Motherhood is one of the most beautiful relationships in the world. Even after going through the hardest time of her life while giving birth the first thing a mother does is care for her child. Similarly, a mother dog that gives birth also goes through a very hard time. The puppy that just came into the world might be cute and heart-melting but his mother needs attention. She might have gone through complications during pregnancy like pre-eclampsia (shortage of calcium), gestational diabetes (lack of insulin production), mastitis (enlargement of mammary glands), and Bathing her labor pains.

After the birth she still is not out of the woods as she might not excrete properly, she might refuse to eat, she might start panting or she might have vaginal discharge (lochia). So, it is up to the owners to not only take care of the newborn pups but also pay attention to their mothers and be ready for any kind of afterbirth complications.

You should also be paying heed to the weight changes of the mother and the puppies, their feeding frequency, and meal portion size. You should also know where to keep the newborn pups and all the problems regarding their adjustment.

Here is a comprehensive guide for dog parents who have a dog going through pregnancy and has everything they need to know about pregnancy, stages of labor, steps to be taken before and immediately after birth, all the problems to be kept under check before and after birth and how to take care of the newborn puppies.


pregnant dog relaxing

Female dogs i.e. the bitch normally has a gestation period of 63 days. But the time can vary because it is receptive to the male before and after ovulation. So, the time between breeding and delivery can be between 58 to 70 days.

Once pregnancy is confirmed, proper care of the mother is necessary. Vaccination should be given before breeding as vaccination during pregnancy is not recommended by experts. The mother to be should also be dewormed and should be tested for the abortion-causing bacteria known as Brucella. After breeding and conception, most bitches are well during the first 4 to 5 weeks and do not need any treatments.

The point of concern starts after 5 weeks as the baby starts to develop rapidly. This can cause nutritional deficiencies in the mother. So, you should gradually change her diet into a growth type of diet or foods specially made for lactating bitches. Any additional vitamins or supplements are not recommended as they can result in birth defects. A proper diet can provide essential nutrients on its own.

Do not begin the high-calorie diet before the last trimester (after 5 weeks) because that can increase fat deposits and obesity. Weight gain can ultimately result in problems in maintaining pregnancy and delivering the puppies.

Labor and Delivery

As the time of delivery approaches, making whelping boxes is recommended. They provide a safe and clean area for the mother to deliver. Whelping boxes are intended to be easily accessible for the mother but escape proof for the pups to be born. Make a box large, enough for the bitch to comfortably stretch out, out of Formica, wood, or any other easy to clean building material. The sides should be low enough for the mother to step over. Place the box in a quiet, secluded, warm, and dry area. You can also place newspapers on the box’s floor for easy cleaning.

Close to the time of delivery, monitoring the bitch’s body temperature twice a day can alert you about birth. Normally, 24 hours before the beginning of labor temperature temporarily drops to 98 to 99 F as compared to the normal body temperatures of 101 to 103 F.

Labor stage 1

The temporary temperature drop signals the start of stage 1 of labor. In this stage, the mother experiences restlessness and anxiety. Nesting behavior will be noticed. The mother may pant, pace, refuse food, and maybe vomit. Place her in the whelping box and remove any clothing before whelping begins, to avoid staining them permanently.

Stage 1 lasts from 6 to 12 hours, and the cervix is fully dilated at the end of this stage. If the mother does not start whelping within 24 hours of the start of stage 1, you should consult a vet immediately.

Labor stage 2

Stage 2 is the stage where puppies are delivered. The bitch starts straining, its abdomen tenses, and visible contractions begin. It appears similar to bowel movements in the dog. Puppies should be delivered within 1 to 2 hours of the onset of contractions. If the puppies are not delivered within 2 hours vet assistance is strongly recommended.

The bitch goes into a resting phase after the delivery which can last up to 4 hours. Straining will begin again and more puppies will be delivered. If the resting phase lasts over 4 hours and more puppies are yet to be born veterinary assistance is strongly encouraged. The resting phase might not occur after every delivery and multiple pups might be born consecutively.

Labor stage 3

Stage 3 begins after the delivery of the puppies. In this stage, the placenta is delivered and occurs 5 to 15 minutes after delivery. If multiple puppies are born rapidly, several placentas are expelled together. After the passage of the placenta, the bitch goes back into stage 2 labor. Stage 2 and stage 3 interchange until all puppies are born. The placenta number should be tracked, it should be the same number as the number of pups born. If any placenta is retained the mother can get seriously ill.

As soon as the puppy is born, the mother immediately starts cleaning it. She starts licking the pup vigorously, removing him from the amniotic sac, if still present chew the umbilical cord. The bitch may even ingest the placenta but this can cause vomiting and diarrhea.

Cleaning Puppies and mom

The puppies that are still in the sack need your help if the mother does not open the sack and starts to clean it. Tear the membrane of the sack and clean the puppy with a towel. Clean all the puppies if the mother is not showing interest in the new-born for any reason. Tie off the umbilical cord about 1 inch from the belly wall using a string, threader dental floss. Cut the cord off on the other side of the tie. Clean and rub the puppy vigorously. Place the puppy back with the mother and make sure she allows nursing the puppies.

The mother dog will undergo bloody discharge and discharge of body fluids. Bathing her within 2 to 5 days after birth is not advised as it separates her from the pups that need her care and body heat. So, clean her and her environment without a lot of disturbance as:

  • Move the mom and puppies to a clean bedding area or to a temporary location to clean the birthing area.
  • Remove the bedding and towels from the whelping area and replace them with clean bedding.
  • Wet down a facecloth or hand towel with warm water to clean the mother dog. Do not apply soap, which can stick to mom’s fur and get on her puppies when they nurse. Wipe the mother dog down, rinsing and wringing out cloth repeatedly to clean soiled areas. Gently clean around the nipples and the back end to remove afterbirth and blood.
  • Dry the mother with a dry towel but avoid rubbing her in sensitive areas like the belly and the genitals.
  • Continue spot cleaning of the mother dog for several days.

After 2 to 5 days you can give a bath to the mother. Wait until she has nursed the pups so they are likely to go to sleep, and empty mammary glands are less likely to spill milk while bathing. Use a gentle, non-toxic shampoo that will not harm puppies if the residue is left on her fur. Thoroughly dry her before returning to the puppies to avoid getting damp and chilled.

Feeding after Birth

Mothers can lose weight after giving birth as their nutritional requirements increase drastically. To nurse their pups, they need two to three-fold their normal food requirement. Be sure she has enough water so she can generate sufficient milk for the pups. You should feed her a nutrient-dense diet increasing the number of meals per day rather than increasing the meal portion. She should have unlimited access to food throughout the day.

By 4 to 5 weeks after birth, most puppies start to show interest in their mother’s food. They will gradually start eating solid food and nursing less. By 7 to 8 weeks most puppies are completely weaned. So, the energy requirement of the mother is back to normal and you should start feeding her the pre-pregnancy diet.

Complications after Birth

If you observe anything abnormal with the mother dog, it could be a sign of some complication. Upon noticing anything abnormal immediately seek veterinary assistance. Here are some possible signs that can signal possible complications:

Mother dog is not going Potty

The mother might be so overwhelmed that she seems to forget to drink or go out for a potty. One way to avoid this is to avoid crowding the area by inviting people to see the pups. Too much noise or too much interference may cause the new mum to be too worried to leave the pups alone. If this behavior continues vet assistance is necessary.

Mother dog is not Eating

Mother is expected to eat a lot after giving birth. If she is refusing to eat it could point to some complications.

Mother dog is Panting

Panting during the first day is normal because the mother dog is exhausted. If the panting continues seek vet consultation as this could signal after birth complications.

Mother dog has a Discharge

Vaginal discharge up to three weeks called lochia is normal. If the discharge does not decrease or has a foul odor it could point to some complications.

If you observe any of the above-mentioned behavior or any other abnormal behavior seek vet assistance as it could signal the following after-birth complications:

  • Metritis
  • Eclampsia
  • Mastitis
  • Hemorrhage
  • Cannibalism
  • Prolapsed Uterus


Metritis is the infection of the uterus caused by the retained placenta, retained fetuses, birthing complications, or use of instruments for a surgical procedure. It occurs generally within the first week of giving birth.

Symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of Appetite
  • Fetid
  • Vaginal discharge
  • Dehydration
  • Fast Heart Rate
  • Panting
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

Affected bitches normally present with a foul-smelling discharge from the vulva. Without proper veterinary care, severe cases could prove to be fatal. Bitches are usually placed on antibiotics and intravenous fluids. In cases of retained fetuses or membranes, Oxytocin is given. In severe cases, uterine lavage is required. In the case of a retained puppy surgical intervention is required.

Eclampsia (Milk Fever)

Eclampsia, also called milk fever, is the depletion of calcium in mother dogs. The puppies drain calcium out of the bitch. The condition is most commonly seen in small breeds especially in peak lactation. It can also occur within three weeks of birth.

Symptoms include:

  • Restlessness
  • Pacing
  • Fever
  • Panting
  • Muscle spasms
  • Stiff gait
  • Trouble standing normally
  • Seizures
  • Hypersalivation
  • Whining and lack of interest in puppies.

It can be life-threatening if not treated in time. Affected bitches can be treated with slow injections of calcium. Once it is diagnosed, the puppies should not be put back on the mother, because further feeding can worsen the condition. The puppies need to be hand-fed until weaning. Oral calcium supplements can also be helpful. If you want to find out which milk you can feed to the puppies, you can read this Article. There are some special milk that you can give to the puppies.


Mastitis is the infection of mammary glands that normally occurs during lactation. It occurs where milk remains static in the affected glands, this is often due to lack of suckling of the affected glands by the puppies.

In severe cases, the glands become hot, firm, and painful and the bitch shows signs of illness where she becomes depressed, off her food, has a fever and shows a lack of interest in the puppies.

Upon diagnosis, the bitch is treated with antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, and intravenous fluids. If the mammary glands become abscess and burst, they are treated as an open wound. In some cases, the puppies might need hand-feeding, you can find which milk to feed to puppies here.


In hemorrhage, bleeding might come out of the uterus or vagina. Postpartum hemorrhage may be associated with blood coagulation problems. Fresh blood clots are passed out frequently from the vagina.

It is usually treated with antibiotics and oxytocin. In severe cases, blood transfusion or desexing is required.


Cannibalism is the eating of puppies by the mother. It can occur where the bitch has only one puppy, or the puppy has an obvious defect such as cleft palate, or when the puppy is undersized as compared to the full liter. Nervous bitches can bite their puppies if disturbed by strangers.

Prolapsed uterus

In rare cases, part of the uterus is seen to protrude through the vulva. This condition is called a prolapsed uterus. Where the prolapse is small it can be repositioned manually by pushing it back into position. In severe cases, the abdomen has to be opened to enable the uterus to be pulled back into position. In some cases, amputation is required.


After birth, the mother might experience spotting, a process of discharging fluids that are mucus-like and bloody. This is known as lochia. It is natural and nothing to be concerned about.

Stages of Lochia:

The spotting consists of three stages. During the first stage, the discharge will be composed of blood and shreds of the fetal membrane. This lasts usually for 3 to 5 days. In the second stage, the lochia gets thinner and turns brown or pink. This may last up to 10 days of delivery.

In the last stage, the lochia turns whitish or yellowish and this is where the spotting ends.

Lochia may be normal but if the bloody discharge is long overdue, contact your vet for medical advice.

How often should a nursing dog be fed?

Nursing is the life stage where the dog needs the most calorie intake of their life. The energy requirements increase during lactation. At her highest energy need, which is 3 to 5 weeks after whelping, she requires 2 to 4 times the calories required for a healthy adult. The food intake should increase such that the energy density becomes enough to sustain milk production, weight, and body condition. 

Free-choice feeding is recommended during the first 3 to 4 weeks of lactation. The mother can eat on her schedule until the puppies adapt to solid foods. Normal feeding should be started around 8 weeks after birth.

How to take care of newborn puppies?

Mother’s milk provides puppies with everything they need for the first four weeks of their lives. Newborn puppies can’t walk, they scoot around on their bellies to find their mother’s milk. They nurse every couple of hours and sleep for the rest of the time.

As the owner, check them every few hours to make sure they are warm and nursing. If they are crying or seem cold, put them on their mother’s back teats as they have the most milk. Also, make sure that they aren’t pushed away by other puppies.

Weigh them every few days to make sure they are gaining weight. They should gain 10 to 15% of birth weight daily and should double their birth weight in the first week.

What to feed Puppies and Where to Keep them?

Newborn puppies don’t require anything except their mother’s milk before weaning. Weaning puppies should be given puppy food soaked with water and milk replacer for flavor.

Besides, keep dry puppy food available all time for them to nibble. As puppies increase their solid food consumption, they change the gut cells to digest puppy food. Put more and more gruel and kibble in front of them until they get fully adapted to solid food.

It is very important to keep the puppies in a warm room. The temperature of the room around 85 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit for the first few days is recommended. After that, it can be lowered to about 80 F by the end of the first week. By the end of the fourth week, it can be lowered down to 72 F.

What to do if a mother dog doesn’t want to stay with newborn babies?

If the mother dog has abandoned her litter by refusing to feed them or stay by their side, you have to make sure that the puppies thrive. You need to encourage the mother to stay by the puppies, but also make sure that no medical problems are causing the abandonment. To encourage the mother to stay follow these steps:

Relocate the whelping box

The mother might be suffering from separation anxiety. If this is the cause, placing the whelping box in an area where you spend most of your time will solve the problem.

Place a DAP collar on the dog

Dog Appeasing Pheromone (DAP) is a natural chemical signal that the mother dog releases to help calm the puppies. It also reduces anxiety and stress in the mother dog. Placing a DAP collar on her might help her in accepting the puppies.

Create a calm Environment

If the area where the whelping box is located in busy or noisy it can stress the mother. Placing the box in a quieter place can help in this situation.

Take vet assistance

Talk to your vet about any medical problem that might have occurred. Diagnosing and curing the problem might prompt the mother to accept the puppies.