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Mating, Gestation and Whelping of the Bitch

Preparation for Whelping


Mating, Gestation and Whelping of the Bitch are all important steps to manage to ensure healthy puppies as an outcome. Pregnancy in the bitch lasts about 63-65 days (and ranges between 60 and 67 days).  Estimation is based on mating dates but if smears or blood tests are done the estimation is more accurate.



It is important that a bitch is in good condition before she is mated, neither too fat nor too thin.  Her food intake should not be altered during the first two thirds of her pregnancy, and if a complete formula is being fed there is no need to use additional vitamin or mineral supplements.

After the 6th week (42 days) food intake should be gradually increased and high energy, low bulk foods are needed to ensure the bitch is adequately nourished as energy requirements increase to up to 1 ½ times normal.  The best food to give is a high quality puppy or premium performance diet, both of which have an increased calcium and protein level to help with puppy growth and milk production.  As pregnancy progresses, feeding smaller meals more frequently may be required to ensure adequate intake.

During lactation, the mother should continue to be fed high energy food in increased amounts due to continuing increased requirements.


It is important to de-worm your bitch 1 week before whelping and 3-4 weeks after whelping.  Some worms can infect the pups by crossing the placenta or being passed on through the milk.



From the time of mating, many dogs show behavioural changes.  Most develop an unusually sweet and loving disposition and demand more affection and attention.  However, some may become uncharacteristically irritable.   Some experience a few days of vomiting, followed by the development of a ravenous appetite which persists throughout the pregnancy.


Whelping box

Prior to the time of delivery, a whelping box should be selected and placed in a secluded place.  It is important to get the bitch accustomed to the place where you want her to have her puppies well in advance of whelping.  The box should be large enough for the dog to move around freely, but have low enough sides so that she can see out and you can reach inside to give assistance, if needed.  The bottom of the box should be lined with several layers of newspapers.  These provide disposable, absorbent bedding which the bitch can tear up and reorganise according to her own needs and will absorb the fluids at the time of whelping.  If sufficient thickness of newspaper is laid at the outset, the upper, soiled layers may be removed with minimal interruption to the mother and her newborn puppies.


During the last week or so of pregnancy, the bitch often starts to look for a secure place for delivery.  Pet bitches may become confused, wanting to be with their owners and at the same time wanting to prepare for the forthcoming event. Some bitches insist on having their pups in close proximity to the owner and in very determined bitches less trauma may be caused if her demands are met (within reason) or a compromise achieved, e.g. once whelping has finished try to gently move her to the place that she has already been introduced previously or move a bitch that wants to nurse the puppies on your bed to a whelping box in a corner of the bedroom.  Some bitches need the owner present during the whole time of delivery and if they are left alone they are likely to endeavour to delay delivery of the puppies which can create subsequent problems.

It is important to also have a smaller, clean, dry box lined with a warm towel for the newborn puppies. Warmth is essential so a heating pad or hot water bottle should be placed in the box, or a heat lamp may be placed nearby.  If a heating pad is used, it should be placed on the low setting and covered with a towel to prevent overheating.  A hot water bottle should be covered with a towel.  Newborn puppies may be unable to move away from the heat source so care must be taken to prevent overheating.



Signs of impending whelping

The pregnant bitch should begin whelping approximately 62 days from mating. Just like in people, this may be a bit inaccurate.  This being said, if your dog is a couple of days over her due date you should get her checked out by the vet.

A number of behaviours may be exhibited by bitches prior to whelping including; restlessness, lack of appetite, nesting, panting, excessive urination, clinginess, these are variable and some bitches may show no changes.



Most dogs experience delivery without complications; however, first-time mothers should be attended by their owners until at least one or two puppies are born.  If these are born quickly and without assistance, further attendance may not be necessary.  However, with a bitch having puppies for the first time a careful watch should be kept upon her until she has finished, just in case any complications develop.  If the owner elects to leave, care should be taken so that the dog does not try to follow and leave the whelping box.


Birth position

Puppies are usually born head first; with the head and forelegs extended.  This is called anterior presentation. Posterior presentation is also normal with the puppy born with tail and hind legs coming first.

Each puppy is enclosed in a sac that is part of the placenta (‘afterbirth’).  These usually pass after the puppies are born.  However, any that do not pass usually disintegrate and are passed within 24-48 hours after deliveryNote that it is normal for the mother to eat the placentas but not a necessity.

If the delivery proceeds normally, a few contractions will discharge the puppy; it should exit the birth canal within ten minutes of being visible.


After birth

Following delivery, the mother should lick the newborn’s face.  She will then proceed to wash it and toss it about.  Her tongue is used to tear the sac and expose the mouth and nose.  This vigorous washing stimulates circulation, causing the puppy to cry and begin breathing; it also dries the newborn’s hair coat.  The mother will sever the umbilical cord by chewing it.  Next, she may eat the placenta.


Once delivery is completed, remove the soiled newspapers from the whelping box.  The box should be lined with soft bedding, prior to the puppies’ return.  The mother should accept the puppies readily and settle down to feed them.

Warning signs – when to call the vet

  • Green or black discharge from the vulva of the bitch before any puppies have been born.
  • The temperature drop occurred more than 24 hours ago and there is no sign of labour.
  • The labour is not progressing i.e.
  • 40 minutes of straining without puppy
  • 2-3 hours of active labour since last puppy
  • Bitch showing signs of exhaustion with puppies remaining
  • Bitch showing signs of compromise at any time e.g. trembling, open mouth breathing, depression.


After Care

The mother and her litter should be examined by a veterinarian 1-3 days after the delivery is completed.  This visit is to check the mother for complete delivery, and to check the new-born puppies.  The mother may receive an injection to contract the uterus and stimulate milk production. Sometimes antibiotics may be prescribed if it is thought there is any infection present.


The mother may have a bloody vaginal discharge for 3-7 days following delivery.  If it continues for longer than one week or she develops a pus like or smelly discharge consult your veterinarian.


If you have any questions, please call your vet – it is much easier to deal with a potential problem earlier than later, and it may save the life of a puppy.  Most importantly, enjoy the experience!


For 24 hour emergency advice and assistance please contact us

The Vet Centre 5445566


Personal Care for All Animals


79 Gladstone Road, Richmond

03 544 5566
[email protected]

Monday – Friday: 8am – 5.30pm
Saturday: 9am – 4pm
Sunday: Temporarily Closed except for emergencies. Please phone first
Public Holidays: Hours may vary


400D High Street, Motueka

03 528 8459
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Saturday: 9am – 2pm
Sunday: Closed. (See Richmond Clinic).
Public Holidays: Hours may vary


69 Aranui Road, Mapua

03 540 2329
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Thursday: 8.30am – 12.30pm and 3.30pm – 5.30pm
Wednesday, Saturday & Sunday: Closed
Public Holidays: Hours may vary


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