Knowing what signs to look for when your pregnant dog is close to labour can alleviate some of the anxiety and stress felt by worried dog owners. Educating yourself about canine pregnancy not only will prepare you for what normally happens when dogs give birth, but will allow you to know when your dog is in distress and needs immediate veterinary care. Being able to recognise when your mother dog is having contractions will give you both advanced warning of what is to come and time to make her more comfortable.
Begin monitoring your pregnant dog 58 days after her first breeding. Normal gestation in dogs runs to 63 days but can be anywhere from 58 to 68 days depending on the day of conception. Your dog can begin having contractions any time within this time period.
Take your dog's temperature with a rectal thermometer twice a day at the same time about five days prior to the delivery date. Her normal temperature should be between 38.3 degrees C and 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit. When her temperature drops to 36.6 or 37.2 degrees C, she will go into labour and begin having contractions within 24 hours.
Watch your mother dog for signs of anxiety, panting, pacing and restless behaviour. She may stop eating and possibly vomit. As she begins having minor contractions and enters the first stage of labour, she will start "nesting"--finding a comfortable place to have her puppies and possibly dragging clothes or towels to make her bed.
Observe your pregnant dog for visible contractions and signs of straining. Now entering the second stage of labour, her abdomen will tense and harden at regular intervals and it may look like she is trying to defecate. She should give birth to her first puppy one to two hours after the onset of "hard" labour.
Have your veterinarian examine the mother dog several weeks before the due date. Allow him to draw blood work to see if all of her organs are functioning properly and perform abdominal radiographs or an ultrasound to determine the number of puppies in her womb. The fetal skeletons will have mineralised around day 45 of the pregnancy and will be able to be seen on an X-ray. Set up a "whelping box"--a large box filled with washable blankets or towels--one to two weeks before the expected birth. Make sure it is in a warm, draft-free, secluded area and introduce your pregnant dog to the box so that she can become acclimated to it before she goes into labour.
If your dog fails to deliver a puppy within one to two hours of going into hard contractions, the situation constitutes a veterinary emergency and she will need veterinary assistance. There may be a resting period after the first puppy is born that can last up to four hours before contractions resume for the next delivery. If the resting period lasts longer than four hours, veterinary treatment is essential. Several puppies can be born in rapid succession with the placenta delivered after each birth. If the mother fails to deliver the same number of placentas as puppies, and one of the placentas is retained in the uterus, she can become septic and possibly die.