How to Tell if Your Canine Is Going Into Labor

Choose a nesting spot for your dog when she's expecting.

Choose a nesting spot for your dog when she's expecting.

Although you don’t necessarily need to play an active role in delivering your dog’s puppies, you should be aware of when your dog will likely go into labor. That way, you can help your dog prepare and be there for her if she does need you.

Notice whether your dog’s appetite diminishes. This typically occurs several days before labor. She will also begin to act restless and become more sedentary a few days before.

Look at your dog’s belly. A few days before labor it will become more distended, and you won’t be able to detect fetal movement as much.

Take your dog’s temperature. Do this by inserting a thermometer into the rectum about 1 inch. Wait one to two minutes for a reading. Do this three times a day -- at the same time each day -- and record the results. About 12 hours to 24 hours before productive labor begins, the dog’s temperature will drop from 101.5 F, which is normal, to between 98 F and 100 F. If your dog doesn’t go into labor within 24 hours after the temperature drop, call your veterinarian.

Look for a green vaginal discharge called lochia. This means contractions have begun. The first pup could arrive in a few hours.

Watch your dog to see how she acts at her nesting site. If she scratches and digs, turns around, lies down and repeats the routine, labor is nearing. About all you can do at this point is be there and provide water in case she wants it.

Notice whether she is panting, pacing, whining and licking her genitals. The time is almost here. You might also see the mucus plug, which is a clear vaginal discharge, escape.

Watch as your dog lies on her side or squats as if she is trying to defecate. The puppies will soon be born. The delivery process can take one hour to 24 hours to complete; a usual delivery takes four to six hours to complete. But if labor takes place for four hours with no puppies born, call your veterinarian. It typically takes 45 minutes to 60 minutes to birth one pup, with 10 to 30 minutes of straining. If she strains for more than an hour, call your vet.

Items you will need

  • Thermometer
  • Cardboard box
  • Blankets
  • Towels
  • Washcloth


  • When your dog shows the first signs of labor, make sure she stays in the nesting area. Spend time with her there. She probably will welcome you and family members; she might not want strangers around.
  • Choose a nesting place for your dog in a quiet place; otherwise, she might choose your bed or some other place unacceptable to you. A good nesting place could be a cardboard box filled with blankets or towels.
  • Some pups are born tail-first.
  • The mother should lick each pup to ensure they can breathe. Step in to help only if there are problems. You would then remove the membrane and dry the pup using a washcloth. This should stimulate the pup to breathe.


  • Call your vet if your dog experiences extreme pain.
  • Your dog might need to urinate or defecate during the delivery process. Monitor her when she does in case she starts giving birth at the same time.
  • You probably don’t need to help the delivery along, says Dan Rice in The Complete Book of Dog Breeding. If you insert yourself in what is the mother’s role, you might sabotage normal mother/pup bonding.

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About the Author

Laura Agadoni has been writing professionally since 1983. Her feature stories on area businesses, human interest and health and fitness appear in her local newspaper. She has also written and edited for a grassroots outreach effort and has been published in "Clean Eating" magazine and in "Dimensions" magazine, a CUNA Mutual publication. Agadoni has a Bachelor of Arts in communications from California State University-Fullerton.

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