A dog going into labor is an incredibly intense moment. On the one hand, there’s nothing more beautiful than the miracle of birth (when you’re not the one going through hours of labor, anyway).
Meanwhile, even if you aren’t stuck with hours of pushing and pain, if it’s your dog that’s just gone into labor, you’ll need to help it.
Of course, to do that you’ll need to be prepared, and so to keep you from being caught off guard, you’ll want to know what signs to look for and what to do when the big moment comes.
Loss of Appetite and/or Vomiting
Morning sickness can be a sign of pregnancy in humans, the same holds true for dogs. Oftentimes, a dog that is expecting will stop eating about a day or two before going into labor. On the other hand, if she does eat, she may throw up. (As such, if your dog is close to the delivery date and eats, you should be prepared to clean up vomit and plan accordingly.)
In addition, expecting dogs sometimes have large bowel movements before giving birth. This is due to a buildup of pressure as she prepares to give birth.
Once again, you’ll want to prepare for this eventuality. For example, unless you want to have them spoiled forever, letting an expecting dog near your couch, carpet, or other nice elements of your décor is a very bad idea.
A dog’s natural temperature is typically somewhere around 100 to 102 degrees Fahrenheit. Before dogs start to go into labor, their temperature will start to drop down to about 97 degrees. The easiest way of determining if your dog’s temperature has dropped is by measuring it via rectal thermometer. (Given that a rectal thermometer is as unfun for your dog as it is for you, “easy” is a relative term here.)
This could just be an anomaly, so you’ll want to take two readings about 12 hours apart. Of course, by the time you take the second reading, your dog could start to be exhibiting other signs. Regardless, if your dog’s temperature is around that level two readings in a row, chances are your dog will go into labor in around 24 hours.
On a related note, shivering due to fluctuations in its temperature can be another sign of your dog preparing for labor. This shivering could be the prelude to the earliest contractions. If you think this may be happening, place your hands gently over either side of its abdomen. If your dog is experiencing contractions, the stomach should feel hard, and it will relax once the contraction passes.
When you think of “nesting,” you probably think of animals that actually build nests, such as birds. However, dogs can exhibit nesting behavior ahead of their delivery as well. This usually starts about a week or so before they give birth.
It should go without saying that pregnancy and labor are exhausting, and so it shouldn’t come as a surprise if your dog starts to be a bit lethargic in the final few days before its delivery. Granted, there are plenty of reasons why a dog might be lethargic, but if your dog has been even more so in the past day or two, labor could be right around the corner.
This should probably go without saying, but if a female dog is starting to lactate, that’s a strong indication that it is getting ready to go into labor. After all, what else would that milk be for? Your dog is getting ready to feed her pups, which means that pups are already present – or on the way.
However, it is also worth noting that not all dogs begin to lactate before delivering their pups. However, if they do, they will likely exhibit swollen breasts and extended nipples, something they share with other mammals. They may even leak a bit right before they go into labor. However, it can also happen well before labor, and it isn’t as reliable a method of dating it as other methods.
If you notice clear fluid coming from your dog’s vagina, it may be a sign that your dog’s water has broken. However, this has less predictive value for figuring out when your dog is going into labor than other points, since it happens so close to delivery. That said, you may notice clear mucus about two to three days before your dog goes into labor.
However, if the liquid isn’t clear but is green, black, blood, or foul-smelling, this is a sign that something is very wrong with your dog and you should consult a vet immediately.
One exception to this is if you notice the placenta separating from the room. This can result in natural green discharge. That said, if there is no puppy within four hours, it’s likely a sign of a problem.
Anxiety and Restlessness
One of the biggest signs that your dog might be ready to go into labor is that it will start becoming restless or looking anxious. The dog can furrow its brows, its eyes can water, and it can start to become very attached to you and not want to leave your side.
How You Can Help
If your dog is engaging in nesting behavior, you can help it build their “nest” and make your dog comfortable. Provide your dog with a box or cushioned area with blankets and lining. Newspapers can be good for the latter. It can provide a bit of cushioning while still being light enough for your dog to shift around while whelping.
One of the best things you can do is also one of the easiest. If your dog is hugging your side and won’t leave you alone while pregnant, hug your dog right back and give it love and attention. Your dog is feeling needy given the stress of the situation, and your compassion could really help it.
Try and prevent your dog from eating the placenta, as it may then vomit it up later. If the dog does not remove the membrane, you will need to help it do so.
All of these can help you determine when your dog is about to give birth, allowing you to prepare for it.
However, all of these signs a dog is going into labor soon focus on the physical side of things. Taking care of puppies takes a lot of mental and emotional energy as well, from you as well as your dog. Take the time to prepare for that as well – and get ready for one of the most incredibly moving experiences you can imagine.