Signs & symptoms of labor in a dog

Updated April 13, 2018

Labor in dogs takes between 9 and 18 hours on average, according to the "Clinical Textbook for Veterinary Technicians." In some cases, it can take up to 60 hours--2 1/2 days. A common misconception holds that labour begins when contractions are evident, but labour technically begins when a dog starts showing signs and symptoms of the impending births and not when contractions begin. Speak to a licensed veterinary professional if you are concerned about your dog's pregnancy or feel complications are present.


At the beginning of labour, bitches may show signs of restlessness. Pacing back and forth, whining and the inability to stay still all present when a dog is about to give birth. Before labour begins, dogs show nesting behaviours, including gathering blankets, in preparation for the birth of their puppies. Nervousness, anxiety, panting, lack of appetite and shaking or shivering may be present, according to the "Clinical Textbook for Veterinary Technicians."


In 85 per cent of dogs, the average body temperature drops to 37.2 degrees Celsius 24 hours before labour begins. This is a strong indicator that whelping is close and is directly linked to the drop in progesterone in the dog's body. A dog's normal temperature ranges from 37.7 to 39.1C, so it is important to be vigilant about taking the dog's temperature at the same time each day to get a sense of what is normal. Heavy activity, stress or illness may also cause a dog's temperature to deviate from the normal range, so take the dog's temperature at the same time every day before any activity occurs, states the "Clinical Textbook for Veterinary Technicians."

Physical Signs

Milk production begins 24 hours before giving birth, according to the "Clinical Veterinary Advisor." The dog's labia and vulva become enlarged and soften in texture. Vaginal discharge turns thick and turns green or greenish black a few hours before delivery occurs. Contractions usually begin after the vaginal discharge turns green and increase in severity. Each puppy is delivered individually, taking between 20 and 60 minutes per pup with no more than 2 hours between each delivery.


Dogs experiencing complicated labour, dystocia, show strong, continual contractions for 30 or more minutes without an escalation in intensity. Contractions that appear on and off for two hours or more are also indicators that a dog may be having a problematic labour experience. A long interval of more than two hours between the delivery of pups is also a strong indication that veterinary assistance is needed.

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About the Author

Elizabeth Tumbarello has been writing since 2006, with her work appearing on various websites. She is an animal lover who volunteers with her local Humane Society. Tumbarello attended Hocking College and is pursuing her Associate of Applied Science in veterinary technology from San Juan College.