Having a pregnant dog is an exciting time for any pet owner, but if it’s your first time, you might have no clue what to expect on the different dog stages of pregnancy.
Lucky for you, this article is going to break down the entire dog pregnancy stages week by week in this handy guide. You’ll learn how long a dog’s pregnancy typically lasts, what signs to expect during your dog’s pregnancy, and how to handle the actual birthing process. After reading this guide, you’ll know how to manage your dog’s pregnancy from start to finish.
How Long Will Your Dog’s Pregnancy Last?
Although it’s impossible to give an exact amount of time for your dog’s pregnancy, the window for a pregnancy will usually fall within 56 to 70 days. Dogs typically give birth somewhere around 63 days after conception, depending on the exact time of mating and fertilization, although this can vary slightly depending on the breed.
It should be noted that there is no guarantee that any two dogs will get along well enough to mate at all. You can increase your chances of a successful mating session by having the dogs meet for the first time on neutral ground to help temper territorial aggression, and while the female is not “in heat,” meaning she will at peak fertilization. This way, you can also confirm that the temperament of the father is desirable.
During this courting phase, the male and female will play and get to know each other, but sometimes this period will last less than a minute. Dogs don’t tend to waste time! Especially if the female is in heat. Sometimes, it may take a few attempts, especially if the dogs are inexperienced and trying to breed for the first time, but animal instinct will kick in and they will eventually figure it out.
During the mating process, the male will mount the female and penetrate her. This will promote a vaginal reflex from the female that will trap the male inside until the act of mating is complete. This locking reflex may keep the dogs together for as much as 15 to 30 minutes, and the male may even turn around, but it is important that you do not try to separate them during this period, as it could cause damage.
Sometimes, the mating process will not produce a pregnancy. This means that the female’s fertility point had not yet reached its peak. Sperm can actually survive in the uterus for up to seven days, meaning fertilization may even successfully occur days after mating.
Mating can be carried out twice to increase the chances of a successful pregnancy, typically with a two-day interval in between attempts. You can have progesterone blood tests conducted on the female to find out when their optimal fertilization window is prior to attempting to mate to further increase your chances.
Weeks One & Two
Weeks one and two of your dog’s pregnancy are business as usual. You can stick to your normal routine, feed your dog the same amount of food, and continue regular walks at your usual distance. You can actually continue your normal feeding through the majority of your dog’s pregnancy, although if you notice any weight loss during your dog’s pregnancy instead of gain, you should seek your veterinarian immediately.
Around week three, the embryos will embed in the lining of the dog’s uterus, which is where they will continue to develop through the remainder of the pregnancy. While this is occurring, you should continue your normal routine, walking and feeding just like you did before your dog was pregnant. If you notice an increase in your dog’s appetite, you may increase its food just a little.
When you reach day 25 after mating during week four, you should bring your pregnant dog in to see your veterinarian for a formal checkup. Your vet will perform an ultrasound which will confirm the pregnancy. This will also give you an estimate for the litter size, although it is not an exact total. This will also be your first opportunity to catch any issues with the pregnancy, should any exist.
You can also use a blood test to confirm your dog’s pregnancy by checking your dog’s level of relaxin, which is a hormone that is only created by the placenta. However, an ultrasound will provide you with more complete information.
You should keep your dog on its normal diet, perhaps with a slight increase in food, but should be more careful when it comes to walks and play. Your dog should continue exercising, but rough play and strenuous exercise should be eliminated so your dog doesn’t over-exert herself.
Around day 35 during week five, the first stage of gestation, or embryogenesis, ends and the second will begin. The puppies’ organs have begun to form at this stage, and will now be known as a fetus. The weight of the fetus will dramatically increase in weight at this time up to as much as 75 percent.
There is less risk of developmental issues at this stage, but you should continue to use caution when it comes to rough play and strenuous exercise. Your dog’s weight will likely increase, and her appetite should follow suit, but it isn’t a big deal if this doesn’t happen yet. You can adjust your dog’s diet as needed, but avoid changing it dramatically.
Things will kick into gear around day 42 during week six as your dog enters the third stage of gestation. This is the final stage, where the fetus will start to look like a dog, the skeleton will become solid, and claws will grow. Both the fetus and mother will gain weight at this stage.
Now is finally when you will have to adjust your dog’s diet if you haven’t already. Your dog may have a decreased appetite, caused from the discomfort of her pregnancy. However, she will require a high-energy diet with lots of protein which may be most easily accomplished through changing her meal plan to smaller meals throughout the day instead of two big ones. You may even add a multivitamin to her diet if your veterinarian recommends it.
At the week seven juncture, you will need to have another vet checkup to make sure there are no parasites present, such as worms, which could infect the puppies at birth. Your pregnant dog may start to shed from her belly at this time, which is a natural preparation for birth.
You should be doing your own preparations as well, as the birth will be just around the corner! To get ready for the birth, known as whelping, you will want to choose a quiet, clean, warm place in your home that is safe and rarely disturbed.
You will use this area for the actual birth and the first few weeks after, so it’s important to have the area cleared out beforehand. You may choose to create a “whelping box” in the room, although it doesn’t guarantee that your dog will use it. This whelping box can be as simple as a cardboard box with blankets and a heat pad. You can get more fancy with your whelping box if you plan to breed more in the future.
During week eight, you should be making last-minute adjustments to your whelping area to prepare for the pending birth. Make sure there is a safe heater, a humidifier (optional), comfortable bedding, and nothing in the room that could potentially be hazardous to the mother or puppies.
Around day 50, the skeletons in the fetus will have completely solidified. You may request an X-ray to confirm the size of your litter, but your vet may advise against it because it is too invasive and not necessary.
Your dog will begin lactating at this point, which will give you a good idea of when she will give birth. Lactation usually begins a week in advance of whelping. If you don’t notice any lactation, talk to your vet to choose a substitute milk should it be required. It’s a good idea to have alternative milk available either way in case there are any issues with feeding.
At this stage, you may consider gently grooming your pregnant dog as well before she is too uncomfortable. Trimming your dog’s hair around her nipples and vulva can make things easier for you both.
During week nine, it is nearly time for puppies! You will need to make sure your designated birthing area is all ready for the birth, and nudge your dog toward the room and box when she starts to seek a quiet place. The floor should be lined with layers of newspaper, towels, and blankets so there will be proper insulation and absorption of fluids.
If your dog is calm, you can take her temperature to see when labor will start, usually, when her temperature drops around 1°C or 1.8°F. Keep the whelping room at around 30°C/86°F for the first 24 hours, then reduce it to 25°C/77°F to make sure the young puppies stay warm.
Whelping (Giving Birth)
During the actual birth, your job will be to keep your dog comfortable and calm. Don’t do anything that will stress your dog, and monitor how the birthing process is going. During your veterinary visits, you will have learned what to watch out for and how to intervene if necessary.
Your dog should be able to handle the birth just fine on their own, and the entire labor may last as little as a few minutes or several hours. If it is a longer labor, check on your dog every 15 minutes or so. Most puppies will come out head first, while others may come out hind legs first, but this is nothing to worry about and perfectly normal.
There are a few things to watch out for, such as labor beginning too early (before day 57), too late (after day 68) if there are over three hours between puppies, and if the initial stage of labor lasts longer than four hours.
Some issues that will require veterinary attention include signs of distress in the mother, a birth defect in a puppy, puppies getting stuck in the birth canal or many coming out at the same time, or even a fetal sack that contains no animals. Your pregnant dog’s contractions may even reduce or cease during the birthing process. Your dog may birth stillborn puppies, but there is usually little that could have been done to prevent it from happening.
The mother should tear open the fetal sack once they have delivered the first puppy, but if they don’t, you can do it yourself. The mother may also eat the placenta, which is also normal. Talk to your vet if you do not see the placenta come out during whelping.
One thing you need to make sure you don’t do is never pull the puppies free, as it could cause severe damage to both the mother and the puppy. Rub puppies that seem still gently with a clean towel to stimulate them. Of course, call your vet if you have any concerns!
When you’re sure the whelping process is complete, you can remove all of the soiled blankets, towels, and newspaper and replace them with clean bedding. Only do so if you can without causing any distress to the mother or the litter. This process will need to be frequently repeated.
You can also clean the mother with a warm, damp cloth, to remove blood and birthing fluid to help avoid infection. However, you should not do the same to the puppies. The mother will likely leak for a few weeks after whelping, which is normal