A Guide to Breeding Your Dog

AKC Breeder Resources

A Guide to Breeding Your Dog
Step Nine - Pregnancy and Whelping Preparation
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Watch for Signs of Pregnancy

Canine gestation lasts approximately 63 days. Signs of pregnancy include an increase in appetite, weight, and nipple size. However, a bitch with false pregnancy may also show these signs. A veterinarian can usually confirm a pregnancy through abdominal palpitation at 28 days or by using ultrasound or X-rays.

Once pregnancy is confirmed, you should talk to your vet about special feeding requirements and about what to expect during pregnancy, labor, and after birth. You should also be briefed on how to recognize and respond to an emergency.

Provide Proper Nutrition for your Pregnant Bitch

A bitch in good condition should continue into pregnancy with the same caloric intake that she had during adult maintenance. Her food intake should be increased only as her body weight increases, beginning about the last five weeks before whelping. Daily food intake should be increased gradually, so that at the time of whelping she may be eating 35 to 50 percent more than usual. As her weight and food intake increase, begin offering small, frequent meals to spare her the discomfort that larger meals can cause, especially in a small dog.

If you have been feeding your bitch a well-balanced, high-quality diet, you should not need to add anything to her food during her pregnancy. However, some breeders advocate supplementation with a protein source such as evaporated milk, eggs, meat, or liver. These supplements should never represent more than 10 percent of the bitch’s daily food intake.

Accustom your Bitch to the Whelping Box

It is a good idea to build a whelping box well in advance so the bitch has time to become accustomed to it. Unless you have already accustomed her to a whelping box, she may choose your closet or another inappropriate place for a delivery room.

An ideal whelping environment is warm, dry, quiet, draft-free, and away from all other dogs when possible. Confinement and whelping location of your bitch is relative to her breed and size.
A good whelping box is roomy and has low sides so you can easily reach in. It should also have a small shelf or roll bars running halfway up along the sides so the pups have something to crawl under to avoid getting rolled on by the bitch. Many breeders prefer to line the box with newspapers until after delivery because paper can be changed quickly when it becomes soiled. After whelping, newspapers are typically replaced with non-skid bath mats, outdoor carpeting, or something else that provides better footing for the puppies.

Suggested Whelping Supplies:




Bedding for bitch and puppies; line whelping box before, during, and after whelping

Bath Mats

Bedding for bitch and puppies after whelping

Clean Towels

Clean puppies during whelping

Paper Towels

Clean up the whelping area


Check bitch’s temperature prior to whelping

Un-waxed dental floss

Tying puppies’ umbilical cords

Heating Pad

Keep puppies warm. Be sure to make sure not too hot and cannot catch fire


Cut puppies’ umbilical cords or the placenta


After umbilical cord is cut (either by bitch or breeder), clean puppies’ abdomen

Be Alert for Signs of Labor

A few days before the bitch is ready to give birth, she may stop eating and start building a "nest" where she plans to have her puppies – if introduced properly, this should be in the whelping box you have prepared for her.

Shortly before whelping, the bitch’s body temperature will drop to 99 degrees or lower (from a normal temperature of 100 to 102.5).
Approximately 24 hours after her temperature drops, she can be expected to enter the first stage of labor when the cervix dilates and opens the birth canal for the passage of puppies. At this time, she will pant, strain, and appear restless. This stage of labor is followed by actual abdominal straining and production of the puppies and placentas.

You should have on hand your veterinarian’s phone number and the local emergency clinic.

Additional reading:

Not Too Hot, Not Too Cold:
Keeping the temperature just right in the whelping room

By Darlene Arden

4 Keys to Good Litter Hygiene
By Loretta Marchese