The gestation length of the dog is variable because there is substantial leeway in when fertilization occurs relative to breeding (which often has multiple dates). Taking the rectal temperature twice daily during the last two weeks of pregnancy may help predict the day of birth. Due to changes in progesterone at the initiation of partition, the rectal temperature (usually 100 to 102.5 ºF, often around 101.7 ºF) usually drops 1 to 2 ºF within 10 to 24 hours of birth.
A quiet and secure nesting area should have been provided to the dog prior to birth. Dogs may become less active and eat less during the last week of pregnancy. Milk may appear several days before birth.
The first stage of parturition is marked by more intense nesting, shivering, panting, refusing food and possibly vomiting. Some mucoid discharge may be noted at the vulva. Uterine contractions occur intermittently and the first stage usually lasts 6-12 hours (range 1 to 36 hrs). During this phase, the bitch may show contractions of her abdominal muscles and look at her flank occasionally. The cervix dilates during Stage I and the membrane-covered puppy begins to show in the vagina at the end of Stage I.
The second stage is when labor with propulsion of puppies occurs. Most dams deliver the first puppy within 10 to 30 minutes. If the delivery takes longer than 1 hour, it is considered a difficult birth (dystocia).
Normally the mother dog will remove the fetal membrane from the puppy and lick the puppy clean (also stimulating breathing). She often eats the placenta which is delivered during the third stage of parturition (usually within 45 minutes of the birth). The dam usually chews through the umbilical cord. If too vigorous, she may accidentally injure the pup's abdomen.
After a rest of 10 minutes to several hours, the next cycle of second stage labor should begin. If she labors moderately for 2-4 hours without a delivery or strains intensively for an hour without delivery, she is probably experiencing a dystocia and should be examined by a veterinarian. Allowing a puppy to nurse (which should happen within a few minutes of birth) or manually stimulating milk release may help encourage uterine contractions if she is not showing signs of labor. The entire process of parturition may last up to a day. Small drinks and meals should be offered. Short walks can help stimulate the dam to deliver the next pup.
On the day of birth, the mother dog should be dewormed with pyrantel to reduce infection of the puppies with roundworms and hookworms. The puppies should be dewormed with pyrantel at 2 weeks of age and dewormed every 2 weeks thereafter for at least three dewormings.
Call if the labor is not proceeding normally. If you need to bring her to the clinic, also bring the puppies and keep them warm.