How Do I Know When My Dog Is Ready to Give Birth?

Kelly Roper
Very pregnant dog

Be There When It Counts

Your dog is pregnant, and you may even know her potential due date, but spotting when she's about to have her puppies can help you be there for her when she needs you most. A few simple signs and one sure-fire prediction method can help you determine when your dog is about to go into labor.

Rectal thermometer

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 you're looking for. Once this happens, labor will commence within 24 hours.

Dog in proper whelping bed with pups

Nesting Behavior

Nesting behavior is another sign labor will soon begin since dogs instinctively look for a safe place to deliver their pups. If you 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. This image shows a mom and pups in a proper whelping environment.

Pregnant dog refusing to eat

Refuses to Eat

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.

Dog ready to nurse pups

Milk Production

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.

Pregnant dog laying and resting prior to labor

Acts Lethargic

Many females spend a great deal of time resting prior to labor since 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.

Pregnant dog looking anxious

Looks Anxious

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.

Pregnant dog panting

Begins Panting

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.

Pregnant dog in owner's lap

Shivering and Contractions

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. This phase can last for several hours, and she may want to be very close to you until it's time to begin pushing.

Dog getting ready to push

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.

Amniotic sack emerging before a puppy

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.

Inspecting a new puppy

Subsequent Arrivals

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.

Dog with her new litter

Delivery Completed

Once your dog delivers the last pup, she will settle down and begin caring for her litter. 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 taken care of, it's your job to take care of her needs and let her manage the pups with as little interference as possible during that first week. If all goes well, you'll have a happy and healthy litter.

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How Do I Know When My Dog Is Ready to Give Birth?