How early can a dog give birth safely? Let’s Explore

Should I change her food?

It is important that she be in good physical condition before she is mated. Both the male and female dog should be examined by a veterinarian prior to mating.

After mating, food intake should remain the same during the first two-thirds of pregnancy (approximately six weeks after mating). Make sure you feed your dog a premium, high-quality diet approved by your veterinarian during pregnancy. Discuss nutritional supplements and vitamins with your veterinarian before giving them to your dog. It is recommended that your dog be fed a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids (DHA) while pregnant to help puppy development in utero, and also during milk production.

Immediately after my female dog has been mated, is there anything I should do?

Make sure that she does not have the opportunity to mate with any other dogs. Remember that estrus or heat will continue for several more days and she could theoretically become pregnant from another dog during this period. After a planned mating, it is a good idea to allow her to rest quietly for a few hours.

How will I know that she is starting?

When whelping or birth is imminent, the female often stops eating (although this is not always the case) and her rectal temperature often drops below 100.5°F (38.1°C). The female will often go into a corner or a quiet room and start scratching to make her bed. If you see any of these signs, you may wish to notify your veterinarian since this is the first stage of labor, when the birth canal starts to dilate.

This is followed by second stage labor when the female starts to contract her uterus forcibly. These contractions start gradually and increase in intensity, frequency, and duration. If intense contractions have been occurring for twenty to thirty minutes without a puppy being born, it is important to contact your veterinarian.

You should also contact your veterinarian if any of the following occur:

1. The mother strains for eight to ten minutes with a puppy or a fluid filled bubble stuck in the birth canal

2. The mother has a rectal temperature of more than 103°F (39.5°C)

3. You observe fresh bleeding from the vagina that persists for more than ten minutes

4. You observe a green discharge from the vagina without puppies being born.

How to assist your Dog during Whelping – the delivery process

Dr Caroline Romeo has been with AREC since 2014. Her interests include diagnostic imaging, and she has done extended study in both ultrasound and radiology. We love her gentle and thorough approach to animal care. Below she guides us through the things to be aware of when dogs are in labour.

Although giving birth is a natural process, it is common for dogs to have problems with labour. It is helpful for dog owners to know what is considered to be a normal birthing process in dogs, as well as some guidelines regarding when veterinary assistance may be required. Of course these are guidelines only, and if you have any concerns about your dog during her labour then please contact a vet. If your dog is experiencing problems giving birth, it is safest for mum and her puppies to seek veterinary assistance as soon as possible.

What does a normal labour in dogs look like? In the first stage of labour the body is getting ready to start passing out puppies. Your dog’s uterus will be causing some discomfort by contracting although you won’t be able to see it. The first stage usually lasts for 6-12 hours. Your dog may be seen to be restless, panting, shivering, pacing, nesting and wanting to go to a quiet area. Some dogs do not show any behavioural changes in the first stage. The second stage of labour is the fun part – giving birth to puppies! It usually lasts 3 to 12 hours. In this stage abdominal contractions can be seen. Your dog’s waters may break, which will be seen as clear fluid. In normal labour, your dog may show weak and infrequent straining for up to 2 hours (or at the most 4 hours) before giving birth to her first puppy. Normally the mother will break the membrane that still covers the puppy, lick the puppy all over and chew through the umbilical cord. Sometimes the mother might need help to open the membranes so that the puppy can breathe. The next puppies are usually delivered every 30 to 60 minutes, although up to 3 hours between puppies can be normal. A green-black discharge is normal once the first puppy has been delivered. The third stage of labour involves passing of the placentas. This often occurs during the second stage, with each puppy’s placenta usually passing out within 15 minutes of each puppy being delivered. It is important to allow your dog to give birth to her puppies in a quiet area without being stressed by her surroundings. You should be observing your dog enough to know that she is safe and that her labour appears normal, without adding to her stress, as this may cause her labour to stop.

My dog is in labour. I think she might be having problems. Does she need to see a vet?

There are many reasons why problems can occur in the birthing process. These include a uterus that is not contracting enough to be able to pass puppies out, and puppies that are too big to pass out of the mother’s pelvis. Problems may occur after the first few puppies have been delivered, with more still requiring to come. If your dog is having problems with labour, or you are uncertain whether things are progressing normally, it is important to seek veterinary advice as soon as possible.

The ideal treatment for difficulties in birth differs depending on why your dog is unable to deliver all her puppies normally. Examination of the patient, blood tests, ultrasound and x-rays can be used to help determine what is the best course of action for the individual patient. In some situations, giving medications to help labour along may be enough to allow your dog to continue to deliver puppies. Sometimes a puppy that is stuck in the birth canal can be removed to allow labour to continue normally. In other situations, we are risking the safety of both the mum and the puppies if we even attempt treatment medically, and a Caesarian Section surgery is required. In certain circumstances it may be safe to see if medical treatment is enough to labour to continue normally, and if this is not effective to then perform a Caesarian surgery. If you do need to take your dog to see a vet, bring any puppies that have been born along too, and make sure they are kept really nice and warm as they are not able to regulate their own body heat properly as newborns.

Yes! If you know that your dog is pregnant then it is important to have a consult with your regular vet as early as possible in the pregnancy in order to have all the information you require on how to care for your dog during and after pregnancy. With the right advice there is much that you can do to help support your dog to have a healthy pregnancy and labour.

Being prepared, knowing what is normal and what is abnormal, and contacting a vet early on if you think your dog might be experiencing problems is the best thing you can do to keep both mum and pups healthy and happy.