Whelping information and common problems

Getting ready

Before your dog or cat gives birth, here are some things you should have prepared:

A designated whelping area.
This should be somewhere away from disturbances where your pet is comfortable. The whelping box should be clean and have some familiar bedding. Get them used to the area before the due date by making them sleep and eat in there for a few weeks prior to giving birth.

Clean towels
You may need these to help clean and rub the babies if the mother doesn’t do it herself.

This might be needed to disinfect the umbilical cords if you need to cut them yourself.

Gestation Length:

The normal gestation length for dogs and cats is around 63 days. It is more likely to vary in dogs, from 52-72 days, depending on the stage of the cycle when the dog was mated.

Stages of Labour:

Stage 1 labour:

  • 12-24hrs duration
  • signs of restlessness, nesting, panting, hiding, anorexia and sometimes vomiting
  • clear and watery vaginal discharge

Stage 2 labour:

  • abdominal efforts and contractions
  • delivery of foetus
  • vaginal discharge can be clear, red or green
  • bitches / queens will often nest between deliveries, during which they nurse and groom pups / kittens
  • the first foetus is usually delivered within 1 hour of stage 2 labour in cats and within 4 hours in dogs. Subsequent deliveries are every 15mins to 3 hours.

Stage 3 labour:

  • delivery of placenta, one for each pup
  • sometimes 2 pups can be delivered before their placentas arrive
  • green vaginal discharge indicates placental separation, this changes to reddish brown after birthing is complete and decreases in volume over 4-6 weeks as the uterus shrinks to normal size.

The birthing process is usually complete within 12-24 hours of stage 2 labour commencing.

After delivery:

The bitch / queen will chew the sacs and lick the pups / kittens to stimulate breathing. She will chew the umbilical cord and often swallow the placenta.

If the bitch / queen fails to care for her pups / kittens the owner must intervene. This may involve removal of the sacs and cleaning and drying the pup / kitten with a soft clean towel. If the umbilicus is not broken it should be cut 1-2cm from the newborn’s body and disinfected with iodine.

When to call the vet:

  1. If the bitch / queen is crying and biting around her vulva 
  2. Abnormal vaginal discharge (profuse blood, odorous pus or green discharge without delivery of a pup / kitten, which indicates placental detachment)
  3. Presence of foetal membranes at the vulva for more than 15 minutes
  4. Strong contractions for more than 60 minutes without production of a foetus
  5. Delay of more than 4-6hrs between pups / kittens without producing offspring
  6. Signs of illness or pain in the bitch / queen
  7. Gestation is over 70 days with no evidence of labour

Common Birthing Complications

Dystocia (inability to deliver pups):

This may be the result of a pup/kitten being stuck or the mother being too weak or unable to push them out.

Dog breeds prone to this problem include Bulldogs, Boston terriers and Scottish terriers. These breeds tend to have narrow hips and pups have a larger head

Dystocia can sometimes be assisted with medical intervention, but often a caesarean is required.


This is an infection in the mammary glands and can involve one or more of the glands. It is usually due to bacteria entering via the nipple

Signs include:

  • mammary gland heat, discomfort
  • fever, lethargy, refusing to feed pups / kittens
  • milk colour often red/brown and may appear like pus


  • Antibiotics
  • Warm compress, milk stripping
  • If an abscess is present it may need lancing and draining surgically
  • If your pet has experienced mastitis before it is particularly important to watch for the signs


This condition is due to low levels of calcium in the system. It usually occurs in the first 2-4 weeks after whelping, is life threatening and needs immediate attention. If you see any of the below signs please call us immediately.

Risk factors:

improper nutrition prior to whelping
inappropriate calcium supplementation (supplementing can lead to a hormonal change resulting in the dog being unable to use dietary calcium sources)
high lactation demands (small dog, large litter)


  • stiff walk, trembling, twitching, panting
  • seizures
  • fever

Reducing Risk:

  • Ensure proper nutrition during pregnancy. Use a balanced growth formula (puppy food) throughout the second half of pregnancy and during lactation.
  • Avoid supplementation prior to whelping.