How Long Is Labor In Dogs?
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When we are caring for a pregnant dog, everything is building to the moment of delivery. We want both the mother dog and future puppies to be as safe and healthy as possible. Since a prolonged and/or difficult labor will threaten the health of both, we need to know as much as we can before the birth. This includes regular veterinary checkups during the pregnancy to ensure the dog. It also requires us to know the basics of dog labor so we can be best prepared for any eventuality.
At AnimalWised, we help you to learn more about a dog giving birth by answering the question how long is labor in dogs? We look at not only the duration of canine parturition (labor), but what you can expect in general.
How to know if a dog is in labor?
Before explaining how long a dog's labor lasts, we must know how to identify the signs of labor in a dog. These signs will indicate parturition has begun and the puppies are on their way. They include the following:
- Drop in rectal temperature to 37.5°C (99.5 ºF) or less 12-18 hours before labor begins, although this does not occur in all bitches.
- Loss of appetite about 12-24 hours before delivery.
- In the 12-24 hours before giving birth, the mother will be restless and may look for a place to build a nest. If we have not already done so, we should prepare a suitable comfortable place with blankets in a clean, warm and secure area. If she does not choose this place and opts for somewhere else, do not force her to move. We can transfer the new litter after the birth.
- The Dog's restlessness may indicate she is beginning to feel contractions, i.e. the movements of the uterus that will help expel the puppies.
- When the first stage of labor is beginning, the dog may start to pant a lot, lick her private area and may even vomit.
- If we observe a yellowish liquid, it will likely be amniotic fluid from a ruptured birthing sac. A puppy should be born in a few minutes after this occurs.
Dog labor chronology
If we want to know how long is dog labor, we need to understand that it happens in stages. They are the following:
- First stage: this first phase of dog labor lasts 6-12 hours. It produces contractions that dilate the cervix so that the puppies can be born. This stage may be undetectable, although some dogs will be restless or uncomfortable and may keep licking their private area.
- Second stage: the contractions become more intense and the first puppy will press against the cervix, which stimulating the mother to push. When the cervix is fully dilated, the puppy will be able to come out. They puppy may be in an intact amniotic sac, but it is possible it will have broken inside the mother. The dog will give birth just a few minutes after her water breaks. The bitch will lick the puppy and cut the umbilical cord by chewing. The duration between puppies is variable, but usually ranges from 15 minutes to 2 hours.
- Third stage: this stage of labor corresponds to the expulsion of the placenta a few minutes after the birth of the puppy. It is common for the dog to ingest it. It's a good idea to count the individual placentas as there should be as many as there are puppies. An unexpelled placenta can lead to infections.
The duration of a dog's labor
A pregnant dog's gestation period will usually last between 63-67 days. After this time elapses, the dog may go into labor at any moment. The duration of the labor itself is variable, so we can't say that there is a specific duration of parturition for each dog. However, there are some general timelines we can discuss when it comes to dog labor.
While it is possible for a pregnant dog to have only one puppy, this is very rare. In most cases, the litter will be between 4-6 puppies. This does depend on certain factors, including breed. The birth of each puppy is preceded by a period of active labor which lasts between 5 to 30 minutes. The interval between births averages between 15 minutes to 2 hours, but this doesn't mean it will be the same for each puppy in a litter.
Using our calculations, we can say the average duration for a dog's labor will be between 6-8 hours. A healthy birth can last less or more time, depending on various factors. We have already detailed the different stages of dog labor, but the first stage can last anywhere up to 36 hours. This may lead caregivers to wonder how long does a dog's labor last after their water breaks? This should be no longer than 24 hours.
Since timings between puppies can differ, it can be difficult to know when the labor is complete. For this reason, it is good to have a veterinarian confirm the number of puppies with an x-ray or ultrasound during the pregnancy. If we can see that the mother pushes for over 30-60 minutes without a puppy being born, we must call a veterinarian immediately.
In some cases, a miscarriage can occur with a stillborn puppy. In these cases, it is common for the mother to eat the puppy. If we are not present to witness this, it may explain why there is a difference between the number of puppies shown on an ultrasound and the number of puppies in the litter after parturition. There is no significant difference in time of labor for a dog's first and later pregnancies.
Complications in the dog labor
A factor in the duration of a dog's labor is the possibility of complications. These can both prolong or shorten the duration of labor, depending on what occurs. For example, if one or more fetuses are underdeveloped, they may pass more quickly.
Dystocia can prolong the phases of a dog's labor. This is another term for obstructed labor, which can be caused by a physical obstruction or by uterine inertia, i.e. the uterus is unable to contract strongly enough to expel the puppy.
The obstruction is usually caused by the excessive size of the puppy or its incorrect placement in the birth canal. This channel may also be too narrow. We can suspect obstruction if the mother pushes for 30-60 minutes without any pup being born. Veterinary assistance is needed and a cesarean section may be required.
Uterine inertia can primary when the contractions do not begin or secondary when there has been a prolonged effort that exhausts the uterine muscles. This can occur when an obstruction is resolved and the bitch is in labor and not pushing because the uterus may be fatigued. These cases usually end in cesarean section.
The vet should look for the cause of the primary uterine inertia. This can occur both when the litter is particularly small or particularly large. Stress or calcium deficiency can also be factors, the latter resulting in eclampsia. If this cannot be corrected, a cesarean section will also have to be performed.
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