Jump to section

What is Early Contractions and Labor?

The normal gestation period for female dogs is approximately 63 days. Depending on the breed, pregnancy can range from 56 to 69 days, with smaller dogs generally giving birth slightly earlier. The beginning of labor is usually marked by a drop in body temperature and sometimes lack of appetite in the pregnant bitch, or dam. This is followed by the first stage of labor, when the dam starts experiencing mild to moderate uterine contractions and the cervix starts to dilate. The contractions last up to 16 hours, and are marked by behavior changes, as well as sometimes vomiting, panting or vocal noises. Stage two labor starts when the contractions become more extreme, the placental sac breaks and the puppies begin to be pushed out. Stage three labor occurs after all the puppies have appeared and the uterus is emptied of any remaining placental matter. Most female dogs have straight forward pregnancies and give birth without incident, but a number of conditions including infectious diseases, hormone imbalances, genetic abnormalities and stress can cause a dam to go into labor early and either have a spontaneous abortion (a miscarriage) or give birth to premature puppies. In most cases the bitch will survive, although she may have trouble getting pregnant and/or whelping going forward. Puppies born more than a few days early have little chance of survival and may even be stillborn.

Almost 98% of dogs give birth without incident, but in a few cases, an infection or another abnormality may cause a dog to go into labor before the right time. This is defined as early contractions and labor (or 'premature labor')  by veterinarians. It can lead to miscarriage as well as stillborn or premature puppies, depending on what stage of gestation the bitch is in. Certain conditions may affect the female's fertility and ability to reproduce going forward.

Compare Pet Insurance & Wellness Plans

Save up to $273 per year

Compare plans
advertisement image

Early Contractions and Labor Average Cost

From 367 quotes ranging from $300 - $5,000

Average Cost

$1,200

Protect yourself and your pet. Compare top pet insurance plans.

Symptoms of Early Contractions and Labor in Dogs

If you think your dog is going into labor, you should contact your veterinarian, especially if it is more than a day or two before the expected time. Some common signs include:

  • Drop in body temperature
  • Restlessness
  • Lying on side
  • Anxious and clingy
  • Whining or other signs of pain
  • Lack of appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Dilated pupils or staring
  • Vaginal discharge
  • Vaginal bleeding

Types

We classify pregnancy loss according to the stage of gestation:

  • Early Embryonic Death – occurs before the embryos have implanted into the wall of the uterus. The dead tissue is usually reabsorbed and the pregnancy may go undetected. We won't know a pregnancy has occurred and there will not be any contractions or labor.
  • Spontaneous abortion – may occur at any time throughout a pregnancy. The fetal tissues are expelled from the uterus.
  • Premature birth – puppies are born before they are fully developed. If they are alive upon birth, they often need intensive care if they are to survive.
arrow-up-icon

Top

Causes of Early Contractions and Labor in Dogs

These are some of the most common conditions which might cause your dog to abort a pregnancy or to go into labor before the proper time:

Puppy abnormalities

  • Severe Congenital Birth defects
  • Genetic abnormalities
  • Developmental abnormalities

Health problems in the dam

  • Hypothyroidism
  • Progesterone deficiency
  • Nutritional deficiency
  • Structural abnormalities in the uterus
  • Exposure to drugs or toxic compounds (especially steroids)
  • In utero stress  –adverse environment in the uterus, due to stress, overcrowding or bacterial infection
  • Being very young or old
  • Trauma

Infections that lead to early termination of a pregnancy

  •  Bacterial infections. One example is Brucella canis –common cause of pregnancy aborted late, after 45-55 days. Puppies are usually stillborn
  • Canine Herpesvirus – puppies are often born premature, either stillborn or too weak to live
  • Canine Distemper, Canine Adenovirus, or Canine Parvovirus– female dogs with severe infection will usually not carry a pregnancy to term
  • Protozoal infection
arrow-up-icon

Top

Diagnosis of Early Contractions and Labor in Dogs

Diagnosis of early labor will be based on the symptoms and the expected time of delivery. If you monitor your dog’s temperature regularly, you may notice a drop about 24 hours before she goes into labor. Otherwise, symptoms of contractions will be the first sign that there is a problem. Early labor may not follow the normal stages. 

Call your veterinarian as soon as you notice unusual symptoms in your dog. If she has already expelled puppies or fetal material, you should bring this to the veterinarian for testing if possible. Dogs often eat their stillborn offspring, so this may not be possible. The veterinarian will want to know your dog’s medical history, including the date the breeding took place and any prior births or pregnancies. Other medications, recent vaccinations, and possible exposures to toxins or infections are relevant. Any information you have about the puppies’ sire could also be helpful.

The veterinarian will perform a complete physical examination. Blood, urine, and vaginal cultures will be taken to check for infection or other abnormalities. Any expelled material will also be examined. It may be obvious upon feeling the dog’s stomach that there is still fetal material or puppies in the uterus. An abdominal ultrasound may be ordered to garner further information and to assess fetal heartbeats.

Sometimes a single unhealthy fetus may be aborted, while the others are carried to term normally. The veterinarian will try to determine the cause of the early contractions and labor, as well as whether your dog is fertile and capable of another successful pregnancy. Sometimes exploratory surgery could be necessary to check for abnormalities in the uterus.

arrow-up-icon

Top

Treatment of Early Contractions and Labor in Dogs

Treatment will be based on the veterinarian’s findings during diagnosis. Any confirmed bacterial infection will be treated with antibiotics. Dams who are very sick will be given fluids and supportive treatment as necessary. Medication may be given to aid uterine evacuation if fetal membrane or dead fetal material remains in the uterus. If healthy fetuses remain, the veterinarian will attempt to stop the contractions and reduce the likelihood of these puppies being born prematurely. Your dog will likely need to remain in a veterinary hospital for several days for treatment and monitoring.

If premature puppies are born underdeveloped, but otherwise healthy, they will need to be kept in intensive care. Puppies born 5-7 days early have a reasonable chance of survival. Puppies born more than 8 days early will usually be unable to swallow or go to the bathroom without help. They will need 24 hour care and may still die. Puppies born more than 10 days early are very unlikely to survive. Errors in calculating the gestation period are not uncommon, so the puppies could be more or less developed than would be expected based on the date. 

arrow-up-icon

Top

Recovery of Early Contractions and Labor in Dogs

Recovery will depend on what has specifically happened. A few dogs do die due to premature birth, but the majority will survive especially with prompt treatment (unless the early labor is due to a life-threatening condition.) Fertility may be affected , so you will need to discuss the possibility of your dog having another healthy birth. The veterinarian may recommend having your dog spayed to prevent future pregnancies.

Many conditions of early contraction and labor are preventable. Ensuring your bitch is up to date with her vaccinations and parasite prevention and is being fed a complete diet can go a long way. Getting your dog checked over before she is mated and when she first becomes pregnant is also a good idea. Similarly, only studs that have been health checked and certified clear of infection should be bred with. Maintaining good health in the dam is very important during pregnancy. Have regular check-ups  and avoid situations of overcrowding which will cause stress.

arrow-up-icon

Top

*Wag! may collect a share of sales or other compensation from the links on this page. Items are sold by the retailer, not Wag!.

Early Contractions and Labor Average Cost

From 367 quotes ranging from $300 - $5,000

Average Cost

$1,200

Protect yourself and your pet. Compare top pet insurance plans.

arrow-up-icon

Top

Written by hannah hollinger

Veterinary reviewed by: Linda S.

Published: 03/02/2016, edited: 03/11/2021

More articles by hannah hollinger

Early Contractions and Labor Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

question-icon-cta

Ask a Vet

dog-name-icon

dog-breed-icon

Pit Bull

dog-age-icon

Three Years

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Unknown severity

thumbs-up-icon

1 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Noisy Breathing

She is pregnant and has gone into love at 50 weeks what do we need to do. Should we have any concerns

Sept. 10, 2020

Owner

answer-icon

Dr. Gina U. DVM

recommendation-ribbon

1 Recommendations

Hello If your dog is pregnant and going in to labor, it is best to let things happen naturally unless she is having trouble passing puppies. In that case it is recommended that you take her to a veterinarian for an exam. They may use an ultrasound to check the puppies heart rates and to see how many more are left. Good luck.

Sept. 14, 2020

Was this experience helpful?

dog-name-icon

dog-breed-icon

Pomeranian

dog-age-icon

2 1/2 yrs

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Unknown severity

thumbs-up-icon

1 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Bleeding

My dog is in late stages of pregnancy and she is bleeding like she is in heat. Is this normal. My vet does not work after hours. Should I be concerned

July 30, 2020

Owner

answer-icon

Dr. Sara O. DVM

recommendation-ribbon

1 Recommendations

Hello, This can be the beginning of labor if she is close to her due date. It it is still a few weeks away, this would not be normal. If this continues or the bleeding get worse, it would be best to find an emergency clinic near you.

July 30, 2020

Was this experience helpful?

dog-name-icon

dog-breed-icon

Golden doodle

dog-age-icon

1 1/2

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Unknown severity

thumbs-up-icon

0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Panting Restless. 52 Days Pregnant

Marley is 52 days pregnant with first litter. Has been panting off and on for days. Today is panting constantly. Very restless. Is it too early to be labor?

July 27, 2020

Owner

answer-icon

Dr. Michele K. DVM

recommendation-ribbon

0 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. It is very early for her to be in labor, yes. Dogs are in labor for about 62 days. She may just be restless, but if she continues to show signs of any distress, it would probably be a good idea to have her seen by a veterinarian. They would be able to examine her and make sure that everything is okay. I hope that all goes well.

July 27, 2020

Was this experience helpful?

dog-name-icon

dog-breed-icon

Yorkie

dog-age-icon

Two Years

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Unknown severity

thumbs-up-icon

1 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Yorkie in labor How long after I notice she was having contractions do I wait? Last night around 9:30pm I noticed she was making noises and having contractions. Today the contractions are still coming but she seems more relaxed today that last night

July 23, 2020

Owner

answer-icon

Jessica N. DVM

recommendation-ribbon

1 Recommendations

Hello- If she has been having contractions since last night and has not had a puppy yet she needs to be seen by a veterinarian. Yorkies very commonly have issues with dystocia so your veterinarian can evaluate how she is doing and whether or not medication is needed or a C-section is best.

July 23, 2020

Was this experience helpful?

dog-name-icon

dog-breed-icon

Greyhound cross podenco

dog-age-icon

Three Years

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Unknown severity

thumbs-up-icon

2 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Squealing And Problem With Sight

My bitch is going into labour and her sight is weird she opens the inner lid with difficulty and cries if you go to stroke her head too fast/abruptly. After checking carefully all over her body she doesn’t seem to have any physical pain when stroking but cries from shock in regard to the eye/ sight issue ... please reply, thank you in advance - if the situation hasn’t changed by morning and I’m still worried we will go to the vets

July 14, 2020

Owner

answer-icon

Dr. Sara O. DVM

recommendation-ribbon

2 Recommendations

Hello, Sometimes during labor dogs will have weird symptoms. This may be a sign that your dog is having trouble giving birth. If your dog does not start to have puppies within 2 hours, it would be best for your vet to see her. If these signs continue overnight it would be best for her to go to the vet in the morning. I hope your dog has a smooth labor and starts to feel better soon.

July 14, 2020

Was this experience helpful?

dog-name-icon

Asuna

dog-breed-icon

Siberian Husky

dog-age-icon

2 Years

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate severity

thumbs-up-icon

1 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Panting
Restless
Whining

My dog is 62 days into her pregnancy. Yesterday morning her temp dropped from a steady 99.5 to 98. She has been extremely clingy and whining since yesterday morning. Shes nested and a little restless. She refuses to get up or even use the bathroom. Its her first litter should I be worried that its been over 24 hours since her temp dropped? It is now back to normal.

dog-name-icon

Suzzie

dog-breed-icon

chihuahua mix

dog-age-icon

3 Years

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate severity

thumbs-up-icon

4 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Loss Of Appetite
Tired
Sleepy
Moody
Zoning Out

My girl is about 53/54 days pregnant. Yesterday around 5PM she became very restless, and cried for about 3-4 hours. Her temperature was at 98.2° and has been so clingy. She’s had discharge since Sunday (2-3 days ago) her tummy seems more firm... but she’s not panting or showing any other signs of labor... should I worry?

dog-name-icon

baby girl

dog-breed-icon

found dog mix

dog-age-icon

9 Months

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Mild severity

thumbs-up-icon

0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Mild severity

Has Symptoms

she has been. in hard labor for over 3hours and I haven't seen any discharge or clear water since.breathing so heavy it makes her stop breathing. stomach has stayed hard the whole time.drinking a lot. bla bla

dog-name-icon

Archie

dog-breed-icon

Labrador Retriever

dog-age-icon

4 Years

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate severity

thumbs-up-icon

1 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

None

My Labrador is 58 days pregnant today and on the 55th day of her pregnancy we took her to the vet for normal checkup and he suggested us to wait for 2 days so that she goes into labor and delivers but if she doesn't go into labor then go for cesarian but we decided to wait till 60th day because the gestation period is 57 to 63 days so we are worried now that is cesarian necessary or should we wait till she gives birth normally because she is eating normally but is choosy,is active and have started nesting behaviour and also why the vet told us to go for cesarian although there are no bad signs.So should I go for cesarian or wait till she gives birth naturally?

dog-name-icon

Cookie

dog-breed-icon

shih tzu maltese

dog-age-icon

2 Years

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Serious severity

thumbs-up-icon

1 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Not Eating
Very Still
Very Quite
Always Licks Her Feet And Paws
Looks In Pain

Hi, cookie is around 55-60 days in her first pregnancy, she is in IV now since yesterday due to severe diarrhea and vomiting. Her vet gave here several shots for medication, the diarrhea and vomit stopped this afternoon yet, she is not eating still, and rarely drinks water. I am very concerned since she is fast her due but still very weak. I'm afraid she'll go into labor anytime soon with IV and no strength. Pls help me... will my beloved can still have normal delivery? what should I do to avoid other complications and possible c-section. Please advice. very much thanks...

Early Contractions and Labor Average Cost

From 367 quotes ranging from $300 - $5,000

Average Cost

$1,200

Protect yourself and your pet. Compare top pet insurance plans.

Compare Pet Insurance & Wellness Plans

Save up to $273 per year

Compare plans
advertisement image
Need pet insurance?