Your dog has been pregnant for about 63 days, and you may even know her potential due date. But being able to recognize when she's about to give birth can help you be there for her when she needs you most. A lot happens during gestation before a dog gives birth. You'll need to watch for a few simple signs that your dog is going into labor soon, such as nesting behavior, a loss of appetite, panting, and more. Plus, one sure-fire prediction method can help you determine when your dog is about to go into labor.
1. Drop in Body Temperature
Keeping a daily chart of your dog's rectal temperature during the final week of pregnancy can help you determine when labor will begin. Before labor, the temperature drops to about 97°F (36°C) and will remain that low for two consecutive readings taken 12 hours apart.
You may see other temporary temperature drops, but the two consecutive readings with a lower temperature are what you're looking for. Once this happens, labor will commence within 24 hours. This is truly the most accurate sign your dog is going into labor.
A dog's normal temperature is between 100 and 102 degrees Fahrenheit (38 to 39 degrees Celsius).
2. Nesting Behavior
Nesting behavior is another sign labor will soon begin, because dogs instinctively look for a safe place to deliver their pups. This activity usually begins about a week before the due date, but your dog will seriously begin to nest a day or so before delivery.
3. Loss of Appetite and/or Vomiting
In many cases, a pregnant dog will stop eating a day or two before she goes into labor. Even if she does eat, she may throw up in the early stages of labor. She'll also likely have a large bowel movement within 24 hours of going into labor due to pressure from the pups as they move into position for birth.
4. Milk Production
Most pregnant dogs begin producing milk a few days or up to one week before they go into labor. Watch for extended nipples and swollen breasts. You may even notice a little leakage just before labor begins. For some dogs, this is a good sign to let you know labor is coming.
5. Low Energy
Pregnant dogs spend a great deal of time resting before labor because carrying a litter drains a lot of energy, especially in those final days before delivery. If your pet seems even more lethargic than she did a day or two ago and is close to her due date, it could be a sign labor is about to begin.
Anxiety over impending labor can make your dog restless when she senses delivery time is near. She may also glue herself to your side and not want to let you out of her sight once she feels labor is about to begin, or she might become reclusive and want to be on her own.
How can you tell when your dog is actually in labor? A pregnant dog panting while resting is almost a certain sign that labor has or is about to begin. Your dog will pant rapidly for periods and then pause for a few moments, only to do it all over again as she prepares for birth.
The onset of shivering usually means a dog is uncomfortable or frightened, and your dog is probably experiencing both right before going into labor.
One of the best ways to help your dog when she is giving birth is simply to be there with love and encouragement.
9. Hard Belly
At this point, you may notice her belly tense up or ripple periodically with early contractions. When you see these signs, gently lay your hands on either side of her abdomen. Her stomach will feel hard during a contraction, and you'll feel it relax again once the contraction is over.
10. Pushing Begins
You'll definitely know your dog is in labor once she begins pushing. Some dogs will lay down as they begin to push out a pup, while others will squat on all four legs as though they are trying to pass a stool.
11. Licking Their Rear
Your dog will begin licking her rear end as fluid and the amniotic sac (containing a puppy!) begins to emerge from her vulva. You shouldn’t try to help her give birth, but if you notice any signs of distress, call your veterinarian right away.
The Birthing Process
It may take several pushes before the pup and its placenta are fully delivered. Sometimes the sac will rupture as it emerges from the vulva. You can expect delivery within minutes or even seconds of this happening.
Other times, the puppy is still in the sac after delivery, and the mother will chew the sac to open it. This releases the fluid, and then the mother will clean the pup's face and stimulate it to begin breathing.
Since there's no way to know how many puppies your dog might have without an ultrasound from your vet, be watchful for each additional arrival. The process of pushing and delivering will repeat with each subsequent puppy until the entire litter has been born. Your dog may rest for a few minutes or even an hour or so between births, and you'll know the next pup is on the way when she resumes panting and pushing.
When to See Your Vet During Labor
Labor complications can occur at any point during the process. Sometimes, a puppy becomes stuck part way out of the birth canal, and in rare cases, a dog might stop laboring altogether. There is nothing you can or should do on your own to try to induce labor. Call your vet and take your pregnant dog to the clinic if you notice any of the following signs:
- She has been pregnant for more than 63 days without going into labor.
- Her temperature has dropped for 24 hours, but labor hasn’t started.
- She has contractions for 30 minutes without producing any puppies.
- She starts bleeding excessively during labor.
- It’s been more than 4 hours between puppy deliveries.
- A puppy is stuck in the birth canal.
Helping Your Dog Through Labor for a Smooth Recovery
Once your dog delivers that last pup, she will settle down and begin caring for her litter. If your dog had a natural delivery at home, you should call your vet and take her in for a post-pregnancy exam to make sure her uterus is empty. Once that's accomplished, it's your job to take care of her needs and let her manage the newborn pups with as little interference as possible during that first week. If all goes well, you'll have a happy and healthy litter.