Dogs have been safely having puppies -- called whelping -- without human intervention for years, but this may be small comfort as your dog’s due date gets closer, particularly if this is your first experience. The better you know your dog’s habits and personality the more you can tell when her behavior deviates from the norm, and indicate she’s having contractions. Unless she just showed up on your doorstep with birth readily imminent, take her to a veterinarian to get an estimated due date so you can pinpoint when contractions are likely to begin.
Pregnancy Term and Preparation
If you know approximately when your dog was bred, you have the advantage. Canine pregnancy lasts between 58 and 71 days, so after about 55 days pay closer attention to mom and help her prepare. Prepare a quiet place for her to give birth; a box with dispensable blankets or towels will do. Place it in an area where you can regulate the temperature between 77 and 86 degrees Fahrenheit for the first few days after the birth, and then no lower than approximately 72 degrees thereafter. Introduce her to the bed at least two weeks prior to her estimated due date.
Start taking your dog’s temperature about 55 days after she was bred, or 8 to 10 days before her due date. Try to take it at least twice a day. Lubricate a thermometer -- a standard human oral thermometer works fine -- with some petroleum jelly and insert it in her rectum so that the thermometer bulb disappears inside her anus, and hold it in place for one minute. Her normal temperature should hover just slightly above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. When it drops to 99.5 degrees or below, expect labor to begin as soon as four to six hours, with birth within the next 24.
If your dog appears restless, perhaps getting up and laying back down several times, suspect that she’s in labor. You may or may not see her abdomen contract so her nervous behavior may be your first clue. She may pant, vomit, go off her food and not want to have anything to do with you, preferring to go off by herself somewhere. She’ll have a second stage of labor with stronger contractions. Once those begin, expect the first pup in about 45 minutes. From the initial onset of labor, her puppies should appear between 6 and 24 hours later.
What To Do
Odds are you won’t have to do anything to assist the mother while she gives birth -- in fact, she actually can stop the birthing process if someone interferes. It’s still a good idea, however, to keep a few items close at hand. Clean towels will help you clean the pups if for some reason mom doesn’t. Pay particular attention to removing mucus from their noses and mouths. Also, if mom doesn’t chew through the umbilical cords, wait 5 to 10 minutes and then use dental floss or thread to tie the umbilical cord about an inch or 2 from the pup’s body, then tie another strand a short distance away. Use scissors to cut between the two ties and dab iodine on the section attached to the puppy. If mom seems tired, feed her vanilla ice cream to give her energy and calcium. Don’t remove the puppies from her even if they’re not nursing right away. Contact your veterinarian to have him examine the new family; do this immediately if you have any concerns, such as mom ignoring her babies, for example.
Based in Central Texas, Karen S. Johnson is a marketing professional with more than 30 years' experience and specializes in business and equestrian topics. Her articles have appeared in several trade and business publications such as the Houston Chronicle. Johnson also co-authored a series of communications publications for the U.S. Agency for International Development. She holds a Bachelor of Science in speech from UT-Austin.