Common Whelping Complications & How to Prevent Them

 Tuesday Jun 27,2023
By  Lancaster Puppies

When your dog goes into labor, it’s an exciting but nerve-wracking time. While there are many complications that are possible during delivery, being prepared and knowing your vet’s information will help you navigate any issues that may arise. Learn how to prevent common whelping complications, as well as when you should contact your vet.

Contacting or Visiting Your Vet

An emergency vet that can visit or take calls after hours is vital when you have a pregnant dog. This is especially important if a vet’s assistance is needed during delivery. Before your dog goes into labor, you should have a delivery plan laid out that includes your vet’s contact information in case of an emergency or complications.

If a vet cannot visit you, you’ll need to make a trip to the vet yourself. When taking your dog to a vet during any whelping stage, always bring any delivered puppies along. Place newborn puppies in a box separate from the dam and put a warm heat pad or water bottle in the box. Be sure the heating pad or warm water bottle has a covering on it so it doesn’t burn the newborn puppies if they come into contact with it.


Poodle lying with newborn puppiesEclampsia is a potentially deadly issue where the dam’s calcium levels are severely low. This condition affects all dog breeds but is most prevalent in small dogs. Eclampsia happens mainly in the weeks following delivery when the dam is nursing her puppies. Symptoms of eclampsia in your dam include collapse, panting, weakness, restlessness, a different way of walking, shaking, stiffness, trembling, and drooling.

Continued nursing and milk supply to puppies will deplete calcium levels in dams, however, giving your dog too much calcium like calcium supplements can also cause eclampsia. To avoid this condition, give your dam food that is specifically created for pregnant and lactating dogs. Speak with your vet to find the best, balanced diet for your dam or pregnant dog. If you notice your dog is showing signs of eclampsia, take her to the vet right away.


Mastitis is an infection that affects a dog’s mammary glands. This issue generally takes place in the weeks after a dog gives birth and is producing milk. This is a fast-progressing issue that needs immediate vet attention and care to avoid the condition worsening. Symptoms of mastitis include your dog not wanting to nurse her puppies, showing aggressive behavior toward puppies when they are trying to nurse, discolored milk caused by pus or blood, not eating, lethargy, vomiting, fever, and feeling hot to the touch.

You can avoid mastitis by clipping the puppies’ nails, keeping the whelping area clean and dry, regularly cleaning your dam’s mammary glands, and ensuring all mammary glands are being used evenly for nursing. Cleanliness is one of the biggest defenses against mastitis, so maintaining a clean whelping location will go far in keeping the dam and her puppies safe.


4 brown and black newborn puppies lying togetherDystocia occurs when a dog in labor is unable to deliver or push out a puppy. Dystocia is a serious complication that, if left untreated or without vet help, can result in the deaths of the puppies and mother dog. A dog with dystocia will usually need an emergency C-section, so timely action and contact with your vet are crucial.

Signs your dog may experience or is experiencing dystocia include an extended pregnancy, a long labor with no delivery, and/or a stillborn puppy. When a dam’s pregnancy extends beyond its due date, specifically 70 or more days from the date it was bred, puppies can grow too big to be safely delivered through the birth canal. Additionally, prolonged pregnancy can lead to issues with the placenta that cut off oxygen and lead to stillborn puppies.

A dam’s labor and delivery should not exceed 24 hours. Signs of complications that require you to contact your vet include:

  • Your dog is in labor for 4 hours with no puppies delivered.

  • More puppies are inside but it’s been 4 hours since the last puppy was delivered.

  • Your dog has been experiencing strong contractions for 30 minutes without delivering the first puppy.

  • Your dog has been experiencing weak contractions for 2 to 3 hours without delivering the first puppy.

There are many biological factors that can lead to dystocia like puppy abnormalities, uterus abnormalities, birth canal conditions, and pelvis damage or size. While these biological causes can’t be prevented during pregnancy, you can help reduce the risk of dystocia by introducing your dog to her whelping area early on, creating a whelping area that is as stress-free as possible, and ensuring your dam has a balanced diet meant for pregnant dogs.

Breech Position

Puppies are generally delivered with their heads or back legs appearing first. A puppy delivered head-first is known as an anterior presentation, while a puppy delivered feet-first is a posterior presentation. A breech delivery happens when a puppy is delivered tail or butt-first with no hind legs present. This can also be detected if the dam’s vulva has a lump behind it or if the dam is having trouble pushing out a puppy.

While there isn’t much you can do to prevent a puppy from being delivered in a breech position, you can get guidance and avoid further delivery complications by immediately contacting your vet. It’s important to have this contact information on hand during whelping so you don’t need to go searching for it.

Excessive Dark or Green Discharge

A small amount of green discharge isn’t cause for concern as this is what puppy placenta normally looks like. However, if there is a lot of dark or green discharge there may be an issue with the puppy’s placenta. Problems with a puppy’s placenta can lead to loss of oxygen, so your vet should be contacted right away for assistance and advice.

Assistance for Dog’s First Delivery

4 small brown Pomeranian puppiesDogs delivering puppies for the first time may not know what to do with the amniotic sac. If your dog does not remove the sac herself after delivering a puppy, you’ll need to do it for her to ensure the puppy can breathe. To do this, use your fingers or paper towels to break open the sac. You then want to expose the puppy’s mouth and nose so it can get air. Don’t use any sharp objects, like scissors or a knife, to break the sac as these items can harm the puppy inside.

Likewise, dams generally sever their puppies’ umbilical cords themselves by chewing them. However, if this isn’t done after a few hours you’ll need to do it yourself to prevent infections. There are various ways to do this but speaking with your vet before your dog goes into labor is recommended. Your vet can give you information on what to do and what sterilized tools to use if this happens.


Being prepared and creating a safe, dry, clean, and quiet whelping environment for your pregnant dog is one of the best ways to prevent whelping complications. Speak to your vet about creating a balanced diet for your dog to ensure she is getting all the nutrients she needs to carry and deliver her puppies. When you are informed on what to look for and how to prevent whelping complications, delivery for your dam and her puppies will be easier.

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