Just like when humans have a baby, there is a lot of preparation to be done for the birth of puppies.
One of the most important things to prepare is the whelping box, where the mother dog or dam will birth and raise her pups.
Whelping a litter of puppies at home may seem intimidating, but with the right supplies and some time to spare, you can have your own whelping box built in no time.
It mimics and shares important similarities to a natural den, where wild canines would birth and raise their young.
The whelping box is where the puppies will spend the first few weeks of their life, where they grow from completely dependent and lacking senses into curious, clumsy little dogs.
The box should be built and prepared as a high-quality, functioning nest for that entire process.
Your whelping box can be constructed in a variety of methods, and with a number of different materials.
Following the various building guides below will give you an overview of all the possible DIY ideas and help you build them step by step.
How Do You Make a Homemade Whelping Box?
Although whelping boxes can be created in a variety of methods using all sorts of materials both repurposed or new, what truly makes a whelping box is the quality of the material and its functionality for both mother and pups.
One of the most important characteristics of the material and its construction is that it is safe for the puppies.
Most whelping boxes are designed to have a ‘pigrail’ which is a rail or pipe around the inside of the box about four inches from the floor which prevents the puppies from being crushed against the wall.
Not only is it important that the pups are safe while interacting and moving around the enclosure, but also that they won’t become sick or poisoned by licking or chewing on the materials.
Another important attribute, since both birthing and raising puppies are messy processes, is that the material has to be easy to clean.
Using porous materials, or constructing a whelping box with multiple layers or moving parts is not always a good idea because those areas can be difficult to disinfect, and can harbor bacteria.
The third feature we will keep in mind for our whelping box is functionality.
A whelping box is meant to keep the puppies safely inside, whilst still allowing the mother dog easy in and out access.
In order to do that, many boxes are designed to have a ‘door’ in the side which is twice her width and tall enough to keep the pups in without scraping her belly.
How Big Should a Whelping Box Be?
The appropriate size of your whelping box is based on the size of the dam; the length of her body plus one foot should be squared for a properly sized box.
It should be large enough for her to lie down and stretch out as well as any maneuvering necessary to reposition or leave the box.
You can often find a properly-sized whelping box for your dog’s breed through breed sites, puppy forums, other breeders, or your veterinarian.
As important as it is that the box is big enough, it must not be too big or the pups could get too far away from their mother and become chilled.
The height of the edges around the box is also important, as they will prevent the pups from accidentally crawling out.
Although a foot tall may be plenty high for most small and medium-breed dogs, large and extra-large breeds may require an edge of 18 inches to 2 feet tall.
What Do I Put On the Floor of My Whelping Box?
In order to make the mother dog comfortable during birth and also keep the pups safe and warm, the floor of the whelping box should be soft and well padded.
The material a breeder chooses to use is largely dependent on whatever they find most convenient for their particular situation.
While each breeder will have unique preferences; linens, wood shavings, and even sand are all popular bedding options.
The most common bedding amongst breeders, however, is shredded newspaper, which can be used by itself or in combination with another bedding type.
Each of these whelping box bedding materials has both advantages and disadvantages which will make them optimal for a variety of scenarios.
Shredded newspaper is a cheap and widely available option that provides good cover without limiting the puppies’ movement or allowing them to become trapped or suffocated.
Its downfall, though, is that when it becomes damp, the ink can be transferred from the paper onto the pups.
Wood shavings are another good option since they absorb moisture and help reduce odors, but they are not advisable for young dogs since puppies lack a proper blink response until they are several weeks old.
Other popular choices are linens like sheets, towels, and blankets, which are a comfortable and warm bedding option.
The drawbacks to this material are that it can tangle or even suffocate pups if it is too loose or wrinkled, and additionally, the bedding has to be constantly laundered.
Do You Really Need a Whelping Box?
Although it may be tempting to forego a whelping box, the proven risks associated with not having one far outweigh any theoretical benefits.
Because the pups will not only be born in the box but also live there for the first few weeks of their life, having a proper whelping box is essential.
Without a whelping box, puppies are at a much higher risk of being crushed or otherwise injured or being separated from their mother and catching a chill.
Having a whelping box to serve as a safe place to attend to the puppies can also be a great relief, help to the dam, and provide a sense of security for both mother and pups.
How To Make a Whelping Box out of a Kiddie Pool?
Kiddie pools are a popular choice of whelping box for a couple of different reasons.
For one, they come in a variety of sizes, many of which are highly affordable.
They are also made of plastic, so they are pretty sturdy and easy to clean.
Additionally, because they hold up so well, they can be used for several litters of puppies.
The chief complaint with your normal kiddie pool, however, is that the edges are not quite high enough, allowing the growing pups to crawl out.
To remedy this, kiddie pools that are made for dogs are now being made with higher edges.
A similar idea is a livestock water trough; they are super sturdy, easy to clean, and reusable, albeit more expensive.
The following video shows how the kiddie pool works for larger breeds and how easy it is to set it up.
DIY Cardboard Whelping Box
Although a cardboard whelping box is not always the best choice, it can work well in a pinch or for small breed dams.
Firstly, you will need to find an intact cardboard box that is neither dirty nor damp.
It should be sized like any other whelping box; slightly larger than the size of the mother, but not much bigger than that.
The edges should be tall enough to prevent any puppies from escaping, and a door or opening to allow the dam to come into and out of the box as needed.
You can choose whichever bedding you believe to be best in your situation, but keep in mind the absorption of moisture will be highly important.
Cardboard is porous and fairly flimsy, so as it collects more liquid, not only will the box become gross and smelly, but it will also begin to fall apart.
One way to avoid this is by covering the cardboard box in duct tape, plastic sheeting, or a tarp to protect it from moisture.
The second remedy for this issue is to replace the box and bedding as often as is needed to keep both mother and pups healthy and safe.
In the following video, you will get simple instructions on how to quickly set up this whelping box.
How To Make a PVC Whelping Box
PVC is one of the most commonly used DIY supplies, mostly because it is so versatile.
PVC whelping boxes can be designed with the tubes horizontal or vertical.
Typically it is better to buy a PVC whelping box than attempt to build one, but instructions for building your own can be found online.
There are several different commercial options available, and although they can cost $400 dollars or more, they are usually well built and can be used time and time again.
For the method in which the tubes are horizontal, the PVC serves mostly as the framework for the whelping box; blankets, paddings, or other materials are used to fill in any gaps and support the bedding.
In the alternate method, the PVC works like bars on a baby gate, close together and tall enough to keep the puppies in.
With this style of PVC whelping box, there is usually a swinging door built into the side, so the dam can easily come and go from the box.
This video provides a very detailed step-by-step guide on how to build a sturdy PVC box.
DIY Wood Whelping Box
Wooden whelping boxes are much more common in large breed dogs since they can be built sturdy and large enough to suit your dog’s needs.
This type of project is best done once and very well, especially if you intend on using the box more than one time.
One issue is that wooden whelping boxes can be quite heavy, and although using plywood can help, this type of box is not one you want to be moving around frequently.
Secondly, unless you thoroughly waterproof or cover this box, fluid and excrement will be absorbed into open wood.
Many owners choose to paint a pet-safe wood sealant or waterproofing mixture onto the wood in several coats to help with this issue.
The other option is similar to the one used with cardboard whelping boxes, where the box is covered with tarps, plastic sheeting, or duct tape to keep out dirt and moisture.
Building a wood whelping box might be more advanced but you will get everything you need to know from the following video.
After reading this article, you should have a better understanding of the process and what to expect when building your own whelping box.
It is important to build one that will be safe for both mother dog and puppies as well as easy to clean.
The steps outlined in the videos can give you some ideas on how to start with gathering materials, deciding where it will go in your home, measuring out space requirements, creating a basic framework from plywood or particle board then filling it with bedding such as linens or newspaper before adding the final touches like ramps, nesting boxes and doorways.Disclaimer: This blog post does not substitute veterinary attention and does not intend to do so. I am not a veterinarian or pet nutritionist. If your dog shows any sign of illness, call your vet.