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Dog Pregnancy and Signs of Labour in Dogs

8 min read

We can’t think of anything more exciting than finding out your dog is expecting! As dog pregnancy only last for around 2 months, you can look forward to bundles of fur filling your home very soon!

When your dog is pregnant, you may find yourself wondering “how do dogs give birth?”. You don’t have to panic as the due date approaches - dog labours are usually much less dramatic than ours, and your pet should be able to bring the puppies into the world without any worries. Mum should be more than capable, but keep her company during labour in case your dog runs into any complications.

Speak to your vet if you have any concerns about pregnancy in dogs or about your dog giving birth. Their advice should help to put your mind at rest. Here are some helpful tips from our PetCare Team to help you be as prepared as possible for when your pet becomes a new mum.


Preparing your dog for the birth

Build a nest

Mum will want a private place in your home where they can relax and give birth to the puppies in peace, so build a ‘nest’ in the last two weeks of your dog’s pregnancy.

An ideal nest for dogs giving birth is a large cardboard box lined with puppy pads (in case of accidents), and filled with clean blankets, sheets or towels. Make sure the box is big enough for both mum and the litter to fit comfortably inside, and allow mum room for their own space if your dog wants it. You’ll also have to make sure the box is tall enough to stop any adventurous puppies escaping!

Place the nest in a quiet spot at room temperature, where they won’t be disturbed and can stay cosy. Adding your dog's own bedding or toys to the nest (as long as they are clean) can encourage your pet to use it, and will make the soon-to-be mum feel at home before the birth.

Have help on hand

Your dog’s labour should go smoothly, but it’s useful to have help on hand to keep them calm and in case your dog runs into any complications.

Get hold of your vet's out-of-hours phone number prior to your dog giving birth, as delivery often happens during the night. Let your vet know your dog’s due date (if they don’t know already), so they know when to be on stand-by. If mum does have problems delivering the puppies you may need to take them into the vet, so make sure that you have access to transport.

In case mum does need a helping hand, have nail scissors and several clean, dry towels nearby during the birth. If the litter is a large one, you may also need an extra basket to ensure you have plenty of room for the new born puppies!

If you do move the puppies away from mum, you’ll need to help them to stay warm. We recommend using a microwaveable beanie bag instead of a hot water bottle, as their sharp teeth and claws can cause punctures.

What are the signs of dog labour: Know the 10 signs of dog labour to look out for

Drop in temperature

Your dog’s temperature is one of the early signs of labour to pay attention to. One of the first signs of impending labour in dogs is a drop in mum’s body temperature from 38.5°C to 37°C – labour usually begins around 12-24 hours after that.

To know when this happens, take your dog’s temperature twice a day with a rectal thermometer throughout the final week of pregnancy. If you’re unsure how, ask your vet to show you. If you find that taking her temperature is causing your dog stress, then stop. You need to help your dog to stay as calm as possible at this time.


During the final week of dog pregnancy, mums-to-be may be a little restless and seclude themselves in a quiet area. A loss of appetite and scrabbling in her bedding is common in the 12-24 hours before their goes into labour.

Changes in nesting behaviour

Very occasionally, your dog may move the nest that you made for them to another area of the house. If this happens, try not to move it from the preferred location if possible.


Nausea and vomiting in dogs are other labour signs you might notice. Make sure your pet has plenty of water available to avoid dehydration.

Loss of appetite

A lack of interest in their food might also point to an imminent labour. Here are other reasons why your dog might lose their appetite.


Shivering can be a sign your dog is in pain and the labour has started. This is normal and you should do your best to comfort the pet during this time. Find out more about shivering and trembling in dogs with our article.


Panting is another way a dog in labour will let you know they are in pain and the contractions have started.


Pregnant dogs can be more lethargic than usual, but you will notice a drop in their energy levels close to the time they will get into labour.


You will know your dog is in labour as soon as contractions begin. Look out for a hardened abdomen. You might even be able to feel the contraction by placing your hands gently on their stomach. 

The start of milk production

Some dogs will start producing milk before they give birth. If their breasts have become hardened, this is another indication that they will get into labour soon.


"Hopefully your dog’s birth will go smoothly, but it’s always best to be prepared in case the unexpected happens."


The stages of dog labour and delivery

In general, dog births are normally straightforward and don’t often involve complications. Although you should interfere as little as possible, it’s still important to be with your dog giving birth so that you can support her and step in if there are any problems. Labour normally lasts 3-12 hours, and happens in three stages.

Helping your dog during delivery

Hopefully you shouldn’t have to intervene during your dog’s labour, but occasionally mum may need a bit of help. There are a handful of scenarios where you might need to step in.

  • One pup might need help whilst mum is in the middle of delivering another. In this case, clear the sac that the puppy is in, and quickly dry them against the grain of their fur with a clean cloth. This rubbing motion will also encourage the pup to take their first breath.
  • If mum hasn’t cleaned a puppy, they may have fluid in their airways. Pop your clean little finger inside their mouth to scoop anything out and wipe their nose. Rub them with a towel to encourage them to cry, as this will clear any fluid that they may have swallowed.
  • If mum is preoccupied delivering another puppy, you may have to help her cut the umbilical cord of an earlier born puppy. To do this, tie a knot using heavy thread approximately one inch from where the cord attaches to the pup’s body. Tie another knot a little further from the first, and use clean scissors to cut the cord between the two knots. Cutting too close to the pup’s body can risk its health, and leaving it too long could lead to it being chewed or swallowed by mum.

Warning signs for dog labour problems

Luckily, most dog labours are not as dramatic as ours. Your dog should be more than capable of handling giving birth by herself, but complications can occasionally occur. Contact your vet if:

  • Mum fails to go into labour within 24 hours of her temperature dropping. The lowered dog labour temperature is usually a sign that the puppies are on their way, so if they don’t come, something might be wrong.
  • Despite strong contractions for 20-30 minutes, your bitch has failed to produce a puppy. Contact your vet, and be prepared to take any puppies already born with you if you go to the surgery.
  • No puppy is born within four hours of your bitch passing a green or red/brown vaginal discharge (after two hours, be prepared to call the vet).
  • More than two hours pass with your bitch resting or having only weak contractions between pups, and you know there are more inside.
  • You can see a puppy at the vulval entrance but although your bitch is straining, it fails to deliver.
  • Your dog has been in second stage labour for more than 12 hours (second stage is when puppies are being born).

What to expect after your dog gives birth

When you are sure that labour has finished, and that everyone is healthy and happy, get mum something to eat and drink. Give your dog the normal puppy food they have had throughout pregnancy, as they’ll need something that’s gentle on their stomach.

Chocolate labrador next to food and water bowls

Try to help your dog go outside for fresh air and to go to the toilet – this might be tough to do straight away. Remove and replace anything that has been soiled during delivery, and then give the new family some quiet, quality time together.

Warning signs after your dog’s labour and delivery

Hurrah – your new arrivals are here! It’s a very exciting time for you and your pet, but you should still be vigilant as problems can still happen after labour. Keep an eye on the proud new mum, and contact the vet if any of these dog labour problems appear.

A few hours after the dog’s labour

  • Your bitch has not passed all the placentas you would expect (there should be as many as there are puppies).
  • Your bitch shows signs of twitching, nervousness, restlessness and a stiff, painful gait, or seizures, which may be a sign of a calcium deficiency called hypocalcaemia.
  • She has a fever, is unwell with a loss of appetite, is listless or lacks interest in the puppies. Any of these could indicate an infection within her uterus.
  • Your bitch continues to strain after producing all the puppies you were expecting.

A few days after your dog has given birth

  • She has a fever, is unwell with a loss of appetite, is listless or lacks interest in the puppies. Any of these could indicate an infection within her uterus.
  • Her mammary glands are red, firm and painful, or discharge from her nipples is smelly, brown or bloody.
  • Your bitch is unwell in any other way, not eating, depressed, has diarrhoea or is losing weight.
  • She has a foul-smelling or very bloody vaginal discharge (blackish/reddish discharge is normal for the first few weeks after birth).

A few weeks after the dog’s labour

•    More than one of her puppies dies or you are concerned about the wellbeing of others.
•    Any of her puppies appear depressed or reluctant to feed. This is known as ‘fading’ puppies.

For more helpful advice, make sure to also read our easy guide Dog birth and labour problems to look out for.