Whelping, Dystocia and Caesarean in Dogs

WhatsApp Image 2023-02-24 at 12.50.32 PM

 Dr. Neelima Jayaraj

       Whelping is act of dogs giving birth to its young ones. Normal gestation period in dogs is around 58-63 days which can go as high as 72 days depending on several factors like breed, parity, litter size, the actual time of conception in the dog and the length of time semen can remain viable in the reproductive tract (often ≥7 days).

Know the signs, dear pet parents…!

  • Moms to be dogs may show restlessness in the final week of pregnancy and they tend to seclude themselves into a calmer place. While it’s not always the case, some dogs may quit eating on the last day of pregnancy
  • Most dogs may show nesting instinct in the final days of pregnancy
  • Significant enlargement of mammary glands may be noticed
  • A drop in rectal temperature to 7°-37.8°C is seen in most dogs 8 to 24 hours before whelping
  • In some dogs, the energy level may drop close to the whelping time


Preparing your dog – A whelping box

The intention of preparing whelping boxes is to provide a clean and safe area for the dog to deliver and to reduce their anxiety. It can be made from any material that is easy to clean. Whelping boxes should be filled with clean blankets or towels or sheets or even newspapers are helpful. Even puppy pads can be used on the sides of the box to prevent collision injuries. Keep the whelping box in a clean and secluded area and at a temperature of around 22C if possible. The box should be big enough for the mother and the puppies to fit inside comfortably. Make sure that the box is low enough so that the mother can access it easily and it is high enough for the puppies to escape.

Stages of Labour

Stage I

  • May last for 6 to 12 hours
  • Don’t be alarmed if the dog seems particularly anxious and restless or if the mother pants and shivers; this is all quite normal
  • During this stage the cervix will dilate
  • Clear and watery vaginal discharge can be noticed
  • It is highly recommended to consult a veterinarian, if the dog doesn’t start whelping within 24 hours after beginning of this stage


Stage II

  • It may last for 3 to 6 hours, but can take up to 24 hours at times
  • This is the actual phase where puppies are born
  • Marked by the onset of visible abdominal contractions
  • Although there will be variations, normally the first puppy should be delivered within 30-60 minutes after the contractions has started.
  • Normal LABOUR is associated with shorter total delivery time and intervals (30–60 minutes) between newborns
  • Vaginal discharge could be clear, serous (brownish) or greenish.
  • The mother dogs usually tend to groom and nurse the newborn puppies intermittently
  • Mother dogs may show panting and trembling which is very common
  • Note: Emergency veterinary assistance is recommended, if the first puppy is not delivered within 2 hours after the onset of contractions


Stage III

  • This is the stage where placenta or afterbirth is delivered
  • Until the delivery is finished, female dogs and cats frequently alternate between phases II and III of labour
  • All fetuses and placentas are delivered vaginally during normal labour, albeit they may not always be delivered simultaneously
  • It is important to keep track of the placentas, as the retained placentas if any can create life threatening conditions for the females afterwards
  • If the umbilical cords are not broken naturally, our intervention is needed to cut it. To do this, tie a knot using a clean thread approximately one inch from where the cord attaches to the pup’s body. Tie another knot a little further from the first knot and use clean scissors to cut the cord between the two knots. Cutting too close to the pup’s body can risk its health and leaving it too long could lead to it being chewed or swallowed by mum.
  • If the mother dog is not grooming/cleaning the puppies, we must perform it ourselves. Clean/rub the puppies with a dry towel and ensure that no fluid is entering the airways. Insert the little finger inside the pups mouth and scoop out things if needed


Dystocia in Labour

Dystocia refers to difficulty in birth which could be due to maternal factors, fetal factors or a combination of both. Depending on the diagnosis, medical management or surgical interventions are done. If the response to medication is poor, cesarean section needs to be performed.

Care after birth

Remove all the things inside whelping box which are soiled and replace them with clean ones. The dog will be tired and hungry. Give her plenty of water and enough food. Provide a comfortable environment for the mother and puppies for the development of bond among them. Seek immediate veterinary assistance if any abnormal/suspicious symptom is shown by the dog and newborns.


Dystocia refers to abnormal or difficult birth. Causes include maternal factors (uterine inertia, inadequate size of birth canal) and/or fetal factors (oversized fetus, abnormal orientation as the fetus enters the birth canal). This is the time when Veterinary assistance is warranted. Very often in vet clinics, dystocia can me managed medically.

Dystocia should be considered in any of the following situations:

  • Animals with a history of previous dystocia or reproductive tract obstruction,
  • Parturition that does not occur within 24 hr after a drop in rectal temperature to <100°f (37.7°c)
  • Strong abdominal contractions lasting for 1–2 hr without passage of a puppy or kitten
  • Active LABOUR lasting for 1–2 hr without delivery of subsequent puppies or kittens
  • A resting period during active LABOUR>4-6 hr
  • A bitch or queen in obvious pain (e.g., crying, licking, or biting the vulva)
  • Abnormal vulvar discharge (e.g., frank blood, dark green discharge before any neonates are born [indicates placental separation]).

To determine the appropriate therapy, the cause of dystocia must be determined and the condition of the animal assessed. The animal should be examined for signs of systemic illness that, if present, may necessitate immediate caesarean section. The normal vaginal discharge at parturition is a dark green colour; abnormal colour or character warrants immediate attention. A sterile vaginal examination should be performed to evaluate patency of the birth canal and the position and presentation of the fetus(es). Radiography or ultrasonography can determine the presence and number of fetuses, as well as their size, position, and viability.

Medical management may be considered when the condition of the dam and fetuses is stable, when there is proper fetal position and presentation, and when there is no obstruction. If no response follows, a caesarean section should be performed.

Companion veterinary clinic advice caesarean only for obstructive dystocia, dystocia accompanied by shock or systemic illness, primary uterine inertia, prolonged active LABOUR, or in cases where medical management has failed.

” The emergency team of Companion Veterinary Clinic is always available on call – +971 56 218 2223 “

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