Understanding The Stages of Dog Labor

Updated on March 23, 2016
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Adrienne is a former veterinary hospital assistant, certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, and author of "Brain Training for Dogs."


If you have bred your dog and all is proceeding well, you should be anxiously expecting puppies within 60 to 63 days on average. As those days near, it's very normal to feel a bit on edge, and the best way to put your mind at ease is by learning as much as possible about what to expect. It's imperative, therefore, to familiarize yourself as much as you can with the canine birthing process and acknowledge the number of things that may go wrong.

By recognizing potential problems early, you will be able to be better prepared to face them, heightening your chances for a safe delivery. Learn more about the whole birthing time frame for your dog from the first stages of labor up to delivery, and learn how to recognize the potential complications. Because each breed of dog is prone to different complications, and each dog is ultimately unique in the birthing and whelping process, it's best to expect the unexpected, and preparedness is the ultimate key for the successful upbringing of litters of healthy puppies.

Time Frame for A Dog's Normal Birthing Process

As whelping day nears, you want to start getting ready for the big event. Make sure your veterinarian is aware of the estimated date your dam will be whelping. You want to ensure he will be available in case of need. You should have a back-up plan in case the big day happens to be on a Sunday or in the late evening or early morning hours. Make sure you know of an animal emergency center open when all veterinarian offices are closed. You don't want to be frantically searching for an open veterinarian office open in the middle of the night losing precious minutes when every second counts! Keep all those numbers handy in your phone book or attach them to your fridge with a magnet.

A Week Prior:

A week prior to the estimated big birthday, it's a good idea to clip your dog's hair around the belly and rear, literally from tail to ankles. This will help prevent getting her coat stained with birth fluids which are known for being almost impossible to remove, especially in light-colored dogs. If you are unable to, or unwilling to clip the whole tail, the next best option would be to wrap the tail using vet wrap right when the whelping process starts.

On Day 57:

At day 57 you want to start taking your dam's temperature. Invest in a good digital thermometer and take the temperature rectally twice a day, morning and evening. A normal reading in dogs is a temperature ranging between 101 to 102 degrees. Generally, a few days prior to giving birth, a dog's temperature will drop and be around the 100-degree mark, fluctuating but generally not going below 99 or above 101. A good indication that whelping day is less than 24 hours away is a rectal temperature recording below 99. You need good timing on catching this temperature since the temperature will resume to 101 degrees just before whelping. Keeping a graph of any fluctuations may be helpful. Call you vet immediately if your dog registers a temperature above 102 degrees, or as low as three degrees lower than your dam's normal temperature.

First Stage of Labor:

Your dog may suffer from loss of appetite on whelping day. Some dams will regurgitate their earlier meal and act lethargic, often sleeping deeply more than usual. The whelping mother will then go through occasional minor contractions for several hours, before active labor with intense contractions take place. You will notice your dog panting rapidly, moving restlessly, whining and sleeping deeply during the first stage of labor. Veterinarian Kris Nelson claims that some dams will have small contractions that are mostly not visible and will look at their sides as if saying: ''What is happening to me?'' At this moment you may be wondering ''How long should a dog be in labor for?" Generally, you should contact your vet if stage one of labor goes on for eight hours or longer without progressing to stage two.

Second Stage of Labor:

Your dog will likely start panting heavily and appear highly alert at this stage. The contractions will be visible when she enters the second stage of labor. Usually, at this stage, a puppy should be delivered within fifteen minutes of active straining. At this point, a grayish-blue slimy looking sac should emerge from the dam's birth canal. This sac contains the puppy and should be expelled within a second or third contraction. Following the puppy, the mother will expel the placenta, which is commonly known as the ''afterbirth''. Your dam may eat the placenta and then eat the sac, tearing it from around the puppy. If this is the case, you must intervene and help the mother by manually tearing the sac from the puppy's head to allow the puppy to breath. Do this within 30 seconds after birth, keeping the puppy always near mom.

Eating the placenta is instinctual, since it removes evidence of birth to prevent attracting predators. However, the placenta also contains nutrients that turn out helpful during a time of strenuous and costly effort. Among the nutrients are some that help maintain strong contractions, explains breeder, exhibitor and trainer Beth J. Finder in her book ''Breeding a Litter''. Eating the placentas however remains a controversial topic. Some breeders highly recommend it, while some veterinarians claim they may cause intestinal obstructions or diarrhea. Whichever choice you make, ensure your dog has expelled one placenta per puppy.

The dam should then gnaw on the umbilical cord. It may help to keep one or two fingers between the puppy's abdomen and your dam's mouth, to prevent her from cutting it too short. If this does not happen, you can clamp the umbilical cord with sterilized hemostats just two inches from the abdomen. You should have time to clamp the umbilical cords as needed, since puppies generally arrive anywhere from a few minutes to an hour apart.

Often puppies are born with amniotic fluids in their lungs which causes them to inhale the fluids. To help these pups, hold them at a head-down angle and using a pediatric syringe insert the tube in the pup's mouth and withdraw the fluids so the puppy can breath. Shaking the puppy down to clear its airways may be necessary.

Don't forget about mom! Being in labor for 6 to 10 hours can be quite strenuous, Angie Meroshnekoff suggests keeping a tub of vanilla ice cream handy, to feed to her when she is halfway through giving birth. The sugar supplementation should give her an energy burst to keep her going!

Stage Three of Labor:

In giant breeds, it may be difficult to tell when the whelping process has finished. The puppies are small compared to the dam's deep chest and heavy abdomen, explains veterinarian Dan Rice, in the book ''The Complete Book of Dog Breeding''. During stage three of labor, any retained placentas are delivered. This is why it is important to have a veterinarian perform x-rays or ultrasound imaging to ensure no puppy or placenta is retained. If not, a retained puppy or placenta may result in a serious potentially fatal infection.

The puppies should be nursing as soon as possible after delivery. They need the colostrum, which is rich of maternal immune system boosters, only produced for a short period of time. If a puppy is not nursing, directing it to the source of milk may be helpful. However, a puppy can can go one or two hours without nursing and still be healthy, adds Beth J. Finder. Once nursing and receiving the nurturing colostrum, puppies should grow pretty fast and weighing them may be the best way to track their growth.

Potential Signs of Trouble

Of course, the above whelping depicts a pretty normal uneventful delivery with a happy ending; unfortunately, that is not always the case, and there are several things that may go wrong in your dam's birthing process. The following are warning signs of trouble that will require prompt veterinary intervention.

See your vet if your dog is:

  • Not whelping within 24 hours of the temperature drop
  • Expelling a greenish or brown fluid without a puppy born within fifteen minutes.
  • In stage one of labor for eight hours without progressing to stage two
  • In active labor contracting, but not producing a puppy in over two hours
  • Not straining in between puppies for over one hour and you know there are more puppies to be born
  • Past due the 63rd day from the last breeding and has yet not gone into labor

But most importantly, if you feel something is wrong, do not hesitate to call or see your vet, better be safe than sorry! As much as nature runs its course during delivery and dog owners are told to minimize their interventions and just relax, things do not always go as planned. Catherine de la Cruz which has been breeding Great Pyrenees for several years, claims that all sorts of problems have occurred to her at some time during the past 30 years of breeding dogs. So better resort to awareness and advanced planning in order to whelp a healthy litter of puppies and succeed!

Disclaimer: this article is not to be used as a substitute for professional veterinary advice. Please keep your vet's phone number handy and don't hesitate to call him if something appears to be abnormal. All new moms and pups should see a veterinarian for a wellness exam within 48 hours post-whelping.

Adrienne Farricelli ©


Catherine De la Cruz, White Fire Great Pyrenees:What Can Possible Go Wrong?

Dan Rice,The Complete Book of Dog Breeding

Dr Kris Nelson,Normal Stages of Whelping in Dogs

Dr. Kris Nelson:Canine Labor, When to Call the Vet

Questions & Answers


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      • profile image

        Leanna toews 4 weeks ago

        My dogs temp has been between 37.7 and 37.9 with 2 temps of 38 since yesterday afternoon..she is pacing and has heavy panting periods with breaks of sleep in between but still eating should I be expecting her puppies soon

      • profile image

        JADE 5 weeks ago

        My jack Russell had fluid I'm not sure if it was pee or waters broken, quite a bit, puppies are moving around alot but she isn't in any discomfort or pain, she is soundly asleep, is she in stage one labour? First litter

      • profile image

        page hardmen 2 months ago

        You guys have been really helpful thanks

      • alexadry profile image

        Adrienne Janet Farricelli 2 months ago from USA

        Sharon, a call to your vet can help you decide the best course of action.

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        Sharon L Tall 2 months ago

        I have a weiner dog don't know exactly what she is she had a puppy 2 hours ago and more to come.. still no puppies am getting worried

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        Sunny 4 months ago

        I have a lab female dog it bleeding milky liquid from Virginia what is the reason

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        Jody 4 months ago

        my Jack Russell is just very temperamental with the father of the puppies. is this normal she has always gotten along with all of the dogs she is just now doing that and she fights him all of the time. What can I do? Please help me.

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        Paula 8 months ago

        Do dogs tend to go into deep sleep before going into labor stage 2

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        Kayla 12 months ago

        My dog is pregnant and her puppies are very active is this a sign of her going into labor

      • alexadry profile image

        Adrienne Janet Farricelli 16 months ago from USA

        Sounds like she's getting near, get that temperature checked!

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        kamal rampersad 18 months ago

        My beagle gave birth to two pups about 10 hours ago. Her tummy is still big and I think there are more puppies to deliver. She is breast feeding but there are no noticeable contractions. Is there anything tom worry about?

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        Erica 18 months ago

        Our chihuahua is giving birth as I write this she has had 2 healthy pups so far it has been about an hour since her last one was born my question is how will we know when she is done? Any help will be greatly appericated

      • profile image

        Donna 18 months ago

        My amercain bull has given birth litter of 10 but still pushin no puppy bit bloody brown plz help

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        Sandy 19 months ago

        I have a 5 year old pug that is 61 days pregnant and for 24 hours she has been panting really bad and shivering . she has been passing a little mucus from her private and now she isn't panting near as much ...is she having birthing problems???? I am worried! :(

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        Leannah 21 months ago

        My female German Shepherd is 53-54 days pregnant, her temperature is fluctuating between 99.4-100.7

        My husband and I don't know whether she is starting to whelp or if she just wants to get me all up tight. The fluctuating of the temperature has been going on for a few days now. Today she has eaten but is very tired and doesn'the want to be very active. Is she going to whelp within a day or so?

      • alexadry profile image

        Adrienne Janet Farricelli 21 months ago from USA

        Nine is not a good age to be pregnant, but some dogs may whelp without problems please make sure you have access to a vet to take to at the first sings of trouble. Also, it's important to get a post delivery checkup done

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        New to this 21 months ago

        Just found out my 9 year old baby is pregnant... And she really close to have her puppies. Today she is panting more than normal. She is being very cuddly. And wherever i go she right there.... Im kinda scared.. First time for her. And im paniky

      • profile image

        sadgirl 21 months ago

        My pit is pregnant ..today I came home and she has something coming out but she just lays down.its half out I don't know wat is it she's bleeding I try takin it out but I can't it's just hard I need to know wats wrong

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        Diane Pelkey 24 months ago

        My pit was hooked with our male pit for about 5 minutes during her heat cycle I think she is pregnant she has all the signs she is going into her 8th week due date may 15 she sluggish, don't eat as much some bigger in middle area some of her nipples are larger my other question is when about 4 to 5 weeks she had a day that she bled some not a lot but some could she have miscarriage or is that normal

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        Angelic 2 years ago

        A stray pregnant dog has been in my yard for 2 weeks. I don't want to give her to the pound. I am not sure what I am doing. She looks pretty far along. Any suggestions?

      • alexadry profile image

        Adrienne Janet Farricelli 3 years ago from USA

        Greetings, Puppies that are born before day 58 usually aren't developed and strong enough to make it. At 40 days, you're dealing with an early loss of pregnancy (miscarriage). This is quite uncommon but can be seen when mother dog has a hormonal imbalance, brucellosis, herpes virus or other conditions. Was she tested for brucellosis before breeding? Are you seeing discharge? It would be a good idea to see the vet, as some times a bacterial infection may set in and antibiotics may be needed. I hope this is a false alarm.

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        Unknown 3 years ago

        My dog is in labour and its day 40, what should I do?

      • alexadry profile image

        Adrienne Janet Farricelli 4 years ago from USA

        There are many medical conditions that may cause a dog to want to sleep all the time along with crying and howling. I would have a vet check her out to see what's going on.

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        marisa 4 years ago

        I'm not sure if my dog was pregnant she got a little bigger but not much she sleeps all the time but today when my dad left for work she's been crying and howling and were not sure why should we be worried?

      • alexadry profile image

        Adrienne Janet Farricelli 4 years ago from USA

        When temperatures drop below 99 that usually means labor will start within 24 hours. I wouldn't be surprised if she had puppies later today, good luck!

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        magi 4 years ago

        my jack Russell is due on 20 nov her temp is 97.5 is that normal

      • alexadry profile image

        Adrienne Janet Farricelli 5 years ago from USA

        Dogs give birth around 58 to 63 days, best wishes!

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        las_stape@yahoo.com 5 years ago


      • petinsuranceplans profile image

        petinsuranceplans 5 years ago from Houston, TX

        Very educational! Thank you!

      • alexadry profile image

        Adrienne Janet Farricelli 6 years ago from USA

        very sorry to hear that. please keep in mind dog insurance if you get another dog in the future it can really save you a lot in circumstances as these. https://hubpages.com/animals/Chhosing-pet-health-i...

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        highjinx21 6 years ago from los angeles

        every where i called told me i would have to come in for a price so i went to one before they would do anything they wanted $ 2,000 up front so i had her put down so she wouldn't suffer and that cost me $150.00 they were like to bad so sad :(

      • alexadry profile image

        Adrienne Janet Farricelli 6 years ago from USA

        Gosh, not much you can really do in such a case, especially if she is not acting normal, she may be anemic if she lost lots of blood, Try rubbing some honey or pancake syrup on her gums, while you try to see if any vets accept payment plans or can help you out...you really need her seen, best wishes

      • highjinx21 profile image

        highjinx21 6 years ago from los angeles

        what do you do when you lost your job and can't pay for a vet ?my dam had 8 dead pupsout of sack i never had this happen before there was lots of blood she can stand and will eat some and drink a little but i fear the worst what can i do ?any help ?

      • TeriSilver profile image

        Teri Silver 6 years ago from The Buckeye State

        Useful and educational hub, thanks!