Cats and Dogs
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Why do dogs bleed after giving birth?

Whelping – potential problems

Just like it is for women, giving birth is a completely natural process for bitches. In most cases the delivery will go smoothly and your bitch will manage better without any interference. However, you should keep a watchful eye on proceedings as problems can occur. If your bitch is having problems then early intervention could save her life as well as that of the puppies.

What is normal canine labour like?

When bitches give birth we say that they are ‘whelping’ and there are three recognised stages:

  • Stage I: this usually lasts from 12 to 24 hours, during which time bitches may show changes in behaviour. They become reclusive, restless and start ‘nesting’ (trying to make a bed for the puppies). Bitches may refuse to eat and sometimes vomit. Panting and trembling may occur. In this phase the uterus (womb) is contracting and the cervix is dilating. Although you might see a clear and watery discharge from the vulva (around the back end of the bitch) no visible abdominal contractions are evident.
  • Stage II: begins when you can see the bitch starting to strain. These contractions will eventually result in the delivery of a puppy. Typically, there should not be more than 1-2 hours between puppies although great variation exists. The delivery of an entire litter of puppies can take between 1 and 24 hours. Increased puppy survival is associated with shorter total delivery time (less than 12 hours) and an interval of less than 2 hours between puppies. Discharge from the vulva during this time may be clear or bloody and this would be normal. Typically bitches continue to nest between deliveries and may nurse and groom puppies intermittently. As the next puppy starts to arrive panting and trembling are common.
  • Stage III: this is the delivery of the placenta. Bitches often deliver puppies and placenta alternatively until the delivery is complete but sometimes 2 puppies will be born and then 2 placentae. Try to keep a check that the same numbers of placentas and puppies have been delivered at the end.

What if no puppies are being born?

Dystocia is the inability to expel a puppy through the birth canal. It is not uncommon in the bitch and can have several causes. The bitch may be in trouble if she is straining for a long time and no puppy is born – or if she strains for a while and then stops straining without producing a puppy or placenta.

If you think that your bitch is having trouble delivering a puppy you should contact your vet for advice immediately. The early diagnosis and treatment of dystocia can prevent the loss of puppies and perhaps even the mother.

How do I know if my bitch is having problems?

The diagnosis of dystocia can be based on the presence of any of the following criteria:

Prolonged gestation

If the pregnancy lasts longer than 70-72 days from the first mating, 58-60 days of dioestrus (metoestrus) or 66 days from the day of the LH surge or initial rise in progesterone during oestrus (known if ovulation timing was performed) then this is abnormal. Prolonged pregnancy results in oversized puppies that will not fit through the birth canal. Partial separation of the placenta can result in death of these puppies in the uterus.

Failure of normal labour

Labour should begin within 24 hours of a decline in body temperature below 37°C / 99°F and progress through the three stages to completion within 12-24 hours.

Failure of delivery of all puppies in a timely fashion

Delivery should occur within 1 hour of active parturition (visible abdominal efforts) or 4-6 hours of intermittent parturition. Call your vet for advice if there is:

  • 30 minutes of strong contractions with no puppy born.
  • 2-3 hours of weak contractions without a puppy being born.
  • 4 or more hours between puppies.
  • Obvious problem (pup hanging out etc.)

Foetal distress

If stillborn puppies are delivered then concerns must be raised for the remainder of the litter as yet unborn. If the unborn puppies have slow heart rates (your vet will be able to detect heart rates) this can also indicate distress.

Maternal distress

The puppies are also at risk if their mother becomes ill before delivery. If they are nearly at full term they may stand a better chance of surviving if they can be delivered and cared for outside the womb. If a bitch develops green or copious vulval discharge and/or bleeding during pregnancy then veterinary advice must be sought immediately.

Causes and treatment of dystocia

Dystocia is due to either a problem with the mother or with puppy size or position.

Abnormalities of the uterus (womb)

These include poor contraction of the muscles of the uterus, abnormalities associated with foetal or maternal fluids or twisting or rupture of the uterus. Sometimes the uterine muscles never start to contract properly and a Caesarean operation must be performed to deliver the puppies.

In other cases labour may develop normally but is prolonged and the muscles of the uterus become exhausted before all puppies have been born. Intravenous solutions containing glucose and drugs may help to stimulate contractions of the uterus, but a Caesarean operation may still be necessary.

Disorders of the birth canal

Previous damage to the pelvis such as healed fractures can make the birth canal narrow. Some bitches have abnormalities of the birth canal or unusually small vulvar openings (these may require a partial episiotomy (surgical incision) to deliver puppies vaginally).

Puppy abnormalities

Includes puppies that are too large, or in a abnormal position, presentation or posture. Puppy oversize can occur with prolonged pregnancy in abnormally small litters and is a common cause of dystocia.

The normal position of a puppy before delivery is with the foetal backbone lying along the top of the womb. A mild dystocia may arise if they are lying the other way up. In most breeds puppies can be born normally in either anterior (head first) or posterior (back feet first) presentation. It is only a transverse (sideways) presentation that is associated with dystocia and this is rare. Deformed puppies may also become stuck in the birth canal.

If the puppy is not in the correct position it is not easy to correct this with the use of forceps or traction because of the small size of the birth canal of the bitch. If a puppy is stuck in the birth canal then a Caesarean operation is needed in most cases.

Breeds of dog where Caesarean delivery of puppies is usually required

If it is known in advance that problems are likely during delivery your vet will probably want to book the date of the Caesarean as a routine procedure. You should always discuss the options for your pet with your vet well in advance of labour to ensure you have the right plans in place.

How will my vet diagnose dystocia?

Your vet will want to have an accurate history about ovulation timing and breeding dates, as well as any events surrounding labor and performing a careful physical examination. This will include examination of the birth canal for any abnormalities or the presence of a puppy stuck in the birth canal.

A hand held ultrasound may allow detection of foetal heart beats and abdominal ultrasound and x-rays can be very helpful in assessing puppy viability, litter size and puppy position. Blood tests to measure calcium and glucose levels are also helpful in identifying metabolic disorders contributing to dystocia. A uterine monitor can be used to evaluate the quality of uterine contractions.

With this information your vet will be able to advise you on whether a Caesarean operation is likely to be in the best interests of the mother and the puppies.

What is uterine inertia?

Uterine inertia simply means that the womb is not contracting adequately. Primary uterine inertia means that the uterus never starts contracting. In this case a bitch will show the first signs of labour but never progress beyond this. This condition is not common but can be due to the pregnancy consisting of only a single puppy. Your vet may need to give an injection to try to stimulate uterine contraction or, if this fails to work, then a Caesarean delivery may be needed.

Secondary uterine inertia occurs after the bitch has been in labour for some time. One or more puppies may have been born but then contractions stop before all puppies have been delivered. This condition is more common in older bitches and can be due to exhausted muscles in the uterus or to glucose or calcium deficiencies. Veterinary attention should be sought immediately as this condition may respond to intravenous treatments but often means that a Caesarean delivery is needed.


With help from your veterinary surgeon, your bitch should be able to produce a healthy litter of puppies. Early diagnosis of problems will help prevent any life-threatening emergency, to puppy or dam by suitable and timely treatment.

Why do dogs bleed after giving birth?


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Cartoon image of puppies nursing

(original graphic by


Preparing for your dog’s labor and puppy care can be both exciting and fun; still, awareness of potential problems is of paramount importance. It is a good idea to keep track of your dog’s breeding date so as to know when to expect what. We will first present some prenatal care suggestions but for more details, we have a page specifically about care during pregnancy and you may wish to begin there.

After about 35 days of pregnancy, the mother’s caloric requirements will begin to increase. In general, she should require about twice as much food as usual whereas, when she begins nursing, she will need three times as much food. The best nutritional plan is to buy a dog food approved for growth (i.e. puppy food) and feed according to the package; such diets are balanced and require no supplementation plus they typically have the extra Calories needed by the pregnant or nursing mother. Exercise of the pregnant bitch need not be restricted until after the first 4-6 weeks of pregnancy. Do not supplement calcium as this can cause metabolic imbalances; also, excess vitamins may be harmful to the puppies.

Some time around the 45th day, your dog should be examined by a veterinarian. At this time, the skeletons of the unborn pups will have mineralized and are thus going to be visible on a radiograph (an x-ray). Your dog’s abdomen should be x-rayed so that you know how many pups to expect. This is important as you will need to know when her labor is finished so you can be sure none of the puppies have been retained. Ultrasound may be used to confirm pregnancy much earlier (after 25 days, the embryonic heart may be seen beating) but it is more difficult to count the number of pups using this method. A general pregnancy blood test can be performed around day 35 just to confirm whether or not she is pregnant but neither this nor ultrasound will tell you how many puppies to expect; only radiographs can do that.

A comfortable area should be set aside for whelping (giving birth) and raising the puppies. The bitch should feel at home here and should be able to come and go as she likes while the puppies must remain confined.

It is important that the mother dog be isolated from all other dogs for three weeks prior to labor through 3 weeks after delivery to prevent herpes infection. Herpes is spread by sniffing and licking between two dogs. Adult dogs rarely have any symptoms but the newborn or unborn puppies generally die. For more details on this infection click here.

The gestation period of the dog is considered to be 63 days though this is not written in stone and a normal range might be 58-68 days.


When your dog’s due date is approaching, you should begin monitoring her rectal temperature. When her temperature drops below 100 o F (normal canine temperature is 101-102 o F), labor may be expected within 24 hours.

It is a good practice to know how to take your pregnant dog’s temperature as her due date approaches.


During this stage, uterine contractions begin. The bitch will appear very restless and may pace, dig, shiver, pant, or even vomit. This is all normal and all an owner can do is see that the bitch has water available should she want it. This stage of labor is very long, lasting 6-12 hours and culminates with full dilation of the cervix in preparation to expel a puppy.


A Dalmation gives birth

The second stage is the «hard labor» stage in which the puppy is expelled. The third stage refers to the expulsion of the placenta and afterbirth. Each pup may not be followed by afterbirth; the mother may pass two pups and then two placentas. This is normal.

Puppies are born covered in membranes which must be cleaned away or the pup will suffocate. The mother will bite and lick the membranes away. Allow her a minute or two after birth to do this; if she does not do it, then you must clean the pup for her. Simply remove the slippery covering and rub the puppy with a clean towel. The umbilical cord may be tied in a knot about one inch from the pup and cut with scissors on the far side of the knot. Be careful not to pull on the umbilical cord as this can injure the puppy. The mother may want to eat the placenta but this is probably not a good idea as vomiting it up later is common; it is best to clean away the placenta yourself.

Expect one pup every 45-60 minutes with 10-30 minutes of hard straining. It is normal for bitches to «take a rest» partway through delivery and she may not strain at all for up to four hours between pups. If she is seen straining hard for over one hour or if she takes longer than a four hour break, a veterinarian should be consulted. This is where it is important to know whether she has delivered the entire litter that was counted on the radiograph.

Expect some puppies (probably half of them) to be born tail first. This is not abnormal for dogs.

Most of the time nature handles things according to plan and there are no complications. The important thing is to be prepared and know what constitutes a deviation from normal. During the delivery, a puppy can get stuck either because of size or positioning, the mom can get too tired or dehydrated to complete the mission without help, or any number of unexpected problems can arise. Problems can happen during the actual delivery or in the days following.


  • 30-60 minutes of strong contractions occur with no puppy being produced.
  • Greater than four hours pass between pups and you know there are more inside.
  • She fails to go into labor within 24 hours of her temperature drop.
  • She is in obvious extreme pain.
  • Greater than 70 days of gestation have passed.

It is normal for the bitch to spike a fever in the 24-48 hours following birth. This fever should not be accompanied by clinical signs of illness.

Normal vaginal discharge after parturition should be odorless and may be green, dark red-brown or bloody and may persist in small amounts for up to 8 weeks.



Signs of this condition are as follows:

  • fever
  • foul-smelling vaginal discharge
  • listlessness
  • loss of appetite
  • no interest in the puppies
  • decreased milk production

If these signs are noted, usually in the first day or two postpartum, a veterinarian should be consulted. Your dog may have retained a placenta or have suffered some trauma during delivery. Animals who have required assistance with delivery are often predisposed to metritis. She will likely need to be spayed.


This condition results when the bitch has trouble supporting the calcium demand of lactation and is a particular concern for toy breed dogs. Calcium supplementation predisposes a bitch to this condition. Usually affected animals are small dogs. They demonstrate:

  • nervousness and restlessness
  • no interest in the pups
  • stiff, painful gait

This progresses to:

  • muscle spasms
  • inability to stand
  • fever
  • seizures

This condition generally occurs in the first three weeks of lactation and a veterinarian should be consulted immediately.


Normal nursing glands are soft and enlarged. Diseased glands are red, hard, and painful. In general, the bitch does not act sick; the disease is confined to the mammary tissue. The bitch may be sore and discourage the pups from nursing; however, it is important to keep the pups nursing the affected glands. This is not harmful to the puppies and helps flush out the infected material. Hot packing may be helpful.

Most dogs are excellent mothers and problems are few. The basic rule is to seek veterinary care if she seems to feel sick or if she ceases to care for her young. Puppies nurse until they are about six weeks old and then may be fully separated from their mother. A good age for adoption to a new home is 8 weeks or later.


Milk production and secretion («let down») is essential for the nutrition of the puppies. If the puppies are nursing but it appears that milk is simply not flowing, there are a few simple things to try at home before seeking medical intervention. First, make sure the puppy room is not too warm and that the mother dog has plenty of food and water and that she seems to be healthy in other respects. If these issues seem controlled, the next step is to determine if milk is being produced and not «let down» or simply not being produced as different hormones are involved in each process. Your veterinarian will need to intercede with treatment for the mother. If the pups cannot so much as get colostrum, that all-important first milk, that provides immunity of common infections, they may need to be receive inj ections of canine plasma to replace the antibodies they did not get from their mother.

Related Pages of Interest:

Page last updated: 5/7/2020

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