Do you recognize the symptoms of your dog’s approach to delivery? Find out how to know if your dog is in labor.
How to Know if Your Dog is in Labor
And then the time has come for your dog to go into labor. Although the gestation period in dogs is on average 63 days, the gestation period can vary between 57 and 72 days. It is often stated that the gestation period depends on the litter size.
The gestation period would be shorter with larger litters of puppies and longer with a smaller litter of puppies. We do not share this statement from experience! That’s why it’s a good idea to keep a close eye on your pregnant bitch to see if she’s getting ready to give birth.
Key facts at a glance:
What are the symptoms of an impending delivery
We can best divide the symptoms of an impending delivery in a dog into three phases. The preparation phase, the dilation phase, and the expulsion phase.
1. Preparation phase of labor in dogs
The preparation phase for labor can differ per dog. Most dogs will dig. They try to make a hole by digging in the garden or in the whelping box. The bitch will not do this digging continuously but with some intervals in between. For us, digging is a sign that the puppies are on the way, and from that moment on we never lose sight of the bitch.
That does not mean that we are constantly with the mother dog, but quite the opposite!
Dogs behave differently when you are there and that is why we always have a camera in a separate room indoors where the whelping box is located. This way we can keep a close eye on what the bitch is doing without disturbing her. It is very important that the bitch can prepare for the delivery in peace.
During the preparation phase, you will see a clear behavioral change. In addition to digging, symptoms that labor is imminent include:
- Looking back at the flanks
- Licking the vulva
- Stop eating
Although it is clear that the dog is in the preparation phase, it is not possible to say exactly how long this phase will last. In bitches that have to give birth for the first time, these signs can start well in advance, sometimes even 35 hours before the actual delivery. Also, no preparation phase is the same. It is therefore not said that your bitch will actually show all these signs.
A more reliable way is to measure the temperature of the bitch. Start taking her temperature on day 55 of gestation. Measure the temperature twice a day. The first time in the morning half an hour before walking and the second time in the evening half an hour before walking. Try to do this at set times.
When you notice that her temperature drops by 1 to 2 degrees, the delivery will take place within 24 hours. The greater the observed difference, the more precisely you can determine when the dog will give birth. This is because the lowest temperature measured is observed 8 hours before delivery.
Some people rely on the mammary glands and the start of milk production to determine when labor will start. We think this is a very unreliable symptom as in some cases this is the case even 7 days before delivery.
What to do during the preparation phase
Make sure the temperature in the nursery is approximately 32 degrees. The number 1 cause of death in newborn puppies is low body temperature. Unfortunately, this is very often underestimated! Puppies cannot properly regulate their own body temperature and, certainly shortly after birth, cannot find a warm spot quickly enough.
When they get older, you can slowly lower the temperature. If they get cold, they look for a place under the heat lamp themselves or they crawl very closely to each other. This also shows you when it is too cold in the whelping box.
Also, make sure that the bitch can drink unlimited water! Especially when the bitch is panting a lot in this phase, it is important that clean drinking water is always available.
2. Dilation phase of labor in dogs
The dilation phase starts when the contractions begin, but this is not yet visible to inexperienced breeders. This is because the first contractions are not yet strong and the mother dog is not pushing.
Although the first contractions are not yet visible, all kinds of things happen in the bitch. These contractions cause the cervix to stretch. This may cause some thick, clear to milky outgrowth to be visible at the vulva.
What is visible is that the symptoms that occurred during the preparation phase are expanded with the symptoms below.
- Body temperature drops by 1 to 2 degrees
- Breathing becomes faster
- Bitch may vomit
- Wanting to urinate/defecate often (stools can be a bit thin)
What to do during the dilation phase
In this phase, it is important that you keep an even closer eye on the bitch. Many bitches like it when you are present. In fact, we believe that the bitches can wait to give birth until the owner is present.
Many vets say that the bitch cannot postpone the delivery, however, it is quite coincidental that the expulsion phase often only starts when we sit quietly in the whelping box with the bitch. We know this phenomenon not only in dogs but also in horses, we have experienced several times that when we quietly went to have a look in the stable, the expulsion phase began.
Either way, it’s a good idea to sit with your bitch. Remember that there must be complete rest in the delivery room! So don’t keep trying to run away and come back. Also, make sure you are alone with the bitch and keep away other curious ones. As fun and interesting as it all is, it is really important that there is peace and that the bitch has confidence in one person.
3. Expulsion phase of labor in dog
During the expulsion phase, you will see the dog holding her tail up or to the side to create more space in the pelvic cavity. She will also push with the contractions. The pushing along is a reflex caused by a puppy arriving in the pelvis of the bitch.
Most bitches will lie down during contractions, but we also saw a bitch who did the entire delivery standing up. When the amniotic fluid has broken, the first puppy will be born within a few hours.
Note that if the amniotic fluid is somewhat green in color and no puppy is born within an hour, you call the vet for advice.
What to do during the expulsion phase
The best advice we can give during the expulsion phase is to stay calm. If you stay calm, your dog will in most cases be too. It is also useful to write down what is happening. In the unlikely event that you have to contact the vet, it is nice when you know exactly at what time something happened.
For example, the vet will ask how long the dog has been in contractions and how much time is between contractions. Keep everything as accurate as possible.
When to Call the Vet
Although most deliveries go smoothly, complications can arise during the delivery. Below is an overview of when you should contact the vet:
- If delivery starts before the 59th day of pregnancy.
- If the delivery has not started after the 64th day.
- If the bitch is pushing vigorously for more than 20 minutes to no avail.
- When the bitch barely squeezes for two hours.
- When there are more than 3 hours between two puppies without result.
- If there is an extremely large amount of blood from the vulva.
- With smelly discharge from the vulva. It is normal for there to be some red, brown, or green bleeding. The smell is especially important. Call the vet immediately if it stinks.
- When you are unsure about something. A good veterinarian does not mind if you ask for advice.
- When the bitch does not want to accept the puppies.
The information given is not intended as a guide for self-diagnosis and treatment of animal diseases. Pet owners should always ask a veterinarian for advice if their animal has health problems. Diagnoses over the Internet are not possible.