What Do Dog Contractions Look Like?

Beautiful pregnant dog on beach chair

Your pregnant pup has cute little buns in the oven that look ready to pop out at any second and without any warning.  As a dog parent whose job in this period is to ensure your dog has a safe and hitch-free delivery, how do you know when she’s ready?

Like humans, dogs have contractions that signify that the babies are on the way. Knowing how to recognize when these contractions begin will make the birthing process easier for you and your pup, and will help you provide the necessary help your pup needs at the right time.

Don’t know what dog contractions look like? We have all the information you need!

Pregnant female dog in forest

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How Do You Know Your Dog Is Pregnant?

If your dog was bred, your veterinary doctor could use subsequent tests to let you know if the breeding was successful and your dog is pregnant.

However, if your dog is a roamer, it is easy to be unsuspecting until your dog is so far gone along. Although the most accurate way to confirm if your dog is truly pregnant or just sick is through a diagnostic test, several tell-tale signs can be used to confirm your suspicions.

Like humans, dogs experience early symptoms of pregnancy due to the hormonal changes they are experiencing. Spotting these signs early will give you enough time to be prepared and provide the help your dog needs. Some of the early pregnancy signs in dogs are:

  • A change in appetite: Appetite change is often the most evident sign that something might be wrong with your pup. It is also one of the first signs of pregnancy. The appetite change in pregnant dogs usually varies with the dog and pregnancy stage. Some dogs eat more, and other dogs eat less. Your dog’s appetite might fluctuate as it consumes more on some days and less on others.
  • Vomiting: Vomiting is a pregnant dog’s equivalent of morning sickness. The frequency of the vomiting might be sporadic or so frequent that you seem to be cleaning vomit off the floors every day.
  • Change in behavior: You might notice a subtle change in your pet during pregnancy. Pregnant dogs often exhibit aggressiveness, seem to isolate themselves or be more clingy to their human than usual. If your dog appears to be behaving differently than she usually is, it might be time to set up a vet’s appointment and communicate your suspicions with him.
  • Lack of energy: Is your dog a naturally inactive dog, or does she seem lazier than usual? Does she prefer lounging around instead of running around the yard like she used to? Pregnant dogs usually seem lethargic and uninterested in high-energy activities because of lower energy levels caused by changing hormones.
  • Enlarged and discolored nipples: A dog’s nipples are usually larger and often darker during the early stages of pregnancy due to increased blood flow. The areolas are also rounder and more prominent than normal. In the later stages, your dog’s nipples will leak breast milk.
  • Weight gain: Although this is not a rule of thumb, some dogs gain weight at the onset of pregnancy. The weight gain is usually sudden and easily indicates that your pup might be pregnant.
  • Bigger belly: As your dog approaches the later stage of pregnancy, her belly will become more prominent.
  • Nesting behavior: If all other signs fail, nesting behavior is a true albeit late pregnancy sign. If you notice your dog starts dragging clothes, pillows, and blankets to a corner to lay on it, it is already in the late stages of pregnancy and will give birth in a few days.

How Long Is A Dog Pregnant For?

A dog’s gestation period ranges from 58 to 68 days and averages 63 days or 9 weeks. However, every dog is unique, and the numbers can vary sometimes. If your dog seems to have elapsed an average of 63 days without any sign of delivery, simply call your vet and get them to tell you what to do.

Like with human pregnancy, a dog’s pregnancy is split into three stages- the first, second, and third months. The signs and symptoms of pregnancy vary with each month and will become more evident as your dog approaches the last few weeks.

How To Know Your Dog Is Having Contractions

With a gestation period of a little more than nine weeks, you do not exactly have a lot of time to prepare for your dog’s delivery. After the first few weeks (or over two months), you need to start paying more attention to your dog to ensure you are prepared whenever she goes into labor.

But how will you know what to look out for if you have little to no idea of the common signs of a dog going into labor soon? Unlike humans, dogs cannot vocally communicate what they are feeling with you. They cannot tell you when they are in pain, uncomfortable, or dealing with contractions.

It is up to you as their owner to be able to recognize behavioral warning signs and offer the necessary solution. Helping and comforting your pregnant dog is undoubtedly one of the most unnerving things about being a pet. As a pet owner who has also never dealt with a pregnant dog, it is easy to become so overwhelmed with anxiety and stress while ensuring your pregnant pet is not in distress that you miss labor warning signs like contractions.

Contractions show that your dog is going into labor. They often begin 12 to 24 hours before delivery and are one of the first signs of the first stage of labor. When you notice your dog having contractions, it is essential to take action fast. Firstly, you need to make your dog as comfortable as possible.

Secondly, you need to get veterinary service quickly- unless you plan on welcoming the newborn pups into the world by yourself. Knowing what signs of contractions to look out for can help you feel confident while caring for your pregnant pup. But what do contractions look like? And how can you keep track of it?

  1. Be prepared: to ensure you notice the contractions as soon as they begin, you must be already on the lookout. After you see your dog’s first pink-tinted discharge- usually around day 58 to 60 when the puppies move into the whelping position in the birth canal- it is important to begin monitoring your pup. Although your vet would have communicated the possible labor date to you, it can vary and should not be used as a yardstick to measure when contractions begin, as they can start anytime.
  2. Use a rectal thermometer to take your dog’s temperature twice a day the closer you get to the possible delivery day. The normal temperature should range between 101 and 103 degrees Fahrenheit. When her temperature drops below 100 degrees Fahrenheit to 99 or 98 degrees, she will enter labor anytime within 24 hours.
  3. Your dog will show signs of nesting within 48 hours of her pups’ arrival, although it might also begin earlier. Nesting is a mothering instinct that encourages a pregnant dog to create a clean, safe, and private area where she can usher her pups into the world. Although you might have provided a clean box padded down with the softest blankets you can get in anticipation of the newborn pups, don’t be surprised if your pup opts for more enclosed nests made out of blankets, towels, and pieces of clothing laid in a corner.
  4. The closer your dog is to labor, the more distressed she might be. This is why anxiety is one of the most evident signs of contractions. If your dog appears to be experiencing discomfort, pacing,  panting, or simply being restless, she might be having minor contractions. 
  5. Your dog might not be able to tell you she is having contractions in plain English words, but she will make use of her vocal sounds. Not only should you keep your eyes peeled for signs of contractions but also keep your ears open for your dog being more vocal than usual. During contractions, your dog might howl, yelp, or whine.
  6. Contractions are visible, so remember to examine your dog for the visible signs. A dog experiencing contractions may exhibit tremors, have wave-like movements near its hind legs, may seem to be straining, and will constantly move its legs while lying down. 

Dog puppies Jack Russell terrier right after birth

What Happens After Contractions?

A drop in body temperature usually marks the beginning of labor. Before the start of contractions comes cervix relaxation. As your dog approaches its due date, the pups drop lower in the pelvis in anticipation of delivery. As they drop lower, they push against the cervix, causing it to relax or dilate and thin out.

After the cervix relaxes, intermittent contractions begin. These are the first-stage uterine contractions often accompanied by the symptoms stated above. Intermittent contractions can last up to 12 hours. The second stage of labor quickly follows this. The contractions become more frequent and stronger, eventually leading to the birth of the puppies.

If you have never watched a dog give birth, it is easy to assume they have all puppies at once. However, the whelping process usually takes some time, as every puppy is born every 30 to 60 minutes. When your dog is ready to whelp, she strains for about 10 to 20 minutes before the first puppy is delivered.

Each puppy is covered with a membrane your dog will lick off to help the pup breathe. Afterward, she will nibble the umbilical cord off, lick her pup’s body clean, and eat the placenta if she likes. It is okay for your dog to take breaks in-between whelping. Whelping can take between 1 and 24 hours, but remember that the shorter the delivery time and less interval between puppies, the higher the chances of survival.

Should You Be Worried If Your Dog’s Complications Do Not Start As Expected?

A dog can go into labor earlier than planned. This is characterized by early contractions with symptoms like

  • Restlessness
  • Vomiting
  • Vaginal discharge
  • Dilated pupils
  • Vaginal bleeding
  • Lack of appetite
  • Anxiety

Different factors cause early contractions. Some of these factors include:

  • Progesterone deficiency
  • Nutritional deficiency
  • Consumption of toxic substances
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Trauma
  • Bacterial infections like Brucella canis
  • Canine Herpesvirus
  • Protozoal Infection
  • In utero, stress caused by a stressful environment
  • Puppy abnormalities like severe congenital birth defects, genetic abnormalities, or developmental abnormalities

Early contractions can catch you by surprise, especially if you expect them later than their occurrence. However, if you monitor your dog’s rectal temperature daily using the rectal thermometer, you should notice a tell-tale sign of temperature drop about 24 hours before she goes into labor.

However, when you notice signs of early contractions, it is important that you call the vet immediately. On the other hand, you might notice it is well past your dog’s due date and is showing no sign of going into labor. This is called stalled labor and is marked by the inability to initiate whelping at the due date.

Although this can be a result of multiple factors, it is often mainly due to uterine inertia. Uterine inertia is a dog’s inability to give birth due to the uterine muscle’s inability to contract. This can be caused by:

  • Uterine muscles being unresponsive to the body’s hormonal signals
  • Hormonal imbalance
  • Obesity
  • Lack of exercise
  • Oversized puppies
  • Fetal positioning in the reproductive tract

Although your dog might not show any sign of distress while experiencing uterine inertia, it is essential to call the vet immediately if you suspect that the due date has elapsed by a few days (up to a week).

Dog Contractions and Onwards

Watching your dog having contractions can be unnerving and an almost scary experience. However, it is essential to keep calm during the process and do everything to help your dog remain comfortable during labor. It is equally vital to get the professional help you need to ensure your dog has hassle-free whelping without complications.

Caring for your dog doesn’t end after the contraction ends. After she has helped the puppies, it is important that she remains comfortable. Don’t try to move her straight away. Get her the best dog food with the essential nutrients she needs as a new mom, create a private space for her, keep an eye on her, and call the vet if she seems ill.

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Mari Serfontein