Extra Clingy Canines. Why Your Dog Gets Velcro-y Before Labor

Introduction

Many dog owners notice their furry companions becoming extra clingy and affectionate in the days or weeks leading up to the birth of a litter of puppies. Understanding this behavior change is important for pet owners so they know what to expect and can provide their pregnant dog with the care and comfort she needs in the critical time before she goes into labor.

A dog’s clinginess before giving birth is a natural reaction as her body prepares for the demanding process of labor and delivery. Being aware of this nesting instinct allows owners to respond appropriately and identify when labor may be imminent based on their dog’s behavior. This knowledge helps facilitate a smooth birthing by ensuring the mother dog feels secure and relaxed.

Reasons for Increased Clinginess

Dogs tend to become extra clingy and protective when their owner is close to giving birth for several reasons. As pack animals, dogs have an instinct to stay close to their pack for comfort and protection when vulnerable. Pregnant women undergo many physical and emotional changes as labor approaches which dogs can detect, causing them to want to be comforting and protective. Dogs may pick up on subtle physical cues such as changes in odor, energy levels, posture, breathing patterns and more that indicate labor is approaching. They also seem to be able to sense emotional changes and nesting instincts. Overall, the clinginess likely comes from the dog’s innate nurturing nature and desire to keep their pack together during this transitional time.

According to one study, dogs were able to discriminate between odors from women in early labor compared to non-pregnant women, suggesting they notice physiological changes prior to labor (https://www.romper.com/pregnancy/5-signs-youre-about-to-go-into-labor-according-to-your-dog-9344338). Their protective behaviors may be instinctual, coming from their wolf ancestry. Just as female wolves seek out dens to give birth and raise newborns, dogs can exhibit similar nurturing behaviors toward their pregnant human companion.

Physical Signs

As a dog’s due date approaches, her body will go through some clear physical changes signaling that labor is imminent. These include:

  • Enlarged mammary glands – The dog’s nipples will enlarge and pink up as early as 1 month before delivery. Milk may even leak or be expressed.
  • Distended abdomen – Around 2 weeks before labor, the dog’s belly will enlarge as the puppies drop lower in preparation for birth. Her sides may appear sunken as well.
  • Relaxed ligaments – 1-2 weeks pre-labor, the dog’s rear leg ligaments will relax and her hips will loosen in preparation for birthing. This causes waddling.
  • Nesteding behavior – Digging in bedding and rearranging areas to create a nest for birthing.
  • Drop in body temperature – 12-24 hours before labor, the dog’s temperature will drop below 100°F, signaling impending labor.

a pregnant dog snuggling closely with her owner on the couch

According to evcc.com and rochesterhillsvet.com, these physical changes indicate the dog’s body is preparing to go into labor within a day or two, so owners should be alert.

Behavioral Changes

As the time for delivery draws near, female dogs usually begin displaying certain behavioral changes that indicate they are preparing for labor. According to Rochester Hill’s Veterinarian, one of the most apparent signs is nesting behavior, which includes “digging beds, moving around bedding materials, and generally becoming restless in what appears to be an attempt to prepare a nesting area for the birth” (https://www.rochesterhillsvet.com/articles/labor_and_delivery_in_dogs.php).

In addition to nesting, many dogs become noticeably restless and anxious in the hours leading up to labor. They may pant, pace back and forth, refuse food, and even vomit. Following the owner closely is another common behavioral change, as the pregnant dog seeks comfort and reassurance during this stressful transition. According to Daily Paws, some dogs “suddenly follow you everywhere, even into the bathroom” as their time draws near (https://www.dailypaws.com/dogs-puppies/health-care/dog-neutering-spaying/signs-dog-going-into-labor-soon).

Overall, these behavioral changes signify that the dog’s mothering instincts are kicking in as her body prepares to give birth. Being attentive to these signs can help owners know when they need to provide extra comfort and prepare for the puppies’ arrival.

How Long Before Labor

Dogs often start displaying clingy behavior up to 48 hours before the onset of labor, as they seem to have an innate ability to detect subtle changes in their owner’s body that signal impending delivery. Studies show that in the final 24-48 hours of pregnancy, dogs tend to want to stay very close to their pregnant owner. They may follow them everywhere, refuse to leave their side, and act more anxious when separated 1. This is likely due to a combination of evolving hormones and pheromones as the body prepares to give birth. Research indicates that dogs can detect these changes through their advanced sense of smell.

Some specific signs in the 24-48 hours leading up to labor include increased affection, protectiveness, anxiousness, restlessness, pacing, and whining. The expectant mother dog may also dig or nest more obsessively. So if your pregnant dog is suddenly acting clingier and more attached in the final stretch, it’s a good indication that labor is right around the corner.

Providing Comfort

As your dog’s due date approaches, here are some tips to help provide comfort and reduce anxiety for a clingy dog:

  • Create a safe space. Set up a whelping area in a quiet room with soft bedding where your dog can go to relax and feel secure. This will be especially helpful during early labor.
  • Remain calm. Dogs pick up on our energy, so staying relaxed will help soothe your anxious pup. Try meditating or doing breathing exercises when your dog seems stressed.
  • Stick to routines. Keeping your dog’s schedule, walking routes, and meals consistent will provide stability.
  • Give affection. Respond to your dog’s needs for closeness by petting, massaging or sitting near them. The extra bonding will reassure them.
  • Use pheromones. Try a calming pheromone product to reduce anxiety. These synthetic dog appeasing pheromones promote relaxation.
  • a person gently petting a pregnant dog to comfort her

  • Distract with toys. Providing engaging toys can shift your dog’s focus away from the stress of impending labor.

Staying relaxed yourself and meeting your dog’s need for comfort will ease any pre-labor clinginess. Consult your vet if your dog seems extremely distressed.

When to Alert the Vet

Although puppy births often proceed smoothly, there are times when you need to call the vet right away. Signs that indicate an emergency include:

– Prolonged labor lasting over 4 hours with no puppies born (Ann Arbor Animal Hospital).

– More than 4 hours between puppies (Bayshore Veterinary Clinic).

– Obvious signs of straining or distress during contractions (PDSA). This could indicate a stuck puppy.

– Abnormal vaginal discharge or bleeding.

– Failure to start nursing the puppies right away.

In these situations, call your vet immediately. Do not attempt to manually remove a stuck puppy, as this could harm both the puppy and mother. With prompt veterinary assistance, many delivery complications can be successfully managed.

a mother dog nursing her newborn puppies after giving birth

After the Puppies Arrive

Once a dog has finished delivering her puppies, her behavior typically starts to return to normal within a few days. The mother dog will likely be very tired after the arduous process of giving birth. It is normal for her to spend most of her time sleeping and nursing the puppies during the first 1-2 days post-delivery. As she regains her strength, her activity levels and temperament will gradually go back to pre-pregnancy behavior.

The mother dog’s appetite should return to normal within a day or two after delivery. Make sure she has access to fresh water and high-quality puppy food so she can replenish nutrients lost during pregnancy and birth. It is essential that nursing mother dogs consume extra calories to meet the nutritional demands of milk production.

Most mother dogs exhibit protective behaviors over their newborn puppies, which is completely natural. She may initially be anxious and uneasy if separated from them. With time, this possessiveness will relax as the puppies grow. It is important to give the mother dog space and let her care for her puppies without too much interference the first few weeks.

While individual dogs may vary, a mother dog’s behavior and temperament typically return to normal within 1-2 weeks after delivering a litter. However, make sure to keep an eye out for any concerning signs like lethargy, loss of appetite, or abnormal discharge which could indicate a postpartum health issue requiring veterinary attention. With a healthy delivery and recovery, dogs can return to their normal selves and make excellent mothers.

a healthy mother dog playing happily with her puppies

Exceptions

While many dogs do become more clingy and protective of their pregnant owner before labor begins, some dogs may not display this behavior change. There are a few reasons why a dog may act normally and not show increased clinginess:

  • Every dog has a unique personality and bonding style with their owner. Some dogs are simply more aloof or independent by nature.
  • The dog may not recognize the early signs of impending labor in their owner. Subtle hormonal changes can be difficult for dogs to detect.
  • If it’s the owner’s first pregnancy, the dog has no prior experience with the labor process and may not know what to expect.
  • The owner’s routine and habits may not change significantly enough in late pregnancy for the dog to notice anything different.
  • Young puppies bonded with a pregnant owner may not have fully developed their protective instincts yet.

So while increased clinginess is a common sign, some dogs may act normally up until active labor begins. Every dog and every pregnancy is unique. It’s important not to worry if a beloved pet does not seem extra clingy or attentive in the days before labor starts.

Conclusion

In the days and hours leading up to labor, it’s common for expectant mother dogs to act more clingy and anxious as their bodies prepare for delivery. Understanding this temporary shift in behavior helps owners identify when labor is approaching and provide the extra TLC their pregnant pooch needs. By recognizing the physical and behavioral signs, giving comforting care, and knowing when to call the vet, dog owners can help create the best birthing conditions for momma and puppies. While most dogs do become more attached before whelping, the degree varies, and some may show no change. Overall, identifying and accommodating a dog’s pre-labor clinginess reduces stress for all and leads to the happy, healthy arrivals of adorable puppies.

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