Lloyd Smith considers issues with whelping and pregnancy.

Nutrition before and after whelping

During the first month of pregnancy a bitch can be maintained on her normal diet. During the second month, she should transition on to a good quality puppy food, or there are some specially formulated pregnancy and lactation foods available (ask at your local vet clinic).

These foods have everything required in her diet during pregnancy and lactation, so there is no need to supplement her meals. In this second month, food intake will also need to increase by 30-40% and she will need to eat two or three smaller meals a day as her stomach capacity reduces and her nutritional requirements increase.

After whelping, the bitch will need to eat about three times her normal intake to have enough energy for milk production. Food should be available at all times until the puppies are weaned.

Knowing the whelping due date is important. Whelping occurs about 63 days from the first mating (put it in your calendar). There are three stages of labour:


  • Cervix dilates and puppies are moved to the birth canal through uterine contractions.
  • The bitch may seem restless; she may be panting, shivering, not eating, and showing nesting behaviour.
  • Body temperature may drop 2-3C.
  • This stage usually lasts around 12 hours.


  • The cervix should be fully dilated and strongly visible contractions/straining should result in the passage of pups through the birth canal.
  • The first pup is normally delivered within 15 minutes after the onset of strong abdominal contractions. Then on average, one pup is delivered every 30-60 minutes (40% of pups are born backwards, which is normal).
  • After each pup is born the bitch will normally lick the pup, cleaning off the membranes and stimulating respiration. She will also bite through the umbilical cord. This behaviour can escalate to the bitch injuring her pups, so monitor her closely (especially if it is her first litter).
  • Some maiden bitches may need assistance in removing the membranes as the pups are born. Do this as gently as possible, while offering the pup back to the bitch to lick and stimulate.


The placenta is expelled about 10 minutes after the birth of each pup, these are usually eaten by the mother so it can be hard to count the number of placenta (this is usually done to ensure none are retained, but it can be difficult).

When to intervene during whelping

  • If the bitch has reached her due date but shows no signs of labour.
  • If the first pup is not born 30 minutes after the onset of stage two labour.
  • When the delivery time between two pups is longer than two hours.
  • If a green blood-tinged discharge is coming out of the vulva without the birth of a pup or at any stage of pregnancy.
  • Bitches (particularly if first litter) can sometimes have a vulvular discharge post-whelping which can be normal but it can also mean there could be a problem so it is best to speak with a vet.
  • If your bitch appears to be unwell or has stopped eating for longer than 24 hours.

I am often asked how to train the progeny of a huntaway-heading cross, or as it is referred to a Shandy x Gaff.

First, I believe such breeding should never be considered a good option, although mistakes do happen. It is a total mismatch of genetics and the failure rate is considerable. Sure some do work and they can be very capable work dogs, but most of the resulting offspring will end up as statistics which is not responsible breeding.

However, if they do exhibit a desire to work stock then you would be best to train them according to which breed characteristics they demonstrate – either heading or huntaway. As always good compliance to the “Wayleggo” and “Stop” commands will ensure you have control of your dog.

A lot of this information has been sourced from Your Working Dog’s Health, compiled by Lisa Hamilton, Vet Tech, which I highly recommend. The book is available from Atkinson & Associates Veterinary Services, Piopio. $10 per copy including GST. Postage extra.