Early Contractions and Labor in Dogs

Victoria Heuer
Aug 31, 2009
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Premature Labor in Dogs

There are several conditions that can cause a pregnant dog, or dam, to experience premature contractions leading to preterm delivery of puppies. Bacterial infections, viral infections, death of one or more fetuses, ovarian cysts, hormonal imbalances, injury, malnutrition, a change in environment/moving, and basically any kind of stress that can send a dog into mental and physical distress can lead to early labor. In some cases, a dog's breed may genetically predispose it to preterm labor.

Preterm delivery in dogs is defined by a birth that occurs before the ideal 60 days of gestation. Generally, puppies born at 58 days of gestation, or later, have a high chance for survival.

Symptoms and Types

  • Delivery before 58 days in dogs
  • Bloody discharge or tissue
  • Excessive vocalizing/barking
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Drop in temperature
  • Dam may seek more attention than usual; clingy


  • Genetics
  • Bacterial infection
  • Brucellosis
  • Lyme disease
  • Viral infection
  • Herpes
  • Parvovirus
  • Injury
  • Malnutrition
  • Hormonal imbalance
  • Sudden drop in progesterone suspected
  • Low thyroid levels in older females
  • Non-infectious uterine or vaginal disease
  • Ovarian cysts
  • Drugs
  • Corticosteroids
  • Chemotherapy

Stressful events:

  • Emotional disturbances in household: fights, screaming
  • Move to new location
  • Cold temperatures
  • Receiving vaccinations while pregnant (especially those for distemper and hepatitis)
  • Boarding
  • Dog (breed) shows
  • Loud noises



If you find that your dog is experiencing early labor you will want to consult with your veterinarian. You will need to begin by giving your veterinarian a thorough history of your dog's health before and during pregnancy, her onset of symptoms, and possible incidents that might have brought this condition on. Your veterinarian will perform a complete physical exam on your dog, while being careful not to bring on any further undue stress. Standard laboratory tests may include a blood chemical profile, a complete blood count, an electrolyte panel and a urinalysis to make sure that there are no underlying diseases that are causing the premature labor symptoms. The blood tests will show whether your dog's progesterone levels are abnormally low.

Ultrasound imaging will be performed to diagnose fetal death or abnormal position of fetuses, which may cause a difficult delivery. However, an ultrasound will also give your veterinarian a visual on the fetal heartbeats along with more fetal detail. If the puppies are stillborn, or if they die shortly after birth, they should be necropsied by your veterinarian to determine the cause of death.

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