Normal Stages of Whelping In Dogs


In normal canine parturition, the female (bitch) goes through three specific stages of labor.  Prior to its onset, her body temperature will drop a few degrees.  (The normal body temperature for dogs is 100.0 to 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit.)  Labor should start within twenty-four hours of the temperature drop.  In stage one, the mother-to-be is restless.  She pants and paces.  The poor girl just can’t get comfortable.  During this phase her cervix is dilating.  She is having small contractions that are not visible.  Some first time moms will looks at their sides as if to ask “What’s going on?”  

Once contractions are visible, the bitch is in stage two labor.  Puppies are usually born after ten to fifteen minutes of active straining.  They may come out head or tail first.  Either is fine.  Watch closely to see if a placenta (the sac around the pup) is delivered with each pup.  Some females will try to eat this which I do not recommend.  I have seen intestinal obstructions develop from this. 

During stage three labor, any retained placentas are delivered.  Watch closely to make sure this happens.  A retained placenta may cause a life-threatening infection.  Seek medical attention right away if you suspect this occurred.

For further information on whelping please see my upcoming blog post “Canine Labor:  When To Call The Vet”.

Published by kristennelsondvm

Dr. Kristen Nelson grew up on a farm in Watertown, Minn., where she developed a deep love for animals of all kinds. She received a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from the University of Minnesota, College of Veterinary Medicine. Kris then completed a small-animal internship at the prestigious Animal Medical Center in New York City. In addition to writing and speaking, she cares for small and exotic animals in Scottsdale, Az. Dr. Nelson is widely quoted in the media. Her credits include Ladies’ Home Journal, USA TODAY, the Los Angeles Times and numerous radio and television interviews. Dr. Nelson has written two books, Coated With Fur: A Vet’s Life and Coated With Fur: A Blind Cat’s Love. Kris and her husband Steve share their home with rescued cats, birds and a dog.