Emergency? Call 01228 521 393

Contact Details Directions

Carlisle Vets


It is important to provide your bitch with a quiet, private area where she can deliver her pups without too much disturbance, and with minimal people present. However, you should also be able to observe the birth and be on-hand to assist should the need arise.
Whelping is divided into three stages, called stages one, two and three.

The first stage of labour is said to have started when contractions of the uterus begin. These contractions start about 6 to 12 hours before the pups are born but cannot be seen externally. They are felt by the bitch and are accompanied by signs of discomfort, panting, increased restlessness, rearranging or tearing up bedding and shivering.

For a few days prior to this a bitch may have been seeking solitude or have been restless or excessively attentive. Some will go off their food.

Stage two is said to have started when the first foetus enters the birth canal. At this stage contractions are seen as abdominal contractions, and not just contractions of the uterus. These contractions are weak and infrequent initially but become stronger and more frequent. The contractions push the foetus, which is enclosed in a clear, fluid-filled sac, up into the pelvis. Stage two lasts from 3 to 12 hours, or up to 24 hours on rare occasions. For large litters there may be an interval of up to two hours when the bitch stops pushing altogether; she will rest and appear to be relaxed. Most pups are born forwards but up to 40% come backwards and this is considered normal. The interval between pups is anywhere between 5 minutes and 120 minutes with about 15 to 20 minutes being typical. First time mothers usually take longer to pass the first pup and may take longer between pups.

When to contact your vet

Most whelpings proceed without any problems, but problems can occur if a pup is too big or in the wrong position, or if the uterus fails to contract properly. In these circumstances you will need the assistance of a veterinary surgeon.

  • If no pups are delivered with 3-4 hours of a greenish discharge being passed
  • If clear fluid was passed more than 2-3 hours ago and nothing more has happened
  • If there has been weak, infrequent straining for more than 2-4 hours
  • If your bitch has been actively straining (strong, frequent contractions) for more than 20-30 minutes without any signs of a pup being delivered
  • If more than 2-4 hours have passed since the last pup was delivered and more pups remain
  • If second stage labour lasts more than 12 hours

Stage three labour is the passage of the placenta (also known as the afterbirth). There should be one placenta for each pup but it is likely the bitch will eat them if given the chance. Two or three pups can be delivered together before their associated afterbirths are passed. The bitch should be discouraged from eating more than one or two of the afterbirths as this is likely to give her diarrhoea.

It may occasionally be necessary to rupture the membranes (or sac) in which pups are born to clear the pup’s airways, though the bitch would normally do this given the chance. The umbilical cord should be snapped off not less than 1cm from the navel if this fails to happen. If can be tied with a piece of fine thread though it will almost certainly stop bleeding by itself.

After the pups are born

After the pups are born a greenish discharge, called lochia, is passed from the bitch’s vulva. The discharge is most profuse during the first week after the pups are born but the discharge can last for up to three weeks. You should contact your veterinary surgeon:

  • If the discharge becomes putrid or smelly
  • If there is continued bleeding from the vulva
  • If your bitch appears to be unwell or has a temperature of over 39.5 degrees
  • If the pups appear unwell

You may wish to bring the pups to the surgery when they are 2-3 days old so they can be checked for congenital abnormalities such cleft palate.

Monitor your bitch’s mammary glands for excessive tenderness or swelling as this could be due to an infection, known as mastitis, which will require treatment with antibiotics.