Get Ready for Puppies! Does a Dog’s Stomach Drop Before Labor Begins?

Introduction

As a dog’s pregnancy progresses, an expectant owner may notice changes in their dog’s pregnant belly. One noticeable change is the abdomen ‘dropping’ lower in the days or hours before labor begins. This article will examine what’s happening when a pregnant dog’s stomach drops, whether it’s a reliable predictor of labor, and other signs that indicate labor is approaching.

We’ll outline the timeline of abdominal changes, what owners can look for, when to call the vet, and how to prepare for the onset of labor. Understanding the changes leading up to birth will help owners know what to expect and identify any potential issues requiring veterinary care.

Signs of Impending Labor

As a dog’s due date approaches, there are several behavioral and physical signs indicating labor will start soon:

  • Nesting – Pregnant dogs may start gathering blankets, towels or other soft materials to create a nest for delivery.
  • Restlessness – A dog may pace, seem anxious, or continually change positions while laying down as hormones shift.
  • Decreased appetite – Lack of appetite is common 1-2 days before labor begins as the dog’s body prepares for delivery.
  • Panting – Heavy breathing or panting can indicate the dog is starting stage I labor.
  • Vomiting – Some dogs vomit in the hours leading up to labor as mild gastric upset can occur.
  • Shivering – Muscle tremors or shivering can happen just before contractions begin.
  • Mammary gland enlargement – The breasts become enlarged and may leak milk.

While not all these signs are seen in every dog, owners should watch for behavioral changes like restlessness, panting, and loss of appetite that can precede the onset of labor by 12-24 hours. Nesting and mammary enlargement may begin 1-2 weeks before delivery.

What Happens to the Abdomen

As a dog’s pregnancy progresses, the abdomen expands to accommodate the growing puppies. In the final days and hours leading up to labor, the abdomen may appear to expand even more or “drop” lower towards the ground.

This abdominal change is caused by the relaxation of ligaments that help support the uterus. As the ligaments stretch and relax, the belly is able to hang lower and may appear larger right before whelping. This allows the puppies to shift into birthing position and prepares the mother dog’s body for labor and delivery.

an image showing a pregnant dog's relaxed belly sagging closer to the ground

Some sources note that the pregnant dog’s belly can drop significantly, while other dogs may show only a slight change. The degree of abdominal dropping varies from dog to dog based on factors like litter size, breed body type, and the dog’s individual pregnancy experience.

Overall, the relaxing ligaments and dropping abdomen point to the dog’s body getting ready for the demanding process of labor and whelping. While not a guaranteed sign, an expanded and lowered abdomen often means puppies are on the way within hours or days. Dog owners should watch for other signs of impending labor as well.

Sources:

6 Signs of a Dog in Labor




https://wagwalking.com/condition/early-contractions-and-labor

Is Dropping a Reliable Sign?

While some swelling and enlargement of the abdomen is normal during pregnancy, the dramatic “dropping” or lowering of the abdomen is not necessarily a consistent sign that labor is imminent according to veterinarians. The timing and degree of abdominal changes varies from dog to dog.

According to veterinarian Dr. I. Sandler, “Some dogs’ abdomens enlarge moderately and then return to normal size by full term while others remain enlarged until labor begins” (Source: https://pethelpful.com/dogs/Veterinarian-Explains-the-Signs-of-Imminent-Labor-in-Dogs).

text stating that abdominal dropping is not a reliable labor sign

The abdominal swelling is caused by the growing puppies and uterus pushing on the abdomen. This puts pressure on the diaphragm, making it harder for the dog to breathe. As the puppies shift position and align for birth, pressure on the diaphragm may be relieved, causing the abdomen to appear to “drop.” However, this process occurs inconsistently (Source: https://veterinaryemergencygroup.com/blog/6-signs-of-a-dog-in-labor/).

While some abdominal changes prior to labor are normal, dramatic dropping is not a definitive sign. More reliable indicators include rectal temperature drop, nesting behavior, lethargy, and nipple enlargement. Monitoring all the signs of labor together can help detect when the time is near.

Other Factors Influencing Abdominal Changes

A dog’s breed, size of litter, age, and overall health can impact how dramatically her abdomen changes before and during pregnancy. Larger breed dogs like Labradors and Golden Retrievers generally show more significant abdominal expansion compared to smaller breeds like Chihuahuas. Dogs carrying large litters will also expand more than those with smaller litters.

Older dogs and dogs in poor health may not show as pronounced physical signs of pregnancy. Their abdomen may not drop or expand as much as a healthy young dog. Monitoring weight gain can be a more reliable indicator of pregnancy in elderly or sick dogs.

While every dog is different, the more puppies a dog is expecting, the more noticeable the abdominal changes tend to be. However, relying too much on abdominal changes can be misleading, as factors like litter size can vary. The most reliable way to confirm pregnancy and monitor its progression is through veterinary exams.

Monitoring Abdominal Changes

As your dog’s due date approaches, it’s a good idea to start monitoring her abdomen for changes that may indicate impending labor. Here are some tips for tracking abdominal changes:

– Take your dog’s temperature twice daily – in the morning and evening. A normal canine temperature is between 101-102.5°F. A drop below 99°F that persists for more than 24 hours may signal that labor will start within 24 hours (1).

– Feel your dog’s abdomen gently to check for changes in shape and firmness. As the pups drop lower in preparation for birth, the belly often drops and sags (2).

– Look for enlargement or swelling of the teats as this can occur 1-2 weeks before delivery (3).

– Pay attention to changes in appetite in the final week of pregnancy – some dogs lose their appetite as labor approaches.

– Note any change in nesting behavior such as digging or gathering bedding material.

– Keep track of behavioral changes like restlessness, pacing, or panting which can all be signs of early labor.

By monitoring your dog’s temperature, abdomen, teats, appetite and behavior daily, you’ll notice changes that indicate labor is approaching. This allows you to prepare and also alert your veterinarian if you have any concerns.

When to Call the Vet

While abdominal changes like dropping often happen gradually in the days leading up to labor, a rapid dropping of the abdomen can sometimes be an emergency sign. According to the Veterinary Emergency Group, if the abdomen rapidly expands or drops, it may indicate uterine inertia or uterine rupture, which are medical emergencies requiring immediate veterinary assistance.

Signs that you should call your veterinarian or emergency vet clinic right away include:

  • Sudden, rapid dropping or swelling of the abdomen
  • Excessive vomiting or restlessness
  • Signs of abdominal pain or distress, like crying out or panting
  • A protruding or ruptured uterus
  • Heavy bleeding from the vagina
  • Pale gums

These signs may indicate a medical emergency like uterine rupture, placental separation, or uterine inertia, where the uterus stops contracting and labor stalls. Getting prompt veterinary care is crucial, as these conditions can be life-threatening without medical intervention. Don’t wait to see if signs improve on their own. Call your vet or emergency clinic right away if you notice these red flags.

Preparing for Labor

As your dog’s due date approaches, it’s important to prepare supplies and make arrangements to help her through the birthing process. Most dogs undergo labor with little complications, but having some basic supplies on hand can help make sure things go smoothly.

First, set up a whelping area in a quiet corner of your home a week or two before your dog’s due date. This space should be warm, cozy, and free of drafts. Line it with several layers of newspaper, then top with clean bed sheets or blankets. Be sure to use bedding you don’t mind getting soiled during the birthing process.

supplies gathered in preparation for a dog to give birth

Next, gather the following supplies to have on hand:

  • Old towels and washcloths to help clean and dry puppies after birth
  • Rubbing alcohol and cotton balls to clean puppies’ umbilical cords
  • Dental floss or unwaxed thread to tie off umbilical cords
  • Scissors for cutting umbilical cords
  • heating pad or hot water bottle to keep puppies warm if needed
  • Emergency vet’s phone number

Make sure your schedule allows you to supervise your dog continuously as she nears labor. Take her temperature twice daily at the same time starting 1-2 weeks before her due date. Her temperature will drop below 100°F within 24 hours of labor starting. Contact your vet if you have any concerns leading up to the birth.

The Onset of Labor

The first stage of labor involves noticeable contractions of the uterus and abdominal muscles. Contractions can begin 24-48 hours before active labor starts and may start as infrequently as every 30-60 minutes. As the first stage progresses, they will increase in frequency, duration, and intensity. Contractions during stage one may last 30-60 seconds and come every 5-20 minutes initially, but will speed up to every 2-5 minutes as labor nears. You may notice abdominal contractions by seeing rippling in your dog’s abdominal muscles or flanks.

As your dog reaches active labor when contractions are strong, frequent, and regular, you will see more obvious straining. Your dog may start heavily panting, vocalizing, or become restless as labor intensifies. Straining will become extreme right before a puppy is delivered. The most definitive sign that stage two labor is beginning is when the water breaks. This rupture of the amniotic sac signals the uterine lining and puppies will soon be expelled. You will see a gush of greenish-black fluid leave the vulva shortly before the first puppy arrives. This discharge of amniotic fluid indicates puppies are on the way!

a dog having contractions and showing signs that active labor is beginning

Conclusion

As a dog’s pregnancy nears the end, you may notice some changes in her abdomen. Some dogs’ abdomens appear to “drop” closer to delivery, while others maintain a distended belly throughout pregnancy. Dropping isn’t a reliable predictor on its own, as factors like litter size, age, and body condition also influence abdominal shape.

The most important signs that labor is approaching are nesting behavior, restless pacing, and milk production. Track your dog’s appetite, temperature, and energy levels in the final week. Contact your vet if you notice anything unusual or concerning. With preparation and vigilance in the last days, you can ensure your dog delivers her puppies safely and comfortably.

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