Stages of Labor in Pets

A Labrador Retriever female is nursing her litter of 7 babies against a light blue background.
There are 3 stages of labor in pets. If all three do not occur, a cesarean section may be needed.



Once you have an approximate due date, it is time to do some planning.  Purchase or make a suitable sized whelping box for the to be new mother and make sure that there is a covering over the perimeter of the box so that if a puppy moves away the mother will not crush it.  Line it with old blanket and towels.  Fix a lamp fixture to the box and place or affix a thermometer in the box to monitor the local environmental temperature.  What is important to remember is this.  For the first two weeks of life, puppies and kittens can not maintain their body temperatures.  They will fluctuate and become whatever the home temperature is.  They are, in one sense, like reptiles at this time in their life.  Preparation should be way before the 3 stages of labor in pets.  The whelping box area should be about 100.0-101.0 F degrees with ventilation.  Cats do not need such elaborate attention as they will deliver their kittens in a shoe box if necessary!  Normal dog and cat temperatures are 101.5-102.0 F.  After two weeks they become poikilothermic.  That is to say that their body temperature stays THE SAME regardless of what the temperature is around them.


Once the approximate due date arrives it is extremely important to take the mother’s rectal temperature several times a day.  Once her temperature drops to about 95.0-96.0 F she is guaranteed to go into labor within 24 hours.  Don’t you think women wish this could happen to them!!




During the 3 stages of labor in pets the mother to be should not be bothered or fussed over.  Let nature take its course.  First stage of labor in pets is the dilatation of the cervix.  The second stage of labor in pets is the delivery of the puppies or kittens and the third stage of labor in pets is delivery of the placenta.  The female dog will lie down on her side and the contractions will begin once the cervix is dilated.  DO NOT LET CONTRACTIONS GO ON FOR MORE THAN TWO HOURS WITHOUT A FETUS BEING DELIVERED.  SEEK IMMEDIATE MEDICAL ATTENTION!!!  If a puppy is delivered in the amniotic sac, pinch it open with your fingers and use a piece of thread to make a knot on the umbilical cord about one inch from the animal’s body wall.  A fetus may be stuck in the birth canal, presented breach A breach presentation is when the body of the fetus is perpendicular to the birth canal. There is no possibility of the fetus passing without surgical intervention. or the posterior end is being  presented.  Normally, the head and neck are presented first.  If medical attention is not sought there is a high chance that the babies will be stillborn due to a placental separation.


Dogs and cats will eat the placenta once delivered.  This is an ancestral trait hard-wired into the female animal to leave no remnant of a delivery so as to protect the canine family from predators.



Certain breeds of dogs and cats are prone to Cesarean sections mainly due to their big heads.  In medical terms these animals are bracheocephalic.  Examples of breeds like this are:  Persian, English Bulldog, French Bulldog, Boston Terrier and Pug.  Many breeders schedule this procedure on the 60th day of pregnancy so as to not put the mother through the stress of a difficult delivery (dystocia).


Planned cesarean sections are not the only ones.  Anytime a female has problems in ANY stage of labor in pets, she will probably require a cesarean section.  Once a veterinarian has failed to delivery the puppies with oxytocin, he or she will recommend the Cesarean procedure.  A general anesthetic is chosen that will be safe for the mother and puppies.  Believe me, I am fast in surgery!  When I get the “go” signal to move, I will have a puppy delivered in about 2 minutes.  At this point the uterus can be closed for another pregnancy in the future.  Some people want them spayed at the same time and that is fine.  Even after being spayed they produce (lactate) milk.  Lactation is under the control of the pituitary glandThe pituitary gland is one of the most important glands in the body. Located at the base of the brain it secretes hormones or pre-hormones that control renal function, growth, thyroid, adrenal and oxytocin (lactation). We would not be alive without the pituitary gland.; not the ovary and uterus.


The goal is too get the puppies or kittens stable and warm and get mom and her babies out the door asap.  Got milk?  Have new born kittens that need milk?  Any other lactating cat will accept those kittens as if they were her own; no questions asked!  This does not work with dogs.   Sutures are removed in two weeks.  Remember, mom will be back in heat four months from that moment so be prepared!

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