Compared to humans, dogs have relatively short pregnancies or gestation periods. This means it’s important to detect the symptoms of dog pregnancy early to ensure a safe birth for the new puppies about to enter your life.
You also need to get prepared with equipment, from food to whelping boxes and blankets.
If you suspect your dog might be pregnant, this extensive guide on dog gestation will teach you everything you need to know, from how to spot the signs, to how to prepare for the day of birth.
How long does dog pregnancy last?
Dogs are usually pregnant for approximately 63 days (2 months) with a normal range being between 58 and 68 days.
How to tell if a dog is pregnant
Firstly, a dog can only become pregnant when they are in heat or season. So, if your dog has just had their season, it is unlikely they are pregnant. But dogs usually get into a consistent cycle after their first two or three seasons, so seeing any of the below symptoms after their season is key.
It also goes without saying that a dog cannot be pregnant if they have been spayed, nor if they mate with a neutered male.
One of the first things you might notice is decreased activity in your dog. If they are pregnant they’re likely to become exhausted more quickly and spend more time napping.
If your dog is typically energetic, it should come as a huge warning sign! However, if they usually love their bed anyway, observing how fast they tire when on a walk may be key.
When dogs are pregnant, their appetite is constantly changing. In the first few weeks of gestation, she may eat less and vomit on occasion. Yet she may also be devouring everything in sight and still not be satisfied.
Fluctuations in hormones cause these strange changes in appetite.
Just like with humans, pregnancy can be stressful for dogs. They will likely change their mood and behaviour noticeably, but just how they act can differ.
Some may want extra attention and reassurance and will begin to seek the comfort of their owner more than usual. But some dogs may equally seek isolation in their pregnancy. She will want to be left completely alone, and won’t be happy if given attention.
Enlarged or discoloured nipples
Pregnancy in dogs causes nipples to grow substantially during the early stages of pregnancy. An increase in blood flow to the area can also cause a noticeable darkening in colour, and they will start producing and leaking milk in the later stages of gestation.
Weight gain and size increase
In later pregnancy, their abdomen will naturally swell as the litter grows. You will have likely spotted some other signs by now, but if this is the first inkling you have, you really need to get her to the vet ASAP.
Although you can now purchase canine home pregnancy kits to determine if your dog is pregnant, getting a veterinarian to confirm it is still your best option.
A blood test will measure the hormone relaxin. However, false negatives can occur if this is done too early or if the dog is only carrying one or two puppies.
A positive test indicates that the dog is pregnant at the time of the test. The fourth week of gestation is a common time to get this done.
Caring for a pregnant dog
The most important thing in ensuring your dog is well cared for during pregnancy is to make sure they’re getting proper nutrition. If your dog is in good health, it’s unlikely you’ll to make any severe changes in the first few weeks of gestation. However, you should always consult with your vet to determine the best course of action for the early stages.
Then in the final five weeks of her pregnancy, you should begin increasing her food intake gradually, until she is consuming between 35-50% more than her average intake.
Visit your vet!
We can’t stress enough how important frequent visits to the vet are during your dog’s pregnancy. A vet can detect illness and discomfort in your dog better than you can and will help your bitch stay as healthy as possible during the process.
Remember that emergencies can happen too. A vet is the best person to help you prepare for any potential problems that may arise, so be sure to ask them about what emergencies to expect during pregnancy so you can have a plan in place if anything goes wrong.
Dog pregnancy stages (week by week guide)
To best prepare for your dog’s pregnancy and birth, you’ll need to know what stage of gestation they’re at.
For a more comprehensive look into when to change your care methods, consult this handy week-by-week guide to understand the signs and symptoms of each stage:
If your dog has mated while in its heat cycle, fertilisation can occur in just a few days.
A vet won’t be able to confirm the pregnancy until around week four, however, your dog may already be showing the first signs of pregnancy with some bouts of morning sickness.
In week two, fertilised eggs will begin developing in the uterus. However, there’s no need to begin a system of care just yet, as there will still be no significant changes in your dogs’ health or behaviour.
By week three, the fetuses attach to the wall of the uterus and begin receiving the nutrients they need to grow. You won’t need to start making adjustments to your dog’s diet just yet, but you may well notice her appetite increase. She may also begin to develop breast tissue and exhibit changes in mood.
It’s at this stage of pregnancy that puppies become most susceptible to abnormalities and other issues, meaning it’s advisable to finally start altering your care methods. Try to limit their everyday activity to gentle exercise and ask your vet whether dietary supplements are needed. Towards the end of week four, your vet should also be able to confirm the pregnancy with an ultrasound. This will determine the litter size and whether there are any defects or problems at this stage.
Amniotic fluid increases in the uterus by week five, meaning the puppies become much less susceptible to developmental issues. It’s at this point where you will also see noticeable weight gain in your dog and so it’s important to begin a diet that is designed to help growth and reproduction. To avoid upsetting the digestive system, introduce this new diet gradually by feeding her little and often over the course of the week.
Your dog is now entering the final three weeks of her pregnancy and so will only continue to grow in size. Her teats will become darker and it’s at this stage that her appetite will noticeably increase. However, despite her hunger, it’s best to continue to feed her little and often and keep portion sizes small. This is because her rapidly growing litter can press against the stomach, meaning the amount of food she can eat is limited at this time. Don’t worry if you also begin to spot a clear discharge from her vulva, as this is perfectly normal.
As dogs get closer to the whelping stage, they will begin shedding hair on their abdomen and may well have already begun producing milk. Puppies are almost fully formed at this stage, meaning your dog will likely be more fatigued than usual. At this point, you really need to be preparing for the birth and devising a space for your dog to have her litter. A warm and quiet area is best, with a bed or box to sleep in, lined with plenty of comfortable linen and blankets.
Try and encourage your dog to sleep in this whelping area for the rest of her gestation.
With not long to go, you will be able to feel your dog’s puppies moving around when your dog lies still. It’s now vital to stop your dog from going through any strenuous activity, as you don’t want to instigate premature labour. If they haven’t already, your dog will have now started producing milk and may begin exhibiting ‘nesting’ behaviour. This includes restlessness and digging.
It’s the final week of pregnancy, and it’s likely your dog will be spending most of her time in her whelping area, nesting. As whelping approaches, you may detect a loss of appetite, and it’s important to begin regular checks on her health. Take her temperature several times a day to determine the onset of whelping, as a drop in temperature from 38 to 36 degrees Celsius is an indicator that the puppies will be arriving in 24-48 hours.
Whelping is the name given to the birthing process of dogs.
It’s important in the later stages of pregnancy to have set up a whelping area for your dog. Somewhere warm and quiet, with plenty of blankets for comfort and a bed or box to sleep in.
Make sure to introduce your dog to the area as soon as possible, otherwise, she’ll go and find her own spot to have her litter. And you might not like where she picks!
Whelping Supply Checklist
Before your dog goes into labour, you need to make sure you have everything on hand to help things go as smoothly as possible.
- Old newspaper to line the whelping area for easy cleanup
- Towels, to clean the newborn puppies
- Thermometer to check the dog’s temperature and spot labour signs
- Clean scissors to cut umbilical cords
- Bath mats for bedding post-whelping
- Unwaxed dental floss to tie off umbilical cords
- Hot water bottle to keep puppies warm
- Iodine to clean puppies’ abdomens after the umbilical cord is cut
- Your vet’s phone number and the number of an emergency veterinary clinic
Spotting labour signs
The main thing to watch out for when waiting for your dog to go into labour is a drop in temperature. A dog will usually drop from 38 degrees Celsius to 36 degrees Celsius, 12-24 hours before labour begins. Make sure to be taking your dog’s temperature twice a day to monitor this.
This temperature drop signals the beginning of the first stage of labour. This is when contractions begin. Look out for behaviour changes such as restlessness and refusal to eat. She may also begin nesting more frequently, vomiting, and passing a clear vaginal discharge.
The second stage is the whelping itself. Bitches deliver one puppy at a time and each delivery should last no more than 1-2 hours, occurring every 30-60 minutes. This is why it’s important to know the expected number of puppies, so you can best spot when complications are arising.
Assisting in the delivery
Thankfully, dogs do not need as much assistance with their birthing as humans do.
This means your role in the whelping is simply to assist where possible.
Each puppy is born in a protective casing known as a placental membrane. Usually, the mother will tear this off the pup herself, but if she does not it’s up to you to set the pup free. Puppies cannot survive more than a few minutes in this membrane before oxygen runs out – so be sure to pay attention!
Cutting the cords
The mother is also likely to severe the umbilical cords herself. However, if she does not you’ll have to cut the cord yourself with some clean scissors. Then simply tie off the ends with some unwaxed dental floss. You should tie the cord approximately 1-2 inches away from the puppy and clean the abdomen area with iodine to prevent infection.
You must also be watchful of the number of placentas. A non-birthed placenta can cause complications for the mother, so make sure everything is accounted for.
Spotting complications in dog Pregnancy and labour
It’s important to always have help on hand during your dog’s labour, as emergencies can happen.
Make sure you have your vet’s out of hours number and a number for an emergency clinic in case anything goes wrong. Because your dog may well go into labour at any time of day or night.
If you spot any of these symptoms during labour, chances are things aren’t going to plan, and your best off ringing a professional for help:
- Although labour is obviously uncomfortable, if your dog is exhibiting signs of extreme pain, call your vet.
- If your dog hasn’t gone into labour 24 hours after its temperature has dropped, call your vet to see if there is a problem.
- If the mother has failed to birth a puppy after 20-30 minutes of strong contractions, there may be an issue.
- If no puppies are birthed two hours after the mother has passed a green, red or brown vaginal discharge, contact your veterinary professional. If this discharge is passed before she has any puppies at all, this is also potentially a problem.
- You can see a puppy at the vulva entrance, but the mother has failed to deliver him
- Your dog is in the second stage of Labour for longer than 12 hours, this could mean they are having a difficult birth and help is needed.
- More than two hours pass between pups
- Collapsing, trembling and shivering are all serious warning signs of severe complications, your bitch and her puppies are likely at risk.
- No signs of whelping 64 days into the gestation period
If you aren’t regularly making visits to your vet during your dog’s pregnancy, it’s important to contact them if any of these things occur during the 9 week gestation period:
- Abnormal vaginal discharge, including bleeding or foul-smelling discharge.
- Dog becoming particularly unwell and depressed or is often in pain and crying.
- Any miscarriages during the pregnancy.
- 70 days of pregnancy without whelping.
False pregnancy in dogs
In some cases, your dog may be displaying the symptoms of a phantom pregnancy.
Some non-pregnant dogs may display symptoms of pregnancy in the months following their heat cycle, namely enlarged nipples and lactation.
They may also show a loss of appetite and begin vomiting, which can give the impression of morning sickness.
The exact reason for this phenomenon is unknown, however, it’s believed it is the result of hormonal imbalances post-estrus (heat).
This is why consulting your vet is incredibly important when trying to confirm whether your dog is pregnant or not!