How Long Can Dogs Be in Labor?

Written by Dayva Segal
Published: October 6, 2022
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It’s a joyful occasion when a dog gets pregnant. There are cute puppies to look forward to. It’s the miracle of life! Dogs make great mamas and often manage labor quite skillfully on their own. However, just like humans, sometimes they may need a helping hand. So, it helps to know the facts about dog labor so you know when to contact a vet for extra help. But how long are dogs in labor? Read on to find out.

How Long does Dog Labor Last?

When your dog is about to have her litter of puppies, her labor can last anywhere between 13 and 48 hours. The labor may not be apparent for the first several hours. Then, there may be a period of straining for two to four hours before the first puppy of the litter is born. Each puppy is born between 30 minutes and 2 hours apart. About 15 minutes after each puppy is delivered, your mama dog will deliver the placenta from that puppy.

How Long Are Dogs Pregnant For?

How long are dogs in labor? Dog sare in labor for up to 48 hours, following a two month pregnancy

Dogs are pregnant for approximately two months and labor can last up to 48 hours

©olgagorovenko/Shutterstock.com

Dogs are pregnant for around two months, or 63 days, depending on which method you use to determine this period. Some people count from the first day after the dog was in heat (about 56-58 days), the first day after the progesterone level has risen (about 64-66 days), or the first time the female dog was bred (between 58 and 72 days). Their gestation period is much shorter than humans! Their stages of pregnancy are very quick and each day contributes a lot toward the puppy’s development.

In the first month, the puppy embryos don’t implant into the uterus until around two weeks after fertilization. Before that, they are traveling to the uterine horns of your dog to find their place. Then, about a week after implantation, the fetus starts to develop from the embryo. Between days 28 and 30, heartbeats can be detected using an ultrasound machine.

In the second month, the fetuses develop everything they need to be a dog including eyelids, claws, fur, tail, and toes. Around day 58 of the pregnancy, the mother dog will start to look for a place to nest for the birth or create one if there isn’t a comfy space readily available.

How to Tell If Your Dog is Pregnant

vet with dog

There are several ways to tell if your dog is pregnant and most involve taking it to the vet

©Ermolaev Alexander/Shutterstock.com

It can be hard for humans to tell if a dog is pregnant. People can just take a pregnancy test, but it’s a little more complex for a dog. There are four methods to determine if your dog is pregnant, and most of them involve taking your dog to the veterinarian.

1. Ultrasound

Your vet can give your dog an ultrasound to look inside its uterus and find out if they are pregnant or not. The first ultrasound can be done between 25 and 35 days of pregnancy to determine if pregnancy is the cause of your dog’s bigger stomach and rule out other potentially dangerous conditions. After day 28, you can hear the heartbeat in the ultrasound. The ultrasound also helps to determine how far along the pregnancy is.

2. Lab Test

Just like humans, dogs can receive a hormonal test to see if they are pregnant, but it’s not quite as simple as peeing on a stick. If your dog is at least 30 days pregnant, this test can find a hormone called relaxin. If the hormone is present, your dog is pregnant. The test only works at that point or later in the pregnancy. If it is given earlier, it can give a false result.

3. X-Ray

After the 50th day of pregnancy, an x-ray is often used to help determine how many puppies will be born in the litter. The skeleton is not even visible until day 45 so it is hard to determine the size of the litter before that. Around day 55 your vet may use an x-ray to determine the best time for a cesarian section.

4. Feeling the Belly

Earlier in the pregnancy, between days 21-35, you will be able to feel tennis ball-sized sacs if you palpate your dog’s belly with your hands. After day 35 the sacs aren’t as distinct and your dog’s belly could easily be mistaken for a bit of extra chub.

How to Tell If Your Dog is in Labor

Female husky with puppies

There are several signs that your dog is in labor – including restless behavior, panting, and nesting

©framsook/Shutterstock.com

During the first phase of labor, which lasts 12 to 24 hours, it may be hard to tell if your dog is in labor at all. Your dog will have light contractions at first that get stronger over this period, but you won’t be able to see the contractions from the outside. However, your dog may exhibit some more behavioral symptoms that could give you a clue they are in labor. These include:

They may also have clear vaginal discharge during this early phase of labor.

When to Call the Vet During Dog Labor

Most dog births can happen at home, but just like humans, there are some times when you might need medical assistance. If your dog’s labor is taking more than 24 hours, or there are more than two hours in between puppy births, you should contact your vet for advice. You should also contact your vet if your dog is pushing hard and straining for more than 30 minutes without birthing a pup. There are other times when there are more obvious problems. For example, if a pup is partially out and won’t come out the rest of the way, call your vet.

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The photo featured at the top of this post is © framsook/Shutterstock.com

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About the Author

Dayva is a writer at A-Z Animals primarily covering astrology, animals, and geography. She has over 12 years of experience as a writer, and graduated from Hofstra University in 2007 with a Bachelor of Science in Music and a Minor in French. She has also completed course work in Core Strengths Coaching, Hypnotherapy, and Technical Communication. Dayva lives in the SF Bay Area with her cute but very shy cat, Tula.

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Sources
  1. Bishops Stortford Veterinary Hospital, Available here: https://www.stortvet.com/whelping-potential-problems/
  2. American Kennel Club, Available here: https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/dog-breeding/how-long-are-dogs-pregnant/
  3. AREC, Available here: https://arecvet.com.au/dogs-giving-birth-faqs