad and a blanket as this is the place where you will be keeping the puppies as soon as they are born. You’d need to help the dam by getting each pup out of her way as soon as they are born.
However, make sure the basket is in a location where the mother can easily see her puppies.
As you watch over the dam, watch over the puppies as well especially for the temperature. Usually, if the pups are getting too hot, they will begin to cry. If they get too cold, they will then begin to whimper.
3. A Stack Of Clean Towels
You’d need it to clean the puppies if need be.
4. Emergency Supplies
You’d need some supplies for emergency situations such as rubber cords, heavy thread (dental floss can also suffice). This is to help with cutting the umbilical cord if you have to. Note that you might not end up using any of these supplies. However, still have them on hand just in case.
You’ll also need to have a bowl of antiseptic or iodine at hand with which to dip the freshly cut cord so that it does not get infected
5. Phone Numbers
You’d need to keep your vet’s number on hand as well as the phone number of an after-hours vet emergency clinic.
Most times, whelping occurs in the wee hours of the morning, before dawn. So, just in case there’s a complication, or the birth process is taking longer than necessary, you’d need to be sure of a place where your dog can be taken care of.
How You Can Help Your Dog Give Birth
Typically, a dam does not need your help. However, it’s not enough to know how long it takes a dog to give birth, knowing how and when to intervene can make all the difference. Therefore, if she doesn’t do the following things, you might have to step in and help her do them.
You can watch this video to get a feel of what the process looks like so you can know what to expect.
1. Remove The Membrane
When puppies are born, they are wrapped in a thin membrane that, sort of, resembles plastic. You’d need to remove that membrane within one hour (some say a minute) else the puppy might suffocate to its death.
On a good day, the dam will do this herself but if she doesn’t, then you’d have to do it for her.
2. Rub The Puppy In A Towel
After removing the membrane, the dame will usually lick the puppy. Doing this is supposed to stimulate the puppy so that it can breathe and cry. If the mum fails to do this, rub the pup yourself with your towel. Do this vigorously until the puppy begins to breathe on its own.
3. Throw Away The Afterbirth
A placenta should follow after each birth and you are supposed to discard this placenta as it is useless. If the mother attempts to eat the placenta, don’t worry. That’s normal. Just don’t allow her eat more than two of them at most.
Like we said, keep count so that you can be sure that the dam has discharged all the placentas.
If it appears that she hasn’t discharged all the placentas moments after the final pup has been delivered, then consult your vet to administer the oxytocin injection in order to help her expel the placenta.
4. Cut The Umbilical Cord
If the dam does not cut the cord herself, you’d have to cut the cord yourself.
Ensure that you make use of sterilized scissors and leave a distance of about an inch from the pup’s belly before you cut.
After cutting, tie the cord with heavy thread or dental floss. This time, leave a distance of a quarter-inch or half an inch from the pup’s belly.
Now, rather than making a clean cut, crush the cord in order to reduce bleeding.
Once the cord has been cut and tied, dip the end of the cord either in iodine or any antiseptic solution.
5. Put Pups In The Laundry Basket
Pups instinctively look out for their mother to begin nursing. So, to keep them safe, you want to keep them in that laundry basket you prepared. Please let this basket be within viewing distance of the mother.
Also, at intervals between births, it’s okay to place the puppies at the nipples so they can feed.
6. Repeat The Process
With dogs, multiple as well as breech births are the norm unlike with humans. So, you’d have to repeat the process explained a number of times.
If you’d like to have an idea of the number of puppies to expect, you could count your dog’s nipples. Usually, that’s going to be max number of puppies your dog is going to have.
You can also confirm this number through an ultrasound, however, it’s not a very accurate method. A more accurate method is via X-ray around 55 days after breeding.
Sometimes, labor gets a bit difficult for the dam and the puppy might get stuck. In that case, you’d have to apply KY jelly to the birth canal so that the puppy can pass out more easily.
Also, sometimes, you might have to interfere by gripping the puppy being born by the skin behind the neck with the use of a cloth. Rotating the pup one way or another might also help the pup to get expelled more easily.
7. Keep The Puppies Warm And Fed
After the last puppy comes in, take the dam outside to pee and/or poop. Also, give her some food to eat and some water to drink. You want to give her the same food she had during her pregnancy as giving her something new might upset her stomach.
Afterward, bring her in and bring her pups in the whelping box so they can nurse. Remember that puppies need to be kept warm after birth. As usual, the new mom is equal to the task. However, there are cases where she isn’t supplying enough milk or maybe she rejects one, some, or all her puppies. If she does, they become your job.
Puppies that aren’t well-fed complain by being restless or sucking on everything they can find. Feed them using bottles as well as supplements. You can purchase these at any local store, and click here to read our article on how long to feed a dog puppy food for more information.
Puppies who act lethargic are usually not warm enough. The normal body temperature for puppies is about 97 degrees Fahrenheit (or 36 degrees celsius). If it drops, then get the heating pad.
Next, you want to distinguish the puppies by tying different colored ribbons loosely around each pup’s neck. This ribbon needs to be loose to accommodate the puppies as they grow.
Generally, puppies gain weight steadily and even double their weight at birth in the first week (click here to read our article: how big can a dog get?). You want to keep track of your puppies’ weight gain by measuring them every day. If anyone does not seem to be gaining weight, you’d need to call the vet.
9. Take The New Mom To The Vet
Lastly, you will take the new mum to the vet within 24 to 48 hours of her giving birth. Your vet will check her for injuries or complications. He will also administer a posterior pituitary extract (POP) injection.
Signs Of An Abnormal Delivery
If you notice any of the following signs, it’s time to consult your vet.
- If the dam has been straining for up to an hour with no sign of a puppy, it’s time to call the vet. They might need to either correct the position of the puppy or perform a Cesarean section.
- Resting in between delivery is fine, even up to two hours. If takes longer than that, please consult your vet as your dog might be having uterine inertia.
- If your dog is passing out a bloody or purulent discharge, it might be a uterine rupture or hemorrhage. Consult your vet.
- If there’s placental separation before the birth of the first puppy, call your vet. You know there has been placental separation if the dam dispels a darkish green liquid.
- If your dog has pale gums, extreme pain in the abdomen, a drop in body temperature or goes into shock, she might be having uterine torsion. Call your vet.
- Finally, tremors, muscle weakness, spasms, seizures, or muscle rigidity might suggest eclampsia. Again, call the vet.
There are many cases where a dog owner might wake up to find her once-pregnant mum now a mother with her newborn litter doing just fine. This is how uneventful most dog births are. Hence, unless you have to, do your best not to intervene. It’s important to allow the dog and her puppies develop that critical bond.
However, it’s good to have an idea of what the whelping process involves as well as how long it could take a dog to give birth in order to step in if need be.