Looking after your pregnant dog

This information is aimed at ordinary dog owners rather than dog breeders.

As this is only a brief summary, we recommend researching the subject more thoroughly, so that you are well prepared for all eventualities.

“The Book of the Bitch” by J.M. Evans and Kay White is a good place to start and our team of vets and nurses is more than happy to discuss any aspect of your dog’s pregnancy with you in more detail.


Although puppies are extremely appealing, there are some important issues to consider:

  • Unfortunately, there are already thousands of unwanted dogs and puppies needing homes in rescue centres in the UK. You should make sure that you can guarantee good homes for your litter of puppies.
  • It is important to consider the safety of your bitch. Very young or old dogs, dogs in poor condition or certain breeds of dogs have an increased risk of complications during pregnancy and labour and may have difficulty rearing their puppies.
  • It is important to consider the commitment in terms of both time and finances. It is not uncommon for an emergency caesarian section to be required, sometimes in the middle of the night. It may even become necessary to hand rear the puppies which involves feeding them every 2 hours, including during the night, whatever your other commitments may be.
  • If you are considering breeding from a pedigree bitch then it is important to investigate whether there are any inherited conditions that may affect the breed.

There are several health schemes currently in operation to assist in the prevention or control of certain diseases.

For more information click on the links below:

Kennel Club

Canine Health Schemes

If your dog is mated unintentionally then it is possible to give her injections to prevent the pregnancy. You should contact us straight away, as the injections have to be given at exactly the right time.

For advice on neutering your dog click on the following link: Neutering Your Dog


A standard adult dog food won’t provide all the extra nutrients required during pregnancy and lactation, and it is best to change your bitch’s diet to a commercially produced puppy food from about the fourth week of pregnancy.

To avoid tummy upsets, the change of diet should be done gradually over a period of 5 days.

Try to use the brand of dog food your dog is used to and feed a wet or dry diet according to what she usually prefers.

The amount that you feed your bitch should be based on the manufacturer’s guidelines found on the packaging and can be adjusted according to her body condition.

Feed several small meals throughout the day and ensure that there is always plenty of fresh water available.

The puppy food should continue to be fed throughout lactation and gradually reduced as the puppies start to wean at around 4 weeks.

If a good quality commercial puppy food is fed during pregnancy and lactation, there is no need to give supplements of extra vitamins or minerals. In fact, giving additional calcium during pregnancy can lead to problems with low blood calcium during lactation!


Exercise of the pregnant bitch does not need to be restricted until after the first 4 to 6 weeks of pregnancy.


To ensure that you bitch has sufficient antibodies to pass on to her puppies, it is important that she is up to date with her routine vaccinations prior to mating.

Only certain vaccines can be given safely during pregnancy.


All bitches are infected with roundworm larvae. These lie hidden and dormant within the body of the bitch and become active during pregnancy, infecting the pups while they are still in the womb.

In addition, once the puppies are born, further worm infection comes from the milk when they are suckling. Ideally, starting from day 40 of the pregnancy, bitches need to be wormed every day until 2 days after whelping.

Please check with us which worming product to use, as some are not only ineffective against the dormant worm larvae but are also unsafe to use during pregnancy.

The puppies should be wormed at 2, 5, 8 and 12 weeks of age, and then monthly until they are 6 months old.

The mother should be wormed at the same time as the puppies until they are weaned.


Please check with us which flea products are safe to use during pregnancy and safe to apply to puppies.


Pregnancy lasts on avarage for 63 days but can vary from 56 to 72 days.

Litter sizes can range from 1 puppy in miniature breeds to over 15 in giant breeds!

Several days before whelping, the bitch’s behaviour may alter.

She may become restless, seek seclusion or become more attentive and may refuse food.

First stage of labour:

Uterine contractions begin.

Restless behaviour increases and she may pace, dig, tear up and rearrange bedding, shiver, pant or even vomit.

This preparatory stage normally lasts between 6 and 12 hours.

Second stage of labour:

Uterine contractions increase in intensity and abdominal straining begins.

Foetal fluids are passed and a puppy is expelled.

Third stage of labour:

Expulsion of the placenta and afterbirth.

Each pup may not be followed by afterbirth. The mother may pass 2 pups and then 2 placentas. Expect some puppies to be born tail first.

Expect one pup every 45-60 minutes on average (varies from 5 to 120 min) with 10-30 min of hard straining. It is normal for bitches to take a rest part way through delivery, and she may not strain at all for up to 4 hours between pups.

Puppies are born covered in membranes that must be cleaned away, or the pup will suffocate. The mother will bite and lick the membranes away. Allow her a minute or two after birth to do this; if she does not do it, then you must clean the pup for her.

Simply remove the slippery covering and rub the puppy with a clean towel.

Whelping is usually completed within 6 hours after the onset of second stage labour, but may last up to 12 hours.


  • There is a greenish vulval discharge indicating placental separation, but no puppy is born within 2-4 hours.
  • Foetal fluid was passed more than 2-3 hours ago, but nothing has happened since.
  • 20-30 min of strong, regular straining occurs with no puppy being produced.
  • More than 2-4 hours have passed between pups and you know there are more inside.
  • There is weak and irregular straining for more than 2-4 hours.
  • Your bitch has been in second stage labour for more than 12 hours.
  • If a pup is stuck in the birth canal and is partially visible.
  • Your dog is in obvious extreme pain.

If you have any concerns, it is better to contact us sooner rather than later! Just dial one of the surgery numbers and you will either be put through to the duty vet directly, or hear a recorded message with an alternative number to call. During normal opening hours, just contact any of our surgeries and we will be more than happy to answer your questions.


Complications sometimes occur after whelping.

If your dog is unwilling to settle with her puppies or ignores them, is dull and lethargic, refuses food, seems to have abdominal pain, stops drinking or drinks more, or has an abnormally persistent or smelly vaginal discharge (normal discharge is odourless, may be green, dark brown or bloody and may persist in small amounts for up to 8 weeks), then she should be seen by a vet.

Lactation tetany, Eclampsia

  • caused by low blood calcium levels
  • Signs include: nervousness, restlessness, no interrest in or even aggression towards the pups, in-coordination, muscle spasm, collapse and fitting

If you see any of those signs your bitch needs to be seen by a vet urgently!