If you are a dog owner and your pet is about to give birth, she will give you several warning signals that the puppies are on the way, starting as early as the 58th day since the last day of her last heat. Gestation periods for dogs are usually 60-64 days after covering. As the time approaches, you may want to start checking her temperature rectally. While normal range is 101 – 102 degrees, as early as 24 -48 hours before delivery her temperature will usually drop to below 100 degrees. This is not a hard and fast rule, but it often indicates the labor will soon begin.
Many bitches lose interest in food 1 or 2 days before delivery. In fact, they may vomit and totally empty their stomach of its contents. Refusing food from this point on is perfectly normal. Other behavioral changes include becoming very shy of strangers in the house, refusing to allow other animals, especially dogs in the immediate area, and following you everywhere. Changes in sleep patterns can also occur. Your dog may start “nesting” at this time. She will claw at the carpet, rearrange her dog bed, or search in dark areas for a place where she can have her puppies. This is the perfect time for you to introduce her to a whelping box. Any box will do but it should have 6-8 inch sides and washable soft cloths for labor and delivery. Babies’ blankets or large towels work well. Place the box in a quiet, dark place such as the corner of the room or a closet, where she will feel safe and unexposed.
As her time nears, your dog will start to experience some physical changes. Her belly may appear to drop and will become very hard to the touch. She will soon be breathing harder, even panting, and she may become very restless. As her nipples become increasingly red and engorged with milk, her vulva also swells to much larger than normal. Many bitches will lick this area repeatedly, especially as contractions become stronger. It’s at this point where you may notice a shiny grey water sac that is starting to protrude. Containing clear fluid, it looks much like a water balloon, and it may burst as it is pressured out. The first puppy should be arriving within minutes to 1 hour. If nothing happens in that amount of time, you need to call your vet because your dog may be in trouble.
Don’t be alarmed if your dog whimpers or cries during her contractions and delivery. The average labor is about 2-6 hours, but the entire process can take anywhere from 2-20 hours, especially if there are several pups. Domesticated animals are more apt to be fearful, so plan to be close to your pet during the process to talk softly and give encouragement. This may not be as hard as it sounds, since most puppies are born in the early morning hours of darkness, just before dawn. It’s a good idea to have clean towels nearby to rub down the new puppies and encourage their circulation. Having some store bought puppy milk on hand might be useful as well.
If your dog has not delivered by day 65, you should call your vet. She may have a uterus that is too stretched or fatigued from carrying too many puppies or too large ones, or she may be an older dog who is going to need some assistance and medical intervention. Sometimes medications are administered after x-rays are taken, to move things along. As a last resort, surgery will be recommended. Observe your dog carefully so that you can anticipate the birth of her puppies and help her out as much as she needs you when the time is right.