The period of canine gestation, from breeding to birth, lasts just a little more than two months. Most dogs deliver their puppies around the 63rd day of pregnancy, but babies can arrive a little early or a little late. That means you should have plenty of time to get ready a suitable space for the mother to give birth, or whelp, and nurse her litter. Be sure to have all of your veterinarian's contact information handy.
Have a quiet, draft-free, out-of-the-way place in your home set up with a whelping box, lined with newspapers or clean towels and blankets. The sides of the box should be high enough to keep puppies in and low enough to allow the mother easy accessibility. In case of emergency, have puppy milk replacer and bottles on hand. As your dog's due date draws near, take her temperature twice daily. Normally, her temperature ranges from 100.5 to 102.5 degrees. When it drops by 2 degrees, expect that labor will commence within the next 24 hours. You might observe milk leaking from her teats.
When early labor starts, the dog becomes restless. She refuses to eat and displays "nesting" behavior, perhaps digging about in her whelping box. This stage can last 12 hours or more. She'll lick her privates and you might notice a thick discharge emanating from her vulva. Mild contractions become more pronounced as labor progresses. When you see a gray sac expelled from her vulva, her water has broken and puppies are on the way.
During delivery, keep an eye on the situation but don't hover over your dog. In canines, both head-first and tail-first deliveries are normal. Usually the puppies arrive in 20- to 60-minute intervals, although the mother might take a break after the first few puppies are born. If she's not straining, don't be concerned. She needs to rest a bit. Puppies are born with the amniotic membrane covering their faces. The mother dog should lick this off each pup so it can breathe, but if she doesn't do it, you'll have to gently clear it off to save the puppy's life. If the mother dog strains for more than two hours to deliver a puppy, call your vet.
It's important to make sure there are as many placentas expelled from the mother dog as there are puppies. It's perfectly natural for her to eat the placentas, but keep track of them. A retained placenta can cause a serious, even fatal, infection in the mother dog. Make sure all of the puppies are nursing. If any of the puppies don't nurse, or the mother ignores it, contact your veterinarian.
Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.