A Labor of Love: An Inside Look at Whelping


Breeder Connie and her puppies enjoy the nice weather outside. [Pictured: Yellow Lab mom dog sits with her puppies while they nurse.]

At Southeastern Guide Dogs, we deliver over 250 puppies each year, so our whelping team stays busy. Under the guidance of staff veterinarians Dr. Sharon Pindar and Dr. Kevin Conrad, this caring and well-trained team is always ready to help our future superheroes arrive and be with our moms at every step. Staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week, the whelping team is prepared and ready.

Our moms-to-be are part of our breeder program and live with volunteer host families in private homes until about a week before their due dates. At this time, they return to campus and are checked in to a private whelping room inside our Whelping and Neonatal Care Wing in our Puppy Academy. These rooms provide a comfortable and sterile environment where our moms deliver their puppies.


One of Connie’s puppies at just one week old. Puppies start getting handled and loved by staff starting at birth. [Pictured: Newborn puppy with its eyes closed and tongue sticking out is held by hands.]

When she arrives, each mom receives a full physical exam and an X-ray to determine a “puppy count.” As the due date approaches, the team uses ultrasound to check the pups’ fetal heart rates, and bloodwork helps forecast and fine-tune an expected delivery date. At the first signs of labor, a team member stays in the room with mom at all times until after the delivery. Mother Nature often needs no assistance, but we are always there to give her a reassuring paw.

The average whelp takes about six hours, depending on the number of pups in the litter. If any issues occur, our veterinarians are a phone call away. If the need arises for a caesarean section, the procedure takes place here on campus in our state-of-the-art veterinary center.

When the puppies are born, the whelper weighs each baby and ties on a tiny colored ribbon, with each color representing the birth order and used for future identification. Each pup is given time to meet their mom and nurse, and then they are placed in an incubator to keep warm while mom is busy giving birth to their brothers and sisters.

After whelping, mom and pups are monitored closely as the veterinary and whelping teams make sure that everyone is healthy. The puppies are weighed two to three times per day for the first week to ensure everyone is thriving. While pups are fully weaned at six weeks, they remain with mom for nurture until seven weeks.

Meanwhile, mom’s host family is encouraged to visit throughout the process so moms don’t get homesick. When pups are seven weeks old, the family takes mom home again. By this time, puppies are well into their puppy preschool education program and mom is ready for her home routine again.

Laying a strong foundation for our future superheroes may seem like a big job, but it’s a labor of love!

Posted on October 3, 2017 | Category: Blog