Puppies are unquestionably among the cutest of all animal babies, which is what makes having a pregnant dog an incredibly exciting time. But if you have a pregnant dog, you can’t just kick back and let nature take its course.
These are domesticated animals! Although you won’t need to do a whole lot, you will still have to monitor your dog and do what you can to make sure they are comfortable and stress-free during their pregnancy and after. Here is a quick overview of what to expect from the entire mating to pregnancy to birthing process.
Should My Dog Have Puppies?
First, you should consider whether or not your dog is fit to breed. Sometimes you can’t plan for your dog to become pregnant. Perhaps your female got together with your male dog or a neighbor’s when you weren’t paying attention. But most often, a dog’s pregnancy is a planned affair.
When it comes to breeding your dog, there are a few things you can do to put your pup in the best position for a healthy and successful pregnancy. First, you want to make sure that your dog’s vaccinations are up to date for the duration of the pregnancy as well as during the feeding period after birth.
You also don’t want to breed a dog that is too young. Most breeds of dog should not have litters of puppies until they have fully matured, which is typically when they are at least two years old. On the opposite end of the spectrum, you also shouldn’t breed a dog that is too old, however, the upper limit depends on a few factors, including your dog’s breed, its reproductive history, and your veterinarian’s advice. Most vets agree that the sweet spot for delivering a litter of puppies is between the age of two and five years old.
To put yourself in the best possible position for successful breeding of healthy puppies, consult the advice of your veterinarian as well as an experienced breeder of your breed of dog. You should be able to learn certain nuances that may be specific to your breed as well as any specific precautionary measures.
With that understood, it’s time to walk through the dog pregnancy stages so you know what to expect when the time comes.
Any pregnancy will begin with the act of mating. You should mate your female dog while she is in the peak phase of her reproductive cycle, also known as when the dog is “in heat.” This generally occurs during the second week of the dog’s reproductive cycle. During the first week of being in heat, the female will draw the attention of males but won’t be receptive to mating.
In the second, or diestrus phase, they will be open to mating, although this does not mean they will get along with any male dog, nor does it guarantee a successful pregnancy. However, breeding during a dog’s peak fertilization gives you the best chances.
The mating session itself may last just a few minutes, but other times it may last up to 30 minutes. This is because of a locking vaginal reflex female dogs have that will trap the male inside them. The male may even turn around, but you must not attempt to separate them. Eventually, she will release the male. Often, mating is carried out more than once to increase the chances of a successful pregnancy.
Sperm can survive in the uterus for as much as a week, so successful fertilization can actually occur days after the mating session. This can make it a little tricky to determine the exact start of your dog’s pregnancy, but with repeated veterinary visits, you will be able to come up with a close estimate.
How Long Does a Dog Pregnancy Last?
Knowing how long your dog will be pregnant for is imperative. Just like humans, dog pregnancies have trimesters, each of which lasts for 21 days, meaning an entire dog pregnancy is typically 63 days long. This can vary slightly based on the individual dog as well as the breed, but will generally fall within 56 to 70 days.
Pinpointing the exact date of your dog’s fertilization will be an important part of your early veterinary visits, as it will help to determine your care plan moving forward.
How to Diagnose a Dog Pregnancy
There are four methods used by veterinarians to diagnose a canine pregnancy, including an ultrasound, X-ray, hormone test, and a palpation.
An ultrasound can tell if your dog is pregnant by picking up fetal heartbeats. This test can also help determine the gestational age of the fetus, giving you a better idea how far along your dog is with her pregnancy. You should have an ultrasound done within 25 to 35 days of mating.
An X-ray is a good test for diagnosing a pregnancy but is even better if used later on to determine how many puppies are in the litter. This is because puppy skeletons don’t fully form until the third trimester of a dog’s pregnancy, usually around days 42 to 45.
A hormone test is the most reliable for determining a pregnancy, but your dog must be at least 30 days into her pregnancy for the test to be accurate. A palpation simply involves the veterinarian checking your dog’s abdomen with his or her hands for fetal sacs during days 21 to 35 of the pregnancy.
Before you even bring your dog into your veterinarian, you can check for some common signs and symptoms of a pregnant dog yourself.
Signs & Symptoms of a Pregnant Dog
While a dog’s usual pregnancy of 63 days is quite short when compared to humans, you often won’t notice any physical signs until the second half of the pregnancy, at which point things will happen rapidly.
There likely won’t be much initial weight gain, but later in the pregnancy, the dog’s tummy will grow rapidly, ballooning to nearly double its size, depending on the litter. Some dogs will have some morning sickness and loss of appetite early on, in which case you will make minor adjustments to their diet. Later in the pregnancy, the dog’s appetite will kick back in and beyond their usual, so some extra healthy feeding will be suggested.
Early on in the pregnancy, you can maintain exercise as normal but will have to cut out strenuous exercise later on to not risk any harm. Your dog may become lethargic during their pregnancy, especially in the late stages before birth. Vaginal discharge is a common signof a pregnant dog, which is a symptom that is easy to confuse with other conditions.
Physically, your dog will stay mostly the same beyond the growing belly, but they will also have changes to their nipples and breasts. The nipples will grow and change color as they near the end of their pregnancy, and breasts will begin to appear as milk glands develop to prepare for nursing. These changes likely will not be visible until the later stages of the dog’s pregnancy.
Lastly, your dog may exhibit some behavioral changes during her pregnancy, either growing more reserved and grumpy or suddenly becoming more attached. Pregnancy is a confusing time for dogs as their hormones change rapidly in their body, which may lead to them feeling a little anxious. Do your best to keep your dog calm throughout her pregnancy.
The Dog Pregnancy Timeline
Make sure to read our post on dog pregnancy stages to get full detail on what to expect week by week, here is a short summary.
During the early days of your dog’s pregnancy, you can mostly stick to your normal exercise and feeding routine. Should your dog exhibit any morning sickness, you may adjust its diet accordingly, but otherwise, it should be business as usual.
If you know the date you bred your dog, you should target 25 days out to bring your dog into the veterinarian for an ultrasound which will confirm the pregnancy. At this point, you may also receive an estimate of the litter size and a more accurate timeline for the remainder of the pregnancy.
Around week five, you should cease any strenuous exercise, but resume walks and normal feedings. Your dog’s appetite should have rebounded and will intensify at the end of the pregnancy.
Around day 42 your dog will enter the third trimester when things really intensify. The skeleton will calcify and claws and fur will grow. Your pregnant dog will have significant weight gain from here on out. At this point, you should have another formal checkup with your veterinarian to make sure everything is progressing smoothly.
At home, this is when you should create a “whelping box” in a calm, quiet, safe area, for your dog to use when giving birth. By day 50 you can have an X-ray done to confirm the litter size and begin making final preparations for the pending puppies.
Caring for your Pregnant Dog
Your main responsibilities during your dog’s pregnancy are to make sure she eats a healthy diet and has regular visits to the veterinarian. If your dog is at a healthy weight before she becomes pregnant, then you can maintain her diet unless you are otherwise directed by your vet. As her weight increases in the later stages of pregnancy, you will up her food intake accordingly. Small, frequent meals will be better for your dog at this point.
As for when to see the veterinarian, you will want an initial checkup to confirm the pregnancy, and then a follow up toward the end of the second trimester to make sure everything looks good. Your veterinarian will give you advice on how to manage your dog’s pregnancy, as well as how to prepare for the birth.
Your Role During Whelping (Birth)
During the actual birth, dogs generally do not require much assistance. You should have created the quiet, warm, comfortable whelping box for them already, and should direct your dog that way if you notice them starting to nest. Puppies can come quickly once your dog goes into labor, or the entire process may take up to 24 hours.
One puppy will be born at a time, with a typical gap of 30 minutes to an hour between puppies. Each puppy will be born enclosed in a placental membrane, which the mother will often tear off and eat. You should allow this to happen, but if she does not, you will need to remove the placenta before the puppies run out of oxygen. The same goes for the umbilical cord.
During whelping, you should keep the room at around 30°C/86°F for the first 24 hours, then reduce the temperature to 25°C/77°F to make sure the young puppies stay warm, as they are unable to maintain body heat.
Make sure to monitor your dog and her litter after giving birth to make sure everyone is doing okay. You will mainly need to make sure no infections set in and that the mother is producing milk for her pups. Seek your veterinarian immediately if you have any issues with feeding or with any other concerns about the mother or her puppies.
“Your Dog’s Pregnancy Week by Week.” ROYAL CANIN®, 28 June 2016, Accessed 1 Oct. 2018. www.royalcanin.co.uk/discover/dog-pregnancy-week-by-week/.
“Dog Pregnancy 101: The Guide for Owners of Pregnant Dogs.” Top Dog Tips, 6 May 2018, Accessed 1 Oct. 2018. www.topdogtips.com/dog-pregnancy/.
Burke, Anna. “Dog Pregnancy: Signs, Care, and Preparation – American Kennel Club.” American Kennel Club, 28 Dec. 2016, Accessed 1 Oct. 2018. www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/dog-pregnancy-care-prep/.