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Ten signs of labour in dogs

White beagle with her puppies advice

Puppies come one at a time, with 20-30 minutes between deliveries.

© Shutterstock

From your pregnant dog stopping eating to her starting to hide away, these are just two of the signs that mean she's ready to give birth.

By Dr Jo de Klerk, BVetMed (Hons) MScTAH MRCVS

Updated on the 30/09/2020, 13:55

There’s nothing more exciting for a dog lover than finding out your dog is pregnant after a successful, planned mating. As you prepare for your dog to give birth, it’s important to know the signs of labour in dogs so you can prepare for the arrival of those sweet little pups.

Dog pregnancy only lasts for 63 days – so there’s not long to get prepared. There are many signs that will indicate both the onset of labour and each stage of the labour process in dogs.

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The more you educate yourself about the signs of labour in dogs, the more you can help your dog through her birth and ensure a healthy, happy litter of puppies.

1. Her body temperature will drop

If you don’t have a doggy thermometer, now is the time to invest. One of the first signs of labour in dogs is a drop in rectal temperature from around 37.5-38.8C to under 37C. When this happens, you can expect the mother-to-be to start labour within the next day. Take your dog’s temperature as often as you can towards the end of your dog’s pregnancy.

2. She’ll stop eating

Don’t be concerned if your pregnant dog refuses her food in the last stages of pregnancy. This is an early sign of dog labour, although it doesn’t happen to every dog. You should continue to provide food and water even if she doesn’t eat it. Be prepared for labour to begin within the next day.

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3. She’ll hide away somewhere quiet

Some dogs may naturally try to hide away quietly before and during labour. You should have already arranged a whelping area in a quiet area for her to complete the birth. You might find that dimmed lights help keep her calm too.

Not all dogs are like this though – some might actually become clingy and crave your affection. Both situations are completely normal.

4. Vomiting may occur

It’s common for pregnant dogs to be sick just before or during labour. If your pooch is sick a couple of times, there’s no need to stress. Just clear it up and comfort her when she asks for attention.

But pregnant dogs who vomit excessively throughout labour may need medical help, so contact a vet if they seem to be constantly vomiting.

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5. Prepare for the whining

As your dog starts the labour process and the contractions start, she might begin to whine and appear uncomfortable. She is also likely to pant and pace around. Don’t worry too much about this – although it’s unsettling, it’s normal. After all, birth is as painful for them as it is for humans. This first stage of labour will last between 6 to 12 hours, possibly a little longer, until the cervix has completely dilated. At this point too, some dogs will crave the attention of their owners, while others will prefer to be left in peace. Follow her lead and give her what she wants.

6. You’ll see movement in her belly

One of the most telling signs of labour in dogs are the uterine contractions that occur, in order to allow the puppies to exit. Even if your dog is tolerating the pain well and isn’t whining, keep a close eye on her belly. You’ll be able to see rhythmic movements occur periodically.

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7. She might become irritable

Let’s face it, who wouldn’t become a little touchy during labour? Prepare to watch your dog appear restless and agitated. She might even become slightly aggressive towards people she’s not familiar with, so it’s best to have no visitors during this time.

8. Her genitals will swell

During the first stage of labour, before the puppies come out, her genitals will swell due to the increased pressure and blood flow in that region.

9. She will lick her genital area

At any time from the first stages of labour through to the moments before birth, you'll notice your dog excessively licking her back end. This is a natural behaviour that keeps the area clean from discharge, as well as calm any pain or inflammation in the area.

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10. She may begin to strain or squat

When she begins to pass puppies, this is known as the second stage of labour. This usually takes between three and 12 hours, but it can take longer. You will see stronger contractions and clear fluid from her vulva. She might squat or she might lie down; whichever she feels more comfortable with.

Puppies come one at a time, with 20-30 minutes between deliveries. But it’s normal for your dog to want to rest, so if there has been two hours with no puppies, and you know there are more in there, take your dog to the vet.

Puppies can be born either head first or tail first (breach) and that is completely normal, so don’t worry if some of the puppies come out backwards.

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When should I talk to a vet?

After the birth of each puppy has finished, your dog will pass the associated placenta. Keep track of how many placentas have passed, and if she’s eaten any, as there should be one for each puppy. She may pant or shiver during this stage, but this is normal and nothing to worry about. If you think she hasn’t passed all the placentas, she might need medical attention, as a retained placenta can lead to post-birth complications.

Another time you should take her to the vet is if the discharge turns from a clear or pale yellow, to green, brown or even blood. This could be either during labour or before labour. This means a placenta has separated inside. A puppy should be born within the next two hours otherwise your dog will need a caesarean.

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From exhaustion to cleaning up the puppies

Finally, if your dog has been straining heavily for over 30 minutes with no delivery of a puppy, or has been resting more than two hours without a birth of a pup, even though you know there are more in there, this might mean she is having problems or becoming exhausted. These are both situations where urgent veterinary care is needed.

After the birth has finished, and mum and pups have been cleaned up, give them a day or two to settle, then the whole new family should be taken to the vets for a check-up. Hopefully all will be fine, and you can begin on your exciting journey of raising a litter of puppies.

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