Breeding and Whelping

Our advice about breeding and rearing a litter of puppies

It is not essential for a bitch to have a litter for medical or behavioural reasons so, as there are lots of dogs needing homes in rescue centres, breeding shouldn’t be undertaken lightly.  Rearing a litter or pups is a lot of hard work and worry but also can be a very rewarding experience. 

Before the pregnancy...

There are a few things to get sorted:

  • Vaccinations – make sure your bitch is fully vaccinated to protect her and her pups. Our routine booster vaccines and kennel cough vaccines are also safe to use during pregnancy.
  • Good stud dog – make sure the dog is fit and healthy, has a good temperament and isn’t closely related to the bitch. 
  • Breed Health schemes / Genetic Testing – these help reduce the incidence of inherited defects in numerous breeds such as hip dysplasia, heart defect and eye disease. The bitch and dog should both be tested. There are a number of genetic tests for breed specific diseases that can be tested by simply using a mouth swab.
  • Good body weight – overweight or underweight dogs can have problems during pregnancy or whelping. Feel free to book your bitch in for a free weight check.
  • Timing of mating – if the stud dog is only available for a short period of time then timing the mating is very important. A bitch may ovulate anywhere between 5 and 30 days from the start of her season. At home, the best way to detect when a bitch is about to ovulate is by 'Vulval Softening'. At the start of a season the bitches vulva will swell and become hard. This should be checked daily and the day it shrinks and becomes softer is normally two days before ovulation occurs. Once released the eggs require two more days to mature and become fertile. Ideally a mating should be attempted on day 4 and 6 after vulval softening occurs. We recommend Progesterone Blood Tests to confirm that the bitch has ovulated. This allows more accurate measurement of timing which will increase chances of a litter and bigger litter sizes. If you want to really ensure you catch the ovulation then a blood test every 2-3 days after the start of the season should ensure you don't miss the event.

During pregnancy...

The actual length of a bitches pregnancy is consistently 62-64 days from ovulation. However some bitches will mate before or after ovulation and still get pregnant so if you time the pregnancy from mating it can be as wide a range as 58 - 72 days. This is another reason to get the Progesterone Blood Test prior to mating as it helps plan when the pups will arrive!

Other things to consider during pregnancy are:

  • Ultrasound examination – from 30 days after mating we can scan your bitch to see if she is pregnant, but it is difficult to assess the exact number of puppies especially if there are a lot of puppies! The main reason for scanning is confirm pregnancy and also to check that there isn't just a single pup present which increases the chance of difficulty delivering it and requiring a caesarian.
  • Worming – worms migrate from the bitch via the placenta and via her milk so bitches should be wormed daily from the third trimester of pregnancy (42 days onwards) to two days post-whelping with a suitable safe product (speak to us about this). Puppies will then only require worming every 4 weeks.
  • Feeding – a pregnant bitch requires very little extra calories during the first two thirds of the pregnancy. From day 42 of pregnancy gradually changing her onto a good quality puppy food can help maintain her weight if she is starting to lose condition. She will have an easier time whelping if she isn't over-weight. Energy requirements are massively increased after whelping to make milk to feed the pups so keep on feeding a puppy food and more smaller meals.
  • Whelping box – a warm safe area for the bitch to give birth should be in place for the bitch and should be introduced to her a few weeks before whelping so she feels comfortable there.


As mentioned above whelping can be predicted from the Progesterone Blood Test (and roughly from the mating date), but also by monitoring the dog’s rectal temperature. In the last 2 weeks of pregnancy you can monitor her temperature 2-3 times a day. When rectal temperature drops a degree, whelping is 6-18 hours away.
There are 3 stages of labour:

1. Cervical dilation: This is characterised by restlessness, panting and nesting behaviour and usually lasts 6-12 hours.

2. Delivery of the puppies: There may be intermittent active straining for several hours before the first pup; however constant unrelenting straining is abnormal. After the first pup the mother may rest for up to a few hours between pups without straining. If she has been actively straining for over 30mins with no puppies being delivered then she may be struggling so best to give us a ring for some advice if you have any concerns.

3. Delivery of the placentas: Each pup has its own placenta which is usually passed 5-15 minutes after birth. The mother will usually remove the birth membranes from the puppies and will clean them and sever the umbilical cords. The mothers will often eat the placentas. If she doesn’t remove the birth membranes you need to help. The mother should be encouraged to clean and bond with the puppies.

When to call us

  • Any signs of illness in a full term dog (N.B cats can often go off food in the last 24hours)
  • Known predisposition to whelping problems for example previous pelvic fracture or certain breeds eg. Bulldogs
  • More than 24 hours since temperature dropped
  • Constant, unrelenting, unproductive straining for 30-60minutes
  • More than 3 hours in stage 2 labour before first pup born
  • Any unusual bleeding or dirty vulval discharge from the mother

Caesarian Sections

There is no such thing as a routine caesarian. There is very good evidence that vaginal delivery in people is strongly correlated with health benefits and we can only assume that this is also true for our patients. That said, if there are signs of foetal distress or the bitch is at risk then a caesarian is indicated. We assess foetal distress by checking foetal heart rates with ultrasound and comparing those to the bitches heart rates. This helps you make those difficult decisions between giving her more time or taking her through to a surgical delivery.
A caesarian is a big op for a bitch to go through and they are by the nature of their condition, stressed and often uncomfortable, We handle these cases very carefully to ensure the anaesthetic affects the unborn pups as little as possible while still ensuring we give mum appropriate pain relief and support to get her home quickly so she can bond with her newborn pups. 

If you have any concerns about any aspect of breeding your bitch, please contact the practice and we can discuss this with you.

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