How to Deliver Puppies & Signs to Call Your Veterinarian

Delivering puppies can be an amazing experience, but it's not without some real risks. Find how to prepare for emergencies and when to call for help.

Updated January 19, 2024
Newborn chihuahua puppy

Helping a dog deliver puppies can be fascinating, frightening, and rewarding all at the same time. If this is your first time fostering a pregnant dog who's in labor, you'll want to understand all the steps involved in delivering pups, along with any possible complications that could occur. This info will make the process much less stressful for you and the dog.

About Delivering Puppies

There are few things in life that compare with seeing a momma dog bring new puppies into the world. While it can be filled with joy and concern, understanding the entire whelping process can allow you to relax and let nature take its course.

For the most part, the mother dog does all the work and will simply rely on you for a little comfort and encouragement. That said, it's always best to interfere as little as possible, but you should be ready to jump in if she needs help. 

Pre-Delivery Preparations

The first thing you should have ready before delivering puppies is a clean, comfortable, and secure place for your dog to give birth. This spot should be in a quiet area away from household traffic. You might choose to use:

  • A professional whelping box purchased online
  • A DIY whelping box that you've built
  • A cardboard box with a section cut away for easy in-and-out access
  • A large plastic storage container with sides low enough to accommodate your dog and puppies
  • A small children's swimming pool
Quick Tip

Keeping your dog calm and free of noise or distractions is essential for a smooth delivery.

Related: Cheap Whelping Box Ideas & Plans

Supply List

Here is a list of whelping supplies to have on hand. Make sure that everything is immaculately clean to keep germs to a minimum as you're delivering puppies. Sterilize items whenever possible.

  • A small plastic container lined with paper and a baby blanket to use as a warming box for the pups until mom is finished delivering
  • A warm water bottle or heating pad set on low to set the puppy box on
  • A light baby blanket to drape over the box to cut drafts
  • Plenty of clean hand towels to help dry or grasp wiggly pups
  • Extra newspapers or potty pads to layer over wet ones until the delivery is concluded
  • Sterilized round tip scissors for cutting cords
  • Bulb syringe
  • An unopened package of thread for tying off leaky cords
  • A jar of petroleum or KY jelly to help lubricate a stuck puppy
  • Paper and pencil to note the time of birth and keep track of the amount of time between births
  • A small food scale suitable for weighing puppies and keeping track of their development
  • Latex gloves
  • Your vet and emergency clinic phone numbers

See Your Veterinarian

If you're fostering a pregnant dog with a rescue organization, they've probably already had the momma dog examined by a vet, but if she hasn't seen the doctor, do that right away. Your veterinarian can give you an idea of how far along she is so you have an anticipated delivery date, and they can evaluate her overall health. 

Dogs who were undernourished during their pregnancy could be more likely to experience birth complications. The puppies may not be as strong as they should, too. Your vet can help you get the mother dog into better health to prepare her for delivery. 

Related: 11 Signs Your Dog Is Going Into Labor Soon & How to Prepare

It's Delivery Time

There are several signs that a dog is ready to give birth. Once your dog is truly in labor, you'll notice that she begins to push intermittently and then more frequently as the first puppy makes its way through the canal.

Appearance of the First Puppy

The look of that first puppy is not what most people expect to see. The first thing to emerge from the vulva is a dark bubble that's filled with amniotic fluid. It's extremely important that you do not break this bubble yourself while the puppy is in the birthing canal. The puppy will suffocate if the sac is breached and the pup remains in the birth canal for too long.

Breaking the Amniotic Sac

Once the puppy has cleared the vulva, the placenta may also come out after the pup, but this is sometimes retained within the mother dog until she delivers it with a few more contractions. 

The mother should instinctively chew at the sac to expose the puppy, then will lick at the puppy to stimulate their breathing. But if the mother shows no instincts to do this herself within a few minutes, you should be prepared to break the sac yourself.

To break the sac, rip open a loose section and slide the sac away from the pup's head. Wipe the nostrils and mouth free of mucous.

Cleaning the Puppies

Once the placenta is delivered, momma should take over. Sometimes, she has adequate time to clean the pup herself and nudge it around the box a bit to get the lungs properly working. Other times, the next pup is in a hurry to be born, and you will need to assist in cleaning and rubbing the first pup. 

Cleaning new born puppy

To do this, thoroughly rub it with a towel to dry it a bit with its head lower than the rest of the body. This also assists with expelling fluid from the lungs. You can use the suction bulb in the puppy's mouth and nostrils to remove any remaining fluid. 

Quick Tip

It's normal for mother dogs to eat their afterbirth, so don't be alarmed if she does this. It's alright to let her eat a few but keep an eye on her to make sure she doesn't choke on it.

Tying and Clipping the Cord

If mom doesn't chew the umbilical cord from the sac herself, you might have to do it yourself. Tie a piece of thread around it as a makeshift tourniquet about 1 inch away from the tummy and use your scissors to cut the cord on the opposite side of the thread.

Be very careful not to pull on the cord, which could result in an umbilical hernia. After this, either let mom spend some time with the pup or put it in the warm box for safekeeping.

How Long Does Delivery Last?

Once the first puppy has been delivered, the second should come out as little as 15 minutes later and as much as two hours. If more than two hours pass between puppies, contact your veterinarian for guidance. 

The rest of the puppies will come out in the same general time interval. Dog delivery time can vary based on breed and size and also the health of the mother.

Delivery can take several hours, and while you may want to know how to help your dog give birth faster, other than assisting her and making her comfortable, you'll have to let the process take the time she needs.

Related: Dog C-Section Facts, Risks, & Recovery

Signs a C-Section May Be Necessary

Birth complications can happen, so it's important to know when to call your vet. A C-section and veterinary intervention may be necessary when:

  • The dog has been pushing hard for an hour with no results.
  • There is a vaginal discharge that is a red color and has a bad odor.
  • The mother becomes ill and weak and starts vomiting.
  • A puppy presents rear-end first, and the head is too large to clear the pelvic bones, in which case the puppies are too big to deliver on her own. 
  • A puppy is stuck in the birth canal. 
  • There have been more than two hours between births, but you can still feel puppies inside.
  • Depending on the breed, she may have to deliver by C-section and not naturally.

Dog Breeds Prone to Complications

Some dog breeds are at higher risk of having complications during birth because of their size or anatomy. This is especially true of dogs with smooshed faces. If your dog is one of the following breeds or mixed with one, you'll need to keep an exceptionally close eye on their delivery. 

Newborn chihuahua puppy in hand
  • French bulldog
  • Bulldog
  • Pug
  • Boston terrier
  • Chihuahua 
  • Yorkshire terrier

Delivering Puppies at Home

Watching puppies come into the world can be an amazing experience, but only if you're equipped with the knowledge to help your dog. Even the healthiest dog can experience problems during labor and is relying on you to assist her in this special time.

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How to Deliver Puppies & Signs to Call Your Veterinarian