Whelping and spotting problem signs

Whelping is the process of a dog giving birth to puppies. Most dogs will whelp on their own without any difficulties.  But you should keep a close eye on your dog throughout her late pregnancy and labour. Having a good idea of what’s normal will allow you to spot signs of trouble, known as dystocia, early.

How long does whelping take?

It can vary. Dogs with slim heads such as collies and Dobermans may deliver all of their puppies within two to three hours. But brachycephalic (flat-faced) breeds, such as bulldogs and pugs, tend to have more difficult deliveries and sometimes will produce one or two relatively quickly and then rest for a while before labour starts again.

Puppies are usually born head first with the forelegs extended.  They can also be born with tail and hind legs coming first.  An abnormal or breech presentation is one in which the hind legs are forward and the tail and bottom are presented.

Are some dogs more susceptible to problems during labour (dystocia) than others?

French bulldogs, Boston terriers, Chihuahuas and pugs are the breeds most likely to suffer complications giving birth, according to research using data from Vets Now. Our vets looked at the case notes of more than 18,000 dogs who had received emergency care at 50 Vets Now out-of-hours clinics and pet emergency hospitals across the UK.

Of those, 701 (3.7%) presented with dystocia, the medical term for difficulties giving birth. The research found some brachycephalic, or flat-faced, breeds were up to 16 times more likely than crossbreeds to suffer from dystocia. The most commonly affected breeds were French bulldogs (15.9 times more likely), Boston terriers (12.9 times more likely), Chihuahuas (10.4 times more likely) and pugs (11.3 times more likely).

When should I be concerned?

  • Your dog goes into labour and you notice that more than two hours has passed without any puppies being born
  • She has a green discharge from the vagina without puppies having been born
  • It is more than two hours between puppies
  • If she is continually straining for a few minutes with a puppy or fluid filled bubble stuck in the birth canal
  • Your dog has intense contractions/straining for more than 20 minutes without a puppy being delivered
  • If your dog is depressed, lethargic or her body temperature is more than 39.4°C (103°F)
  • If she is bleeding from the vagina for more than ten minutes
  • If a puppy’s tail is seen hanging from the vulva or alternatively there is a lump just behind the vulval lips and your bitch is straining, it is probably a breech delivery.  Some breech presentation can be delivered without assistance, but often complications occur

If you can see a puppy at the vulva and it is not being delivered, take a piece of clean tissue or towel and gently take hold of the puppy.  Gently pull the puppy at approximately 45° angle to the ground. Keep a constant pull even when your bitch is not straining, as gentle traction will stimulate her to keep straining.  If the puppy does not move or if it appears to be painful to your bitch, contact your vet urgently

If you have any concerns, contact your vet for further advice.  If you need to take your bitch to the vets, take any puppies she has already delivered with you in a separate secure box with a hot water bottle or heat pad to keep them warm.  Ensure the hot water bottle is well wrapped in a towel or similar to prevent overheating or burning the puppies. If your regular vet is unavailable, contact your nearest emergency vet immediately.