The gestation period for bitches averages 63 days (+/- a few days) if calculated from the first mating.
Normal canine labour
Several days before parturition (giving birth), the bitch may become restless, start nesting and she may refuse to eat. Her body temperature will drop sharply 8-24 hours before parturition; it is therefore very useful to start taking her temperature three times a day in the days running up to the expected delivery date, to give you some warning that labour is about to start. Her temperature will drop to somewhere between 35-37C but this varies with breed.
There are three recognised stages to true parturition, with the last two stages being repeated for each pup:
Stage 1: this usually lasts 6-12 hours but can be as long as 36hours. In this stage the bitch often pants and is restless. You may see a clear watery discharge.
Stage 2: this starts when you see the bitch beginning to strain and have abdominal contractions. The length of this stage varies depending on the number of puppies. Generally there is not more than 1-2 hours between puppies. The bitch's body temperature returns to normal at the start of this stage. The first pup is usually delivered within 4 hours of the start of this second stage labour. The bitch will generally break the sacs, tear the umbilical cord and lick the puppy. Occasionally help is required by you to open the sacs and allow the puppy to breathe, and to clear the puppy's airways of fluid. Then place the puppy in front of mum to encourage her to lick it and stimulate it to breathe. If she fails to do this, rub the puppy with a clean, dry towel and clear its mouth of fluid.
Stage 3: This is the delivery of the placenta. It usually occurs within 15 minutes of the birth of a puppy, but in some cases a bitch may give birth to 2-3 puppies before passing the placentas. There should be one placenta per puppy so try to count them as they are passed, however the bitch will often eat them.
Dystocia – When to call the vet.
Dystocia is defined as difficulties with whelping and should be recognised early, and veterinary attention sought quickly to ensure the wellbeing of both mum and pups.
Please ring the practice for advice if the following occur:
If in doubt, then please request an examination as we can use ultrasound scans to demonstrate if the puppies are alive and see a foetal heart beat. A vaginal exam can be used to demonstrate if the cervix is dilated or puppies present in the birth canal.
We advise a post whelping check normally the day after whelping in order to check the puppies and the bitch.