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Playing at midwife isn't always straight forward

Updated: Jan 30, 2022

So you have made the big decision to breed your fluffy companion, you picked out the perfect mate, have people interested in the pups, then it dawns on you..... you will be their birthing partner! Giving them a helping hand is a big responsibility so you will want to be clued up on what to expect, what can go wrong and when contact your vet.

cute puppies

When a female dog gives birth its termed whelping. Often the delivery will go smoothly and your bitch will manage with very little help. But you should keep a close eye as problems can develop quickly. The normal gestation period can range from 57-65 days , the average is 63 days. The bitches temperature usually drops by 1 degrees 24hrs before whelping.

During a normal birth there are three stages.

  1. During this stage the bitches behaviour may change, she becomes restless, pants, nests and may go off her food. She may even start to drip milk from her teats.You should have a whelping box or similar prepared, somewhere so she can use this to give birth in a safe, warm, quiet environment. You may notice some clear discharge from her vulva but no obvious contractions. This stage can last 12-24hrs in which the cervix will dilate.

  2. This is active labour, she will begin to strain as contractions occur hopefully resulting in the delivery of a pup. There should be no longer than 1-2 hours between pups being delivered. The discharge from the vulva at this stage may become bloody. The bitch may nurse and clean pups in-between deliveries, she may squat or lie down to pass the pups. The puppies are often passed inside the amniotic sac as seen bellow.

dog giving birth, whelping, giving birth

The sac usually bursts during the delivery or by the bitch, then she should vigorously lick the pup to remove the remaining sac and stimulate breathing. If the bitch is not doing so its time for the 'midwife' to step in and help her along with this. It is most important to clear the area of the mouth and nose first so the pup is able to breath as soon as possible. The pup can be given a quick dry with a clean towel and if required the umbilical tied off using some thread- leave at least 1cm from the body before tying off. It is important to allow the bitch and pups to bond at this point.

3. This is where the placenta are passed. A placenta often follows each pup, about 15 minutes later- the pups all have their own placenta. The bitch will commonly eat the placenta but do make sure there are the same number of placentas that there are pups.

British bulldog, brachycephalic, dog relaxing


There are 3 main problems to look out for.

  1. uterine inertia where the cervix opens but the bitch fails to push the pups out. This more often happens in smaller dogs with small litter size but also can happen if calcium levels in bitch are too low or she is exhausted. This needs veterinary intervention.

  2. Dystocia This is failure to give birth often due to a pup being stuck and is life threatening for bitch and pup and requires an emergency vet visit.

  3. Eclampsia is dangerously low calcium levels which can trigger uterine inertia or dystocia. It usually presents as panting and restlessness and can progress to tremors and even seizures. it needs urgent vet assistance.

Brachycephalic breeds such as the bulldog, pup, pekingese tend to have more problems giving birth due to their large round heads.

Signs to call your vet urgently.

  • The bitch strains for over an hour and fails to produce a pup

  • fails to produce a pup two hours after the last one

  • Is having forceful but intermittent contractions

  • Seems exhausted, unhappy or unwell

  • A green vaginal discharge out with normal labour

  • The fluid bag is seen but doesn't result in birth within 30 mis.

  • Foul smelling vaginal discharge or excessive blood

If you are concerned there are problems your vet will check over the bitch and see how she is doing. Depending on the situation she may receive some injections to help stimulate the birth to progress but in some situations where she is just too exhausted or there is a pup stuck she will require a caesarean.

Breeding you bitch is a big responsibility and should be considered carefully. Yes a lot of births are straight forward without problems but situations can occur where both the bitch and pups lives are in danger. Also you should consider the associated costs of emergency vet call outs and emergency c-sections which can quickly mount up to thousands of pounds. Also be aware that a c-section is major surgery, a lot for the bitch to go through. Then there is the consideration of if mum rejects pups or such like. Hand rearing pups is challenging and incredibly time consuming for several week, will you have time to do this?? Breeding pups can be fun and incredibly rewarding but not something to be rushed into.


Many dogs can carry undesirable traits and these can be genetic and passed down to the pups. I strongly recommend researching your dog breed and possible genetic defects and diseases and speaking to you vet. DNA tests and X-rays can be strongly advised in certain breeds before planning a litter.

Unfortunately there are many dogs bred from substandard blood lines especially when a dog breed is in 'fashion' leading to serious heath and welfare problems passed down the generations.

So my advise would be to speak to your vet before considering breeding, get the breeding pair checked over by your vet and confirm there are no obvious reasons not to breed them and investigate all the appropriate pre breeding tests. Make sure you have the time and funds and take time to consider if you are ready to undertake this responsibility.

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