How Do You Know When Your Dog Is About to Give Birth?

Updated August 26, 2021

Signs a Dog Is Going Into Labor Soon

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.

Temperature Drop Predicts Labor

Keeping a daily chart of your dog's rectal temperature during the final week of pregnancy can help you determine when labor will begin. A dog's normal temperature is between 100 and 101 degrees Fahrenheit. Before labor, the temperature drops to about 97 degrees and remains 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 is 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.

Nesting Behavior Is a Sign of Dog Labor

Nesting behavior is another sign labor will soon begin, because dogs instinctively look for a safe place to deliver their pups. To help her, you can provide a low-sided box lined with newspaper and blankets. Your dog will thoroughly rumple this bedding into a makeshift nest in preparation for whelping.

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.

Loss of Appetite and Vomiting Precede Labor

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.

Milk Production Is An Early Sign

Not all females come into milk before they deliver their pups, but some do. 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. However, given the range of time it can take for a dog to start lactating before labor, this is one of the hardest signs to use.

Acts Lethargic and Tired

Many females spend a great deal of time resting prior to labor because carrying a litter saps 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 and Restlessness Are Big Signs Labor Has Begun

Anxiety over impending labor can give your dog a worried look when she senses delivery time is near. You may notice she furrows her brows, and her eyes may water slightly. 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. One of the best ways to help your dog when she is giving birth is simply to be there with love and encouragement.

Panting Is a Sign a Dog Is in Labor

How to tell when your dog is actually in labor? A pregnant dog panting while resting is almost a certain sign that labor has begun. Your dog will pant rapidly for periods and then pause for a few moments, only to begin again.

Shivering and Contractions Indicate Your Dog Is in Labor

The onset of shivering usually indicates the female's temperature is rising. At this point, you may notice her abdomen 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.

So, how long is a dog in labor? It can vary quite a bit depending on the individual dam, but this first stage of a dog's labor typically lasts two to three hours before she begins pushing that first pup out, and she may want to be very close to you until it's time to begin.

Begins Pushing

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. The female will focus on pushing and pay relatively little attention to anything else going on around her. You should not try to help her give birth, but if you notice any signs of distress, call your veterinarian.

Amniotic Sac Emerges

The fluid-filled amniotic sac begins to protrude from the vulva as the pup begins making its way through the birth canal. It may take several pushes before the pup and its placenta are fully delivered. Sometimes a placenta is retained, but it's usually pushed out before the next pup's arrival.

This brings up the issue of when you'll see the mother's water break. 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. If you see the bitch is bleeding a little at this point, it's natural.

Dogs don't bleed before labor unless there is some kind of complication, such as premature separation of a sac from the uterus, but it's not unusual for the mother to get a small tear in her vulva when pushing out the first pup. Most tears heal quickly on their own after the litter is delivered.

Subsequent Arrivals

Since there is 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.

Examples of Dog Labor Complications

Labor complications can occur at any point during the process. Sometimes a pup becomes stuck part way out of the birth canal, and it's necessary to grasp it with a towel and pull gently during the bitch's next contraction to help it out. If it's a breach birth where the head is the last part to emerge, you must be extra careful because it may be too large to pass through the pelvis. Swift veterinary intervention is needed in a case like this.

In some cases, a dam stops laboring altogether, and there is nothing you can or should do on your own to try to induce labor. This is another instance where you should call your vet and take your pregnant dog to the clinic. The vet can administer oxytocin to stimulate uterine contractions, but it may become necessary to deliver the pups by C-section if labor still fails to progress.

Delivery Completed

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 now 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.

How Do You Know When Your Dog Is About to Give Birth?