Whelping and Queening

The following information is true for both dogs and cats even though only dogs are mentioned.

The signs of pre-labor are nervousness, restlessness, panting, digging in places (nesting), and loss of appetite. These signs may appear as far as two days prior to labor but are usually noted 8-24 hours before the onset of labor. When labor starts, one can see abdominal "presses" with each uterine contraction (it looks as if the mother is straining to have a bowel movement). Once regular labor begins, a puppy should be born within two hours,. If no pup has been born after two hours of labor, a veterinarian should examine the dog. The intervals between births can be quite variable, ranging from a few minutes to several hours.


The puppies can be born either head first or feet first. Each puppy is covered with a slippery membrane, which needs to be removed immediately after birth to allow breathing. Normally the mother will chew through the membrane and begin licking the puppy's face and chest to stimulate breathing. Vigorous rubbing is sufficient to get the puppy breathing. A bulb suction syringe (the type used for congested babies' noses) works well to suction any mucus from the newborn puppy's mouth.

Placenta or Afterbirth

Attached to each puppy's abdomen at birth is an umbilical cord that is connected to the afterbirth or placenta. The afterbirth may be delivered with the pup or the cord may break leaving the afterbirth in the pelvic canal. It is important to note whether an afterbirth accompanies each puppy. If not, a veterinarian needs to examine the mother within 24 hours. The mother will chew through the umbilical cord once the puppy is born. Try to remove the afterbirth(s) before she has a chance to eat them as some animals will develop diarrhea after ingesting afterbirths. If the mother does not chew through the umbilical cord, you can tie a knot with sterile cotton or silk thread on the umbilical cord one inch from the puppy's belly and cut the cord on the afterbirth side of the knot.

Care of Puppies and Kittens

Newborns need to be kept warm since they do not regulate their body temperature well until they are several days old. Hot water bottles and clean, dry, draft free, well insulated quarters are the safest way to keep puppies warm; heating pads can burn newborn pups and should NOT be used. Tail docking and dewclaw removal, if desired, should be performed between two and five days of age. Call our clinic as soon as possible after the puppies are born to schedule an appointment for these procedures.

Care of the Mother

Ideally, the mother should be clean before whelping, her hair coat free of mats, and excess hair trimmed from the genital area and teats if necessary. After the pups are born wash the teats and if necessary bathe the genital area and dry gently. Mothers are sometimes reluctant to leave their young and may not go out to relieve themselves or eat for several days. Take your dog outside briefly to encourage elimination.

Retained placentas should be suspected if all afterbirths were not accounted for during delivery. Normally there is a green or brown discharge for 3-4 days after birth which then changes to red. Signs of foul smelling discharge or fever indicate retained and decomposing tissues and require immediate veterinary care.


Failure to begin labor after 65-67 days of pregnancy.

During Labor:

  1. Regular labor that is unproductive (no puppy born after two hours).
  2. There is no labor and there is a green discharge.
  3. There is a green discharge before the first pup is born. Green discharge is normal after the first pup has been delivered.
  4. Puppy or afterbirth visible at opening of birth canal for more than 15 minutes without being delivered.

Post Partum (following birth):

  1. Failure to pass an afterbirth with each puppy.
  2. Puppies that are not suckling within an hour of birth.
  3. Mother is not eating within 24 hours of delivering puppies.
  4. Fever, sore, red, swollen or painful breasts.
  5. Puppies or kittens, which cry all the time.
  6. Tail docking and/or dewclaw removal on puppies two to five days old.


Diagnostic ultrasound is now available in our hospital that can safely determine pregnancy as early as 4 weeks. Additionally we can determine if there is a pup remaining in the uterus after the last pup has been delivered. This procedure requires no anesthetic, is safe, comfortable for our patients and is non-invasive.