There are some behavioural changes that you may notice in the two weeks leading up to whelping. Observing these changes may help you predict when your dog is about to have her puppies, and allow you to be prepared.
Pregnant bitches may show reduced interest in food in the two weeks leading up to whelping. She may completely refuse food and pant despite resting in the 24 hours leading up to whelping. Some dogs will vomit in the early stages of labour. These signs may not occur in all dogs. She may seem unsettled and restless, or try to nest and hide. Some dogs will actively seek out their owner and want comfort, while others prefer seclusion.
You may see some discharge from her vulva in the days leading up to whelping. There is a mucus plug that develops in the cervix during pregnancy, which must break down prior to whelping.
Body temperature will often drop in the 24 hours leading up to whelping. If you are comfortable taking your dog’s temperature regularly then this can be a good indicator for whelping. Writing down your dog’s progressive temperature over the course of a couple of days can help you identify a pattern. Temperature changes up and down between 37.5˚C and 39.0˚C can be normal, but temperatures that continue to drop (approaching 37.0˚C) could be an indication that labour will soon begin.
There are three stages of labour in the dog:
Restlessness, nervous behaviour, panting. Uterine contractions start but may not be visible. This stage usually lasts 6-12hrs.
“Active Labour” with abdominal contractions, vulval/vaginal discharge, expulsion of puppies. The first puppy should be born within 2 hours of abdominal contractions starting. Once puppies are visible in the vulva, there should be no more than 30 mins before it is fully expelled. There can be up to 2 hours between puppies, but many will expel a puppy every 30-60 minutes.
Expulsion of foetal membranes (placentas) — one for each puppy. A placenta is usually expelled within 15 minutes after a puppy, but two may expel at once if two puppies are born in short succession.
Green discharge will often be seen during the whelping process. This may seem very strange and alarming to us, but the green pigment is normal in dog and cat placentas.
The bitch will normally bite or chew at the umbilical cords of her puppies to remove their placentas (if not separated already). Many bitches will also eat the placentas after they have been expelled. This is a normal behaviour. However, if your dog doesn’t remove the placentas from her whelping area, this is also normal and not harmful.