Your dog is pregnant, which means puppies are on the way! Do you know the signs of labor? In this episode, we’re going over some of the common signs of labor so that you can help your dog when it’s time to deliver!
Dogs are pregnant for an average of 62 days, which is about 9 weeks. By about the 5th week, make sure you have everything you need to build a whelping kit for your dog. This will include a prepared, quiet area with a whelping box, clean towels, extra newspapers, a thermometer, and a stopwatch or clock to keep the time between puppies and the length of labor.
Start checking your dog’s temperature about 1 week before her due date at least twice a day. A normal range is between 101 to 102.5 degrees, but when delivery is near, it will drop to around 100.5. When it gets to around 98 degrees, whelping will begin within 12 to 24 hours. About 98% of dogs can deliver puppies with little or no assistance. It just depends on the number of litters they have whelped in the past, the individual dog, and their breed.
There are three stages of labor.
Stage 1 is the longest and can last from 6 to 18 hours. This stage includes the cervix dilating and uterine contractions. It can be as painful for dogs as it is for humans, so your dog may appear restless and uncomfortable. Other symptoms of this stage include shivering, panting, loss of appetite or refusal to eat, vomiting, and persistent whining. Try to get her to the whelping box and eliminate distractions and visitors. At the end of this stage, her cervix will be fully dilated and ready for the pups to arrive.
The second stage of labor is marked by more intense uterine contractions and active straining. The placental water sac that surrounds each puppy will break, and a yellow-green fluid will be passed along with placentas in between puppies, who should appear 10 to 30 minutes after intervals of forceful straining.
After the puppies are born, the mother will break the placenta sacs and lick the puppies to stimulate breathing and blood circulation, and chew umbilical cords. If she is doing this independently, it is best not to intervene since she is also learning the puppy’s scents and bonding with them. Don’t be surprised if she takes a break during labor. Some dogs will take 3 to 4 hour breaks in between whelping. If more than four hours have passed since the last puppy was whelped and you suspect there are still more, call a veterinarian for help.
Once all the puppies are born, the mother will pass any remaining fluids. After that, make sure the puppies find their way to their first meal. Their first milk is known as colostrum which is full of rich antibodies and nutrients that will give the puppies an immunity boost. Offer the mother a small meal, some water, and see if she wants to go outside for the bathroom, then leave her to care for her pups. Call your vet the day after delivery to schedule a checkup for your dog and the puppies and get registration papers in order! It’s better to get this taken care of now when the demands on you are less than what they will be in the weeks to come. Keep record sheets for each puppy's information and weekly health logs to track their progress.
No two labors are the same, so if at any point you have concerns about your dog, contact your local vet. Read more about Signs of Labor here. Good luck, and congratulations on bringing new litters of puppies into the world!