Creating a whelping box for your pregnant dog provides her with a clean, safe place to have her puppies. It’s recommended to have the box and room set up before your dog goes into labor. Similarly, you should introduce your pregnant dog to the whelping box a few weeks, but no later than 5 days, before her due date so she has time to become accustomed to it. This whelping box guide covers the various aspects of preparing a whelping area for your pregnant dog and her litter.
The room where you set up the whelping box should be climate-controlled, quiet, low-traffic, and draft-free. This room should also have doors that close so children and other pets cannot enter. If the whelping box is in a room where clean-up would be difficult (like a room with carpet), putting a protective cover over the floor will keep it safe from messes. As you begin setting up the whelping box, let your pregnant dog in the room with you so she can become familiar with it.
Whelping box sizes will vary depending on the dog breed’s size. The box should be small enough so the puppies are not spread out and far from each other, but big enough that the mother dog has room to move around. Your dog should be able to lay down, stretch, and still have room for her puppies to feed (usually around 1-2 feet of space). That being said, be mindful of the size you are choosing since a whelping box that is too big can prevent the puppies from being close to their mother and staying warm.
There should be walls on all sides of the whelping box that are sturdy enough to keep out drafts. These walls need to be low enough for the mother dog to come and go as she pleases, but tall enough so the puppies cannot escape. When choosing or making a whelping box, make sure you go with one that has bumper rails (also called pig rails) on the inside walls. Having bumper rails around the interior of the whelping box helps ensure the mother dog doesn’t accidentally smother her puppies when lying down.
Between giving birth and puppies not being housebroken, whelping boxes need to be easy to clean regularly. Plastic material is usually preferred over wood because it doesn’t trap germs and can be quickly cleaned. Whatever material you choose to go with, you’ll want the top to be open or removed so it’s easier to reach and handle the puppies on your end. Furthermore, you can DIY or buy a whelping box; however, if you decide to DIY your whelping box you shouldn't paint it as this can be hazardous to the puppies.
After the puppies are born, the whelping box should be around 85 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit for a few days. Water and microwave-heated products can be used to keep puppies warm. However, you’ll want to keep an eye on these so you know when they need to be warmed up again. Heat lamps and heating pads are great for keeping puppies warm (but not too warm). If you use a heating pad, place it under a whelping mat to avoid direct contact with the puppies’ sensitive skin. If you have a heat lamp, it should be installed in a place where it will not hinder your dog from being able to stand and walk around. Additionally, having your heat lamp positioned in the middle of the whelping box encourages puppies to stay away from the walls.
Floor & Bedding
The floor padding of the whelping box should be waterproof to keep the puppies warm and dry. You can do this by putting a waterproof mat on the floor and placing a whelping mat on top. Loose bedding materials like straw and pine shavings shouldn’t be used in a whelping box because they can be too harsh on the newborn puppies’ skin and eyes.
Likewise, avoid keeping bedding like blankets, sheets, and towels in your whelping box as puppies can accidentally become stuck in them and suffocate. Using whelping mats or non-bunched-up items is recommended. You should invest in more than 1 whelping mat as you’ll need to rotate them to be cleaned.
Remember that even with a whelping box you’ll still need to be present when your dog gives birth in case of an emergency or necessary assistance. Keep vanilla ice cream or yogurt on hand to give the mother dog between birthing puppies so her calcium, energy, and milk production levels stay up.
Some tools you’ll want on hand include surgical gloves, a dog thermometer, sterilized scissors and unwaxed dental floss for umbilical cords, a kitchen scale to weigh the puppies, plenty of towels for when your dog is giving birth, puppy identification collars, and a suction device (like a bulb aspirator/syringe) in case a puppy’s airway becomes blocked.
At the end of the day, your dog will decide where she feels safest giving birth. You can introduce her to the whelping box you’ve created but just know she might find somewhere else to have her puppies. If your dog gives birth at a different spot, simply carry the puppies to the whelping box you created. This will keep the puppies together and the mother dog will follow. Puppies should remain in the whelping box with their mother for around 2-3 weeks until their eyes and ears are no longer closed. Finally, if it is reusable, you can clean up the whelping box and save it for next time!
For more information on caring for dogs of all life stages, check out our blog.