Let us guide you through the process of actual dog breeding with this whelping timeline, from heat and mating, all the way to the delivery of a litter of puppies.
In this comprehensive article, we explain each major stage of canine reproduction, gestation, and whelping and when appropriate, we add a picture, chart, video, or link so you can learn more on the matter.
What is Dog Whelping?
Female dog whelping is a term used by most breeders, it’s the process of giving birth to puppies. In some cases, some female dogs can do whelping on their own without any assistance from humans.
But keep in mind that you should still watch them closely so you can guide them throughout your dog’s pregnancy and labor. It’s also important to know the process and know the signs of dog whelping so you can assist them in case they need help.
Dog Breeding Cycle
The first estrous cycles in dogs or reproductive or heat cycles will start when they reach puberty. Usually, a dog’s puberty begins at about six months of age but this may still vary depending on their breeds.
Smaller breeds experience their first estrous cycle at an earlier age while large and giant breeds can experience it between eighteen months to two years of age.
The dog breeding cycle is mainly composed of the below stages:
- Heat — period where the female dog is fertile and ready to breed
- Mating — coitus happening between the male and the female
- Pregnancy — a dog’s pregnancy lasts 63 days on average
- Labour — the female dog’s body gets ready to give birth
- Delivery — puppies are coming to this world and placenta passed
- Nursing — for weeks, the mother now has to care for her whelps
If you want to be present for your bitch’s whelping day and delivery, check out how to prepare your very own whelping kit! We’ve added a perpetual 63-day whelping chart that you can use to figure you an approximate due date for your litter.
Is my Female Dog in Heat?
Heat begins at the first stage of the canine estrous cycle, called proestrus. This stage usually lasts from 0-27 days. In the proestrus stage, male dogs will be attracted to female dogs but she won’t be interested. Some common signs that your female dog is in heat are swollen vulva, clingy behavior, and bright red blood discharges.
Four Stages of A Dog In Heat
As mentioned above, a dog’s canine estrous (reproductive) cycle has four different heat stages. Each of these stages has its signs, your dog may experience physical, physiological, and cytologic changes that can affect their behaviors.
In this stage, you will notice that your female dog is in heat. Their estrogen levels will start to peak and her follicles will develop. You can also notice that her vulva is swollen and has light blood discharge. This stage usually lasts for 9 days but can still change depending on the breed of your dog.
The second stage is estrus, this is when your female dog is receptive and becomes interested in male dogs. By this time, the female dog’s vulva is enlarged and will soften a little, also, vulvar blood discharge will decrease.
In the estrus stage, the estrogen levels will begin to drop while the progesterone levels will increase. Usually, this stage can last up to 9 days but can range from 4 to 24 days.
Estrogen is the hormone that’s in charge of the sexual development and reproduction in female dogs while the progesterone builds or increases the effects of estrogen on the female dog’s brain to produce outward signs of estrus (heat).
In this third stage, the female dog is no longer interested in the male dog. Estrogens are now low while the progesterone will peak 3 to 4 weeks after the start of the diestrus stage and then will decline. This stage can last for two months.
In this last stage of the Canine Estrous Cycle, the vulva is no longer swollen and there’s no vaginal discharge. The female dog’s body will now use this time to prepare her uterus for possible pregnancy when the heat cycle begins again – this stage can last for four months.
There are several cases where your bitch will have abnormal heat cycles and these have to be treated case by case.
Whelping Day -75: Proestrus Begins
There are several signs to look for to know when your bitch is starting her heat cycle, we list them below but you can check out our article titled “5 Signs That Your Female Is In Heat”.
- Bright red blood discharges start
- Pink or pinkish swollen vulva
- Increase in urination
- Raised male interest but no mating wanted yet
- Tail flagging
- Mood changes and swings
You should watch the video below to get extra tips on how to spot dog heat symptoms and make sure you stash yourself some dog diapers; they are of great help to control the initially bright red bleeding!
Whelping Day -63: Mating Can Occur
The canine copulation has two distinct stages, the first one sees the male penetrating the female, and the second stage starts when the ejaculation occurs and they remain tied.
First Stage of the Coitus
Mating occurs during the estrous stage of the heat cycle. The male licks the vulva, the bitch stands with the tail to one side. The male mounts, dismounts, and turns. He remains “tied” to the female.
Second Stage of the Coitus
Ejaculation occurs. The male remains tied to the female for 5 minutes to an hour. This can be painful for the male as his penis is not in an ideal position, but you’ve got to let them be and stay around to reassure both dogs.
You can learn some more detailed and scientific facts about canine reproduction here.
You can learn some more detailed and scientific facts about canine reproduction here.
Whelping Day -44: Implantation of Embryos
The embryos are implanted in the uterus. Implantation is the process involving the attachment, penetration, and embedding of the fertilized egg in the lining of the uterine wall during the early stages of prenatal development.
The fertilized egg will then develop in the female dog’s womb and start its nine-week journey from being a four-celled that multiplies to 64 cells that are ready to form a head and spine.
Whelping Day -38: Puppies Development Stages
Puppies Develop in Uterus
This picture shows two puppies formed inside the uterus. The view is the end of one uterine horn. You can even see the ovary at the upper leftmost tip.
Days 26 – 32 are the best days to feel for the puppies if you are experienced. In its 4th week, the fetus will continue to develop its organs and can be seen in a vet’s ultrasound.
Foetus Wrapped in Placenta
A fetus is wrapped inside its fetal membranes with the placenta visible around the middle section. The placenta interfaces with the uterine wall to provide nourishment to the fetus.
The development of eyes and spinal cords starts but embryos are at the most susceptible to defects during these days, because of the organogenesis (cells starting to form the internal organs.)
The outer membrane has been removed here to reveal the fetus encased inside its amniotic sac. This sac is filled with fluid that serves as a cushion for the puppies in the womb. It also helps the development of the digestive system, lungs, and musculoskeletal system of puppies.
Faces start to be shaped and each fetus grows from 5-10 mm to 14-15 mm.
Placenta: Source of Nourishment
This view of the fetus lying unwrapped from, and next to its placenta. This photo reveals the rich vascular structure of the placenta and the umbilical vessels.
The female dog’s placenta is an organ that connects the puppies to the mother dog during pregnancy. When a dog is whelping, the placenta will be expelled after the puppy.
Each puppy has a placenta and it’s usually delivered along with the puppy. Make sure to monitor your female dog to make sure that all placenta is expelled, if not, it may cause infection/sepsis in their uterus.
Whelping Day -33: Confirm Pregnancy by Touch
The puppy embryos implant themselves in the two horns of the uterus. About days 26 to 35 following fertilization these “locules” can be felt on the lower belly of the bitch. Detecting the locules later is difficult due to continued enlargement.
The most accurate way of telling if your female dog is pregnant is by a diagnostic test. Your vet can simply perform abdominal palpation by pressing on the surface of your dog’s abdomen with their fingers. If they detected swellings in the uterus, then that’s a signal that puppies are developing inside.
Whelping Day -17: The Bitch Looks Pregnant
By now the bitch is looking pregnant. Her nipples are enlarged and may darken due to some milky fluid since the milk glands are now developing.
Her abdomen continues to grow in size and she may shed abdominal hair. Also, you may notice some weight gain, changes in appetite, and nesting behaviors.
Whelping Day -8: Final Development Stage
At 55 days, the body and brains of the puppy fetuses are in their final developmental stages, with the abdomen hair starting to shed.
Few fetal movements can be detected by touching the bitch when she is at rest, and the puppies can safely be born from now on.
Whelping Day -1: Temperature Drops
Breeders will monitor, and often plot, the temperature of the bitch is whelping nears. Upon commencement of labor, her temperature drops from approximately 101 deg to 98 or lower. This is a very good indicator that whelping will begin within 24 hours. Make sure you have a working dog thermometer.
Signs a Dog is Going Into Labor Soon
The most common signs that your dog is going into labor soon is when you notice them panting, extra clingy, pacing, refusal of food, and some vomiting.
By this time, she will have a nesting behavior and they tend to shed bedding and other materials to create a nest. Some female dogs also become irritable so make sure to be cautious when touching them.
As preparation for the whelping day, you might want to consider gathering all the materials you need for your female dog and her puppies. Since it can be bloody and messy, make sure that you have all the whelping supplies needed.
It’s better to be ready than sorry. Make sure to prepare a whelping kit that you can use while your dog is giving birth. Here are some important supplies that you must have and backups in case of emergencies:
- Surgical gloves
- Whelping box
- Clean towels
- Old newspapers
- Round-tipped scissors
- Ribbons to identify puppies
- Puppy milk substitute
- Sterile syringes
Your dog’s whelping box should be sturdy enough for your dog and her puppies. Place bed sheets, towels, or rags and heating pads inside so the puppies will feel warm. Also, guardian rails are important so the puppies won’t be squashed against the sides.
The First Puppy Emerges
As vaginal pressure builds, the bitch may feel an urge to eliminate (some may rush to their usual exit door). Vomiting is a possibility. The water sac will typically appear first as a bubble at the vulva.
Delivery of the Puppies
When puppies are being delivered, nature takes its course but in some instances, humans can also offer helping hands.
Whelping Day +1: Mom Rests, Whelps Feast
Mom and the puppies are all cleaned up. Mom gets some well-deserved rest, while the puppies nurse.
After the birthing process, make sure to clean up the mother dog with warm water and a clean cloth. Do not use any soap or disinfectants and change the dirty bedding or newspaper from the whelping box. Also, wait a few weeks before bathing your dog.
Dog Whelping: FAQ
We gathered the top frequently asked questions about dog whelping and the dog breeding cycle, below are the best answers to your inquiries.
It’s normal for female dogs to take multiple breaks during whelping. Usually, whelping can last 3-6 hours but for some cases, it can last up to 20 hours especially if your dog breed has a large head like bulldogs.
Of course, we can’t really tell the exact time our dog will start whelping. They can give birth in the morning, afternoon, or even at noon. But in most cases, dog whelping happens during the night.
For nursing dogs, you can feed them a nutrient-dense diet like puppy food. You can also increase the number of meals that you give throughout the day. You can also read our How to Feed a Nursing Dog guidelines here.
Dog’s labor process can last 6 to 12 hours. By this time, the cervix is completely expanded and is ready for the whelping stage. If your dog started laboring and hasn’t started whelping within 24 hours, it’s better to seek veterinary assistance.
Yes, you can use newspapers, towels, and blankets as bedding for your newborn puppies. Make sure that the cloth can possess body heat and can absorb body fluids and urine. It’s important to keep the bedding dry.
This depends on your dog, some female dogs are not comfortable with having humans near them when whelping while others are okay with it. Make sure to be cautious when getting near a whelping dog.
After hours of being delivered, some puppies will freely crawl and look for their mother’s nipples. You can guide them since their eyes are not fully developed. Puppies should be nursed every 2 to 3 hours after birth.
To boost your dog’s milk production, you can use milk thistle, a natural supplement that helps nursing dogs to produce more milk. You can also ask your veterinarian for any supplements recommendations that will suit your nursing dog’s needs.
It’s normal for some mother dogs to eat the placenta after cleaning and biting the umbilical cord of their pup. No worries, it’s safe since it’s their way to recover from the nutrients that they lost and for them to regain their strength.
Once the puppies are here, with us, it is a whole new story that we have to write with them. Hopefully, you found this post useful, do not hesitate to share it with anybody interested in the topic and if you want to learn more, check out The Dog Breeder’s Handbook, our bestseller.