12 Signs a Dog is Going Into Labor Soon

Last Updated on April 27, 2023

Do you have puppies on the way? This is an exciting time, and we bet you can’t wait to meet your dog’s little ones.

You know the time is imminent, but how do you know exactly when your dog will be ready to give birth and welcome new life into the world? 

Pregnant English Bulldog
A pregnant English Bulldog

If this is your first puppy pregnancy, you might be wondering what the signs are that you need to keep an eye out for that will indicate that mommy is ready for labor to begin.

In this article, we will examine the different behaviors your dog might show before giving birth and what cues your pet will give you that her puppies are on the way.

What are the Common Signs Your Pregnant Dog is Ready to Give Birth?

While you won’t be able to predict the exact time and day that your dog will give birth before labor, some telltale signs will indicate that your dog is ready for the process to begin.

Here are twelve of the telltale signs that labor is about to begin.

However, before you begin reading, be sure to watch this video of a dog giving birth: 

1. Sudden Drop in Body Temperature (Rectal Temperature Drop)

A pregnant Jack Russell Terrier lying down
A pregnant Jack Russell experiencing a drop in body temperature

In the last week of pregnancy, your dog’s rectal temperature will indicate whether her puppies’ birth is imminent.

Your dog’s temperature should read between 100 and 101 degrees Fahrenheit (37.7 and 38.3 degrees Celsius) in normal circumstances. 

However, just before labor, this temperature will drop to around 98 degrees Fahrenheit (36.6 degrees Celsius).

If your thermometer reading remains consistently around this temperature for more than two days, it’s likely a sign that your dog is preparing for labor to begin.

Labor should begin less than 24 hours after the second low-temperature reading.

2. Nesting Behavior

Nesting behavior is one of the clear indicators that your dog is about to give birth.

Your dog will start to dig up pillows, duvets, and anything comfortable she can find as she begins to create a safe space to birth her puppies. 

You can create a safe environment for your dog before this by acquainting her with a nesting box, although there is no guarantee that when the time comes, she will use it.

3. Loss of Appetite or Vomiting

24-48 hours before labor begins, your dog may refuse to eat, or what she does eat may be vomited straight back up.

This happens when the puppies move into the birthing canal, putting pressure on your dog’s internal organs, such as the stomach and intestines. 

If your dog does start vomiting before or during labor, be sure to have plenty of water on hand, so she does not get dehydrated.

4. Large Bowel Movement

Due to the above-mentioned shifting of the puppies and pressure on the organs, your female dog may also have large bowel movements just before giving birth. 

5. Milk Production

A pregnant Jack Russell Terrier with breasts exposed
A Jack Russell whose body ready to produce some milk

Just like in humans, females provide milk to their little ones in the moments immediately following birth.

Dogs may start producing milk even before giving birth as their body prepares itself for the imminent arrival of offspring.

Your dog’s breasts and nipples may also appear swollen.

6. Lethargy and Constant Tiredness

Labor is a draining process, and your dog may spend a great deal of time resting before giving birth as she gears up for labor.

If your dog seems more sluggish than usual, she could be reaching the final days of her pregnancy.

7. Restlessness and Anxiety

If your dog can’t seem to get comfortable or keeps pacing up and down, she may be at the beginning point of labor.

Your dog may also instinctively cling to your side as she likely will want you around during the birthing process, and you must make yourself available to her needs.

8. Excessive Panting 

Dogs are known to pant excessively when they are physically exerting themselves, and a pregnant pup that is panting a lot may be going into labor soon, or in fact, labor may have already begun.

When dogs are in active labor, they often pant excessively in a cycle with many short breaths followed by small pauses.

9. Shivering

A pregnant Vizsla in a whelping box
Source: @2vizslagirls / IG

Your dog’s temperature will drop significantly in a couple of days before labor begins.

However, right before labor starts, the temperature will spike back up again, which could cause your dog to feel cold and may cause shivering.

Labor is now imminent or could have already started.

10. Contractions

Dogs, like humans, endure contractions that help them push the puppies out of the birthing canal.

You will be able to see these contractions take place as your dog’s stomach will go tense or may even ripple.

If your dog is experiencing contractions, then she is definitely in labor.

11. She Starts Pushing

Once labor begins, your dog will automatically want to start pushing.

This is a natural process, and your dog will know how to push without your help, although it can look like your dog is just trying to defecate.

Dogs will start pushing about 30 minutes before the first puppy arrives.

12. Emerging Amniotic Sac

If you are still unsure if your dog is in labor, you will be sure when you see the amniotic sac begin to emerge.

This large sac is filled with amniotic fluid and will begin to protrude from your dog as the puppies make their way out.

What Do I Need to Prepare for My Dog Giving Birth?

A pregnant Leonberger in a whelping box
Source: @sjobusens_bjornar / IG

If you know your dog is pregnant, there are some things that you can prepare so that you are all set when labor begins.

These include the following items:

  • A whelping box or den, also known as a nesting box
  • Blanket
  • Heat lamp
  • Bulb syringe
  • Baby scale in ounces
  • Canine milk replacement
  • Canine bottle feeder
  • Thermometer
  • Your veterinarian’s phone number

What Should You Do When the Whelping Starts?

A pregnant dog in a whelping box
A pregnant doggo whelping

Whelping is when your dog starts delivering puppies, and at this time, you’ll need to keep your phone close by if you need to contact the vet.

You’ll also want to give your vet the heads up that the puppies are on the way.

You’ll want to remain close to your dog so you can assist if needed but be sure also to give her the space she needs to make herself comfortable.

Her instincts should take over, and she shouldn’t need too much interference unless something goes wrong.

It would be best to watch that your dog removes the protective membrane from around the puppies within two minutes of delivery.

If this does not happen naturally, you can step in and help.

When You Should Call an Emergency Vet During the Signs of a Dog in Labor

A pregnant Cavalier King Charles Spaniel lying down
A pregnant Cavalier King Charles Spaniel ready to give birth

If you notice anything unusual about your dog’s birthing process or are not sure what to do, get in touch with your vet right away.

You’ll also want to contact your vet if your dog has had problems birthing puppies in the past or if she has been in labor for longer than 24 hours.

If there is more than one hour of labor between each arrival, you should also get in touch with the vet or if no puppies have arrived after three hours since labor began.

If it’s evident that your dog is in severe distress or pain, be sure to also get in touch with the vet. 

If the puppies are born stillborn or are not moving on arrival, you may also want to contact the vet.

What Should You Take Note About Repeat or Subsequent Arrivals?

A dog breastfeeding her litter
A mother dog, who just gave birth, breastfeeds her litter

Unlike humans, dogs give birth to multiples as the norm, which means that one birth will include a litter of several puppies, not just one individual baby.

However, there isn’t any way to tell exactly how many puppies you can expect, so you need to watch for individual puppies emerging when your dog is giving birth. 

With each puppy, the birthing process will begin again, with panting and pushing being the primary indicators that your dog is about to birth another pup.

Between these births, your dog will need to rest, which could be just a few minutes or even up to an hour.

What are the Complications with Canine Labor?

Just like human births, dogs can experience complications in labor. One of the most common complications is that a pup gets stuck mid-way through coming out.

You might need to assist in gently pulling the puppy out. You should wrap your hands in a towel first and pull gently with the contractions.

Another problem is a breach birth in which the feet come out before the head, causing the head to get stuck. This may require veterinary intervention.

Another complication can be that labor ceases too early before all the puppies have arrived. 

Again, you will likely need assistance from your vet as a cesarean section may be necessary, or your vet might administer medications to restart contractions.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

A pregnant Miniature Pinscher having an ultrasound
A pregnant Mini Pinscher visits the vet for an ultrasound

Do dogs have a discharge before labor?

Two to three days before your dog gives birth, you may notice a thick, clear mucus coming from your dog’s nether regions. At this time, she may also lose her appetite.

These are typical signs that labor is due to start. 

If your dog is discharging black, green, foul-smelling, or bloody mucus, this is not normal, and you should get in touch with your veterinarian right away.

As she is giving birth, she may discharge a green, dark substance which is the remnants of the placenta as it separates from the womb.

Do they leak before giving birth?

Like a human’s water breaks when she is giving birth, so might your dog’s. If you notice that your dog is leaking a clear fluid, it could signify that labor is about to start.

However, the water only breaks for many dogs when the dog is already starting to push the puppies out.

Do they usually give birth at night?

A Shih Tzu, who just gave birth, with her litter

Most animals, dogs included, tend to give birth at night. This is a biological instinct to protect the puppies from any lurking predators.

As your mommy dog doesn’t have any natural predators, she could also go into labor during the day.

How can you induce labor in your dog naturally?

If your dog is experiencing a difficult pregnancy, your vet may advise trying to induce labor. This is typically achieved by giving your dog oxytocin injections.

However, if you’re looking for a more natural, budget-friendly way of inducing labor, you can try rubbing your dog’s nipples to stimulate the hormones needed to bring on labor. 

Taking your dog on regular short walks could also induce labor, as could a gentle massage of the stomach muscles.

It’s best to consult your veterinarian before trying any of these methods at home. 

How to help her during labor? 

Although your dog technically doesn’t need any assistance to birth her puppies, you should be on hand if you need emergency intervention from a vet.

You may also need to tend to the puppies after birth if your mommy dog doesn’t show any interest in them. 

This could include cutting the umbilical cord, removing the membrane, rubbing them with a towel, and keeping them warm.

You can also get the puppies to latch on to their mummy to start drinking milk, or you may need to bottle feed them if this is not possible.

Your female dog may also need help urinating and walking around after labor.

Conclusion: Be Prepared For Your Dog’s Labor

Labor is a long process for dogs, just as it is for humans, and the body goes through several changes during the birthing process that will indicate that your female dog is ready for her new puppies to arrive. 

Unfortunately, several complications can arrive during the labor process, and you need to prepare for these with your vet’s emergency number on hand at all times.

Have you experienced the puppy birthing process firsthand? We would love to hear your story in the comments below.

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